Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Brave

“Whew, Lucy, look at that,” Emmett Swigert shifted in his saddle as he looked at the unusually high waters of Cimarron Creek. “Whatcha think girl?” Lucy answered with a sideways dance in the sand. “Yeah, I don’t wanna freeze my tail off either. Let’s see if we can ford somewhere else.”

Emmett stood in the stirrups to peer up and down the stream. “Which way?” Lucy started a slow pace northward. “Well, I guess you made up your mind, we’re going up stream.”

They rode along for a couple of miles following the high water until they came to a fork in the creek.

“Seems I remember an old trapper’s cabin in the boot between these streams.” He nudged Lucy across ankle deep water and through the marsh nearly to the creek’s edge. The cabin had just come into sight when Emmett jerked hard on the reins. A few yards away stood an Indian pony quietly munching on a patch of brush. “Uh-oh, girl, we’re not alone, one pony, probably one brave.” Emmett patted the restive horse. “Holy moly, look there.”

A young Indian, really no more than a boy, was lying in the cold water. He was trying to pull himself through the water to the cover of the brush, pausing occasionally to look back at Emmett.

“Hey, there,” Emmett gulped at the sound of his own voice. “Lucy, this is a problem.”

Emmett guided Lucy carefully through the marsh to a point just a few feet from the boy. “Looks like you got yerself in a mess.” Emmett swung off Lucy and walked slowy toward the young man. “Easy now, I’m not gonna hurt you.”

The young Indian gave another tug at the grass and cried out in pain and frustration.

“Okay, I see yer problem. You done broke yer leg. Let’s get you out of this water first.” Emmett reached down to pick him up, but the frightened boy swung his fists. Emmett stepped back a moment to rethink his moves. “Lucy, let’s get his pony. That might calm him some.”

Emmett led the Indian’s pony back to the injured boy. The brave immediately looked up and seemed to relax. “Okay, kid, let’s try again.” Emmett reached down and grasped the cold wet man under the arms, this time without any problem. As Emmett expected, the boy let out a whoop of pain as Emmett picked him up. “I’m jus movin’ you over to this dry patch.”

There was no other reply.

Emmett finally got him to the drier ground; then pulled the blanket out of his bedroll, and covered the brave. “Warm up a bit and we’ll see what we can do about that there leg. I’m gonna cut some branches up.”

The brave remained absolutely still and watched as Emmett cut four sturdy branches, and then striped them, and cut them to two foot lengths.

“Okay, lets see what we can do for that leg, it looks like a clean break.” He cut a short piece leather and gestured to the boy. “Here, put this between yer teeth.”

Emmett then cut off strips off of blanket, grabbed the sticks and knelt next to the injured man. He made sure the injured leg was straight, then braced it with the branches and tied the blanket strips tight to hold the leg in place.

“Done,” Emmett leaned back in satisfaction. “Let’s get you back on the pony.”

The brave spat out the piece of leather and closely examined the splint on his leg, but said nothing.

“Okay, pony, I hope you know the way home. Jus hold still.” Emmett wrapped the pony’s rope around the horn on Lucy’s saddle.

“You’re next, kid.”

The boy seemed to understand. As Emmett reached down to grasp him around the chest, the boy tried to stand and was ready to swing his good leg over the pony’s back when Emmett tossed him up. Emmett steadied him while the boy adjusted himself.

“Here’s yer rope,” Emmett slapped the pony and the brave rode up a small hill to the west. At the last moment he stopped, turned, and raised his arm to Emmett in salute.

Emmett returned the gesture, “Go with God,” he whispered.

Cleve's Store

A gray mouse peeked out of a hole in a sack of dried beans at Cleve Hammon’s new supply store. Despite wandering snow flakes whistling through cracks in the walls Cleve kept busy building the shelves that would hold the dry goods. A month earlier, before winter set-in, he had finished the roof and used pine tar to seal its seams and gaps. A barn and a woodshed completed the collection of buildings located above Cimarron Creek in Southwest Kansas.

“We got plenty to do here.” Cleve looked at his old dog curled at the foot of the wood stove. “Got enough wood to get to the thaw…I hope.” The Franklin stove he had hauled from Boston burned in the middle of the main room of the three room cabin.

Outside the cabin horses whinnied. The hound dog stood, and Cleve dropped his hammer. He hurried to the side of the door and cautiously lifted the edge of the rawhide covering the window opening. Through the storm he spotted two men, a young woman, and a child walking toward the cabin. One of the men wore a pistol and carried a rifle, much like the weapon Cleve grasped in his hands.

“Yo, in the cabin.” One of the voices cried out.

“I ain’t open yet.” Cleve hoisted the Henry to the window. “Keep rid’n.”

“Too durned cold. Open the door Cleve. And put that Henry back down.”

