markwildyr.com, Post #149
Cover Design by Written Ink Designs
Cover Design by Written Ink Designs
As regular readers know, last month, J M Snyder Books published an ebook version of the fifth book in the Cut Hand (now known as the Strobaw Family Saga) books. The print version is to follow soon. Now that I have the book cover to show you, I couldn’t resist giving you another excerpt.
In the following scene, John Strobaw (Medicine Hair) and his friend Winter Bird are spending the night on the range to settle down some cattle recently purchased and moved to land north of John’s Turtle Crick Farm. As they rest in twilight beside a small campfire, a lone rider approaches. It turns out to be Plenty Horses, the Lakota who shot an American army officer in the back. John’s brother-in-law Captain Gideon Haleworthy had only recently told the two of them that Plenty Horses was on trial for murder. Yet here he is. Read on.
* * * * *
“And I see you, Medicine Hair,” he responded in fair English. “Winter Bird.”
“Hau-we,” my friend replied.
“Climb down and share some coffee with us,” I said. “We probably have enough rabbit and some corn cakes left for a meal, if you’re hungry.”
The slender Brulé dismounted and led his horse into camp. “That would be welcome.” Then, like any good horseman, he set about taking care of his mount. He unsaddled the gelding and watered him in the nearby rill before hobbling him to graze. Apparently, we had a guest for the night.
Little was said as Plenty Horses ate. He was about ten years younger than I was and relatively tall for a plainsman, yet thin. And as pleasant looking as I recalled. There was a diffidence about him, an awkwardness, a shyness.
As soon as Horses finished eating and slaked his thirst from his coffee cup, Winter Bird spoke up.
“Thought you was in the white man’s jail.”
Horses ducked his head. “I was. They let me go.”
Enough light remained to see my friend’s brows climb. “They grab you for shooting a white soldier and then let you go?”
“Did they bring you to trial?” I asked.
He held up two fingers. “Two times. First time six farmers said I oughta be called guilty of murder and six other farmers said I oughta be called guilty of man …man-slaugh-ter. They called it a hanging trial.”
“A hung jury,” I corrected. Plenty Horses’ English was not as good as I’d expected after five years at Carlisle. “They couldn’t agree, so they couldn’t convict. Then what?”
He answered in Lakota. “They did it again, but this time, they tried to get Star Chief Miles to come down and sit in the witness chair. They wanted him to say it was murder. He didn’t come, but he sent a captain down in his place. They got the trial started, but then they shut everything down because of what he was gonna say.”
“And what was that?” Bird asked.
“That we was at war with one another. The white men who was my law-talkers” —I took this to mean his lawyers— “tried to tell me what difference that made, but all I got was they was letting me go. That’s what counted, ain’t it?”
I nodded. “The white people have a funny justice system. Most of the time, it takes care of their own, but sometimes the bullet blows out the wrong end of the barrel. That’s what your lawyers did to them. If they held you guilty of murder, then all those soldiers at Wounded Knee were guilty of it, too.”
“How?” Horses asked.
“You weren’t guilty because you—we—were at war. And soldiers killing soldiers or warriors killing warriors during a war isn’t murder. They were bound on hanging you, but their own law got in the way and saved you from the noose.”
“That’s what those law-talkers said.” He shrugged. “So when they let me go, I started for home.” He paused and looked in my direction. “But first, I wanted to come find you.”
“Why? How can I help you?”
Horses dropped his head onto arms folded over his knees for a long moment. At length, he straightened. “I didn’t want to go to the white man’s school over there in Pennsylvania, but they sent me anyhow. I stayed there for five years. I had thirteen summers when I got there and eighteen when they let me go. And when I got home, I found out I wasn’t Indian no more.”
“And you weren’t a white man, either,” I said. “You didn’t fit any longer.”
He snorted through his nose. “I knew I wasn’t gonna be no white man. But I didn’t expect my own people to turn me out when I come back from that school. I was an outcast just like if I’d raped a man’s wife. It couldn’t of been any worse if I had. Nobody trusted me no more. I fought with you and the others at Drexel Mission, but when I went to the Bench after that, it didn’t make no difference. Nobody wanted nothing to do with me.”
I nodded again. “That’s why you killed Lt. Casey.”
He pounded his knee. “I figured if I showed them I was a warrior, maybe they’d see I was still a Brulé.”
Bird took off his hat and slapped it on the ground beside him. “How come you shot him in the back? If you wanted to show you were a warrior, you shoulda faced him.”
Horses shrugged. “Wasn’t sure I was gonna do it. But when he turned around and got on his horse, I panicked about him getting away before I could stop him.”
No one said a word for a full minute. Then Horses roused as if waking.
“Anyway, I heard all these stories about Medicine Hair, and how him and his brother came to help their people.” He looked my direction again, although it was hard to tell because the light was virtually gone now. The campfire was small and gave little relief.
“And I heard he was raised with the whites and acted like a white. But nobody pushed him away. How come?”
I rubbed my nose to give me time to think. “I guess we went about it differently. My spiritual grandfather was the Red Win-tay, a white man named Billy Strobaw. When our tiospaye was massacred in the autumn of ’50, he took in my father and raised him as his own son. Billy was accepted by the Indians. Hell, he was an Indian in everything but blood. He paved the way for Dog Fox—that was my father’s name before he became Cuthan Strobaw—and the rest of us. River Otter, who was also a spiritual grandfather to me, made sure I understood the tribal side of myself. So I was lucky. I was able to walk in both worlds.”
“But that ended, too,” Bird said. “The army burned your farm and arrested you.”
“They only did that when a Cheyenne shot one of them at my farm. Still, what you say is true. My red blood is the cause of the greatest loss of my life. If they hadn’t burned my farm, Shambling Bear and I might not have gone to Pine Ridge.”
“You woulda,” Bird said with conviction. “Bear woulda gone, and you wasn’t about to let him go alone when trouble was coming.”
“Has anything I told you helped?” I asked Plenty Horses.
He shook his head, making his eyes glow in the feeble campfire light. “I don’t have big friends to make a way for me. I have heard of this Red Win-tay and River Otter, too. They walked tall among the people. I have to make my own way.”
“And you are man enough to do it,” I said. “This I feel in my bones. Stay with us tonight, and tomorrow we will go to our farm just a short ride to the south. You can rest up there a few days and then resume your journey. Bird and I will see that you have provisions for your trip.”
I have just finished editing the first book in the series Cut Hand for Snyder Books, (scheduled out soon) and was struck anew by how involved I was with these books. This series is my favorite. I had fun researching. I enjoyed writing. I even get drawn into the stories as I edit… and most writers will tell you that’s a “clinical” undertaking. Cut Hand and Billy Strobaw and Otter and John and Matthew are living, breathing friends of mine… or at least they seem that way. I hope you will accept them as such, as well.
Website and blog: markwildyr.com