“That you Emmett?”

“I picked up some stragglers, you gonna open that door or do we have sleep in the barn?”

Cleve set the Henry on the floor and opened the door. “Daggone it’s good to see you, Emmett. What cause you to ride this way?” The dog lopped out the door and sniffed at the strangers.

“Lucy and I finished work on the Bar-T an there’s no winter’n on that spread, so we headed south. Maybe pickup somethin’ around Amarillo.”

“Who’s that yer dragg’n along?” Cleve nodded at Clarence.

“Kids got caught in the storm. Brought’m here maybe Bertha could mother’m a bit.”

Cleve lowered his head. “Bertha went to the Lord three months ago, consumption got

“Oh, sorry Cleve.”

“Tough life out here Emmett, she got to cough’n blood then she was gone.”

“You runnin this alone then?”

“Best I can, dog and me.”

“Well, you got a family now, though these kids don’t have a lick of sense. They’re what’s left of a bandit raid west of here. Lost their folks, cabin burned out, they managed to run. Boy and his sisters said they was headed for Liberal to sell their cows, but dust storm got’m.”

“Emmett, all I got is some beans and some dried jerky, there’s some stores in the barn.”

Emmett turned to the three youngsters. “Clarence, you kids put them animals in the barn, then come on in here. Bring that flour and anything else in the wagon.” He walked past Cleve and set his saddle on the floor. “Well, it ain’t fishes and loaves, but it’ll do. I think the girl can cook, and the boy – Clarence will help with the work I spect. The little one, Merci will keep you entertained. They need a home.”

“You ain’t stay’n?”


Cleve walked in behind Emmett, “I don’t know Emmett. Look around, I ain’t got half a house yet.

“Ain’t no choice Cleve – I hereby bequeath Clarence, Mary, and Merci to your care. Amen. Got any coffee?”

“On the stove.”

“Last time I was by here all ya had was a barn, ya done a lot for a man with little or no help sides his wife. ”

Mary appeared in the doorway. “Sir, where can I put this Bible. Ma always kept it out at home.”

“Kin you read it?” Cleve scratched his chin.

“No, sir, but Clarence can.”

“Put it right here,” Cleve tapped the table, “ I guess Clarence is going to be reading that to us a little each day.”

Emmett gulped his coffee. “This here’s yer new home. You kids are gonna stay here with Mr. Hammon.” The mouse stood on his hind leges in the corner and seemed to applaud.

Merci ran in the door followed by Clarence, her eyes were big as silver dollars. “Look Clarence, the promise land.”

Emmett tipped his hat back with his coffee cup. “Yup, probably so.”

A Dust Storm

The dust storm started with a gentle breeze and swirl. Seconds later dust darkened the sky. Emmett Swiggert rode down the bank of a dry streambed, pulled the saddle from his horse, and turned her tail to the wind. He took off his duster and covered her head, then crawled as best he could beneath the duster to clutch tightly to both the mare and the coat. A prairie dust storm, with no shelter, was dangerous for horse and rider.

The wind howled over their huddled bodies, while sand and tumble weeds beat relentlessly at them. Finally, there was a break in the winds.

“Lucy. We gotta find some shelter for tonight, this is just the beginning and there’s a chill in the air.” He brushed Lucy’s back with his blanket roll, trying to get the dirt and sand out of her buff colored hide. “Maybe we can make it to Cimarron Creek. There’s a fella building a store there. We’ll be okay, if’n the Lord will send us that way.”

Emmett generally relied on instinct for his sense of direction and rode following the sun. But the cloudy skies forced him to rely on old memories. He re-saddled Lucy and walked up the low sides of the bed. When he finally remounted he looked for signs of the old trail. Finally, he spotted a cut in the prairie clay.

Dust had settled across the old wagon trail but Emmett could make out occasional indentions. “Somebody pulling a load. Hope they found cover before that wind.”

An hour later the wind began to pick up again, but Emmett and Lucy were well into the slate foothills. “Weather’s changn’. All this wind’s pushing something toward us.” They followed a streambed for a mile or so until they came upon a wagon and a team. Two head of cattle lay on the ground at the rear of the wagon. Emmett paused and examined the scene.

Lucy was uncomfortable standing in one place and began a circular dance and indicated her displeasure with a whiney. “Hey, girl, we’re just look’n, we can ride on by if it don’t look friendly.”

Suddenly, a blond child ran around the corner of the wagon; a young woman followed the child. Emmett could hear the laughter and their voices.

“Merci, you better get back here. Don’t you go runn’n off around here, there’s Indians, snakes, and bandits.”

Lucy snorted.

The young woman stopped sensing something different in the air. “Merci. Right now. Get back here.”

Lucy shook her head and tugged at the reins. “Whoa girl,” Emmett whispered.

“Clarence,” the young woman called out. I thought I heard a horse a minute ago.” The two young women disappeared around the corner of the wagon out of Emmett’s sight.

Wisps of dust were making small circles in the clearing. “Anybody there?” A male voice rang above the wind.

“I wonder what these folks are doing out here,” he whispered to Lucy, “well, at least he didn’t say he had a gun.” Lucy nodded.

“If you hear a hammer lock-back we’ll high tail it. Okay?” Lucy began to walk toward the wagon. “Ho there,” Emmett called out. He tried to sound friendly. As soon as Lucy stepped out of the draw a blast of wind rocked Emmett and he shifted in the saddle. “There’s gonna be a storm for sure.”

Just as Emmett expected, a young man stepped around the wagon. In his hands was an old squirrel rifle.

“Hold there,” the young man called to Emmett. “Whatcha want?”

Emmett stopped Lucy in the path. “Like I said, bad storm comin’ and you look like you need help.” Emmett dismounted and led Lucy toward the wagon. Emmett wore a pistol strapped to his thigh but it was snapped in the holster. “Why you out here?”

“Headed for Liberal.” The young man stammered. “Supposed to be takin’ them cows to sell.”

“The wagon too no doubt.” Emmett looked at the kids; he guessed he was looking at everything they owned. “There’s more dust comin’ probably snow too, untie the cows, then pull them horses and wagon into this draw. Otherwise you won’t have horses to sell either.”

The little girl poked her head around the corner. “Is this the angel ma said God would send to save us?”

Emmett smiled and shook his head. “Sorry, kid, I ain’t no angel, but the Lord does seem to have sent me here to help y’all escape the storm.”

Nathan's Prayer

A cold wind whistled through the valley where Nathan Dillard sat watching his small cattle herd. He pulled his collar up to cover his neck and the same time shifted slightly in his saddle. His mare sensed his movement and moved a step on the rocky trail. When she moved her hoof struck a rock and slid causing her to take several steps for balance.

“Whoa girl, it’s just me.”

Only the wind answered his admonition. The spring skies were cluttered with the morning stars; but, on the high plain there was little else to still the wind. Somewhere in the distance a lonely coyote spoke to the falling moon and a new calf bawled at her mother as the herd generally started a casual movement.

Nathan’s voice started low, a soothing tone that the cattle recognized. The melody harmonized the whistling wind.

“Oh hear that lonesome dogie cry
His voice sings in the air
Don’t ya wish that he won't die
Along the trail tonight.

And should the springtime floods arrive
Before the earth is light
Then wash away my sins and sighs
Along the trail tonight.

Oh hear that lonesome dogie cry
His voice sings in the air
Don’t wish that he won't die
Along the trail tonight.

We’re comin’ home for Jesus name
There’s dust upon the trail
We’re leaven’ behind all the shame
Along the trail tonight.

Oh hear that lonesome dogie cry
His voice sings in the air
Don’t ya wish that he won't die
Along the trail tonight.

He repeated the song at least a dozen times till even his mare seemed to fall asleep. The first light soon began to peek over the Eastern sky alerting Nathan. He knew that the light would soon enter the chaparral which he had the evening before chosen to station the herd. Water was his primary interest and there was plenty, but the warmth of the sunshine would make the animals restless and since he was riding alone he wanted to insure peace throughout the heard.

“Girl, we better get ol’ bossy to move her calf further into the canyon, if we can get that done before breakfast, the rest of the critters will stay in one place.”

His horse raised her head in acknowledgement and immediately stepped along the trail. Nathan and his mare were of one sense and he rarely had to spur or tightly rein her. They rode quietly around the herd and gently separated out the aforementioned cow and calf. Just as he predicted, the entire herd followed as they moved slowly into a box canyon. Two hours later the sun lit the valley floor and the earth seemed to come alive.

Nathan dismounted and pulled the saddle off of the mare. For a few minutes they could rest and eat before the chore of driving the cattle down to the ranch. His work was almost over, but he knew that he couldn’t rest long.

He thought about giving up the trail life, but had told many a young lady that he couldn’t be cooped up in a cabin.

“Just us out here ol’ girl. God to watch over us. These critters to keep us company.” He stroked the back and mane of his horse. She in turn nuzzled his neck. He continued by stroking her ears. “This spring there’s gonna be a lot of them little calves. God done give us a gift. Guess maybe that’s what springtime is all about, huh, girl? New life.”

The mare shook her head as if in agreement; and then playfully snorted.

“We got a lot of work ahead of us today, you up to it?”

He led her to the stream and while she drank he chewed on a piece of hard bread. Finally, the sun was in full glow.

“Let’s you and I thank the Lord this morning.” The horse laid her head against his shoulder as Nathan pulled off his hat, faced the morning sunshine, and raised his hands.

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