Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 655, January 29, 2012

"The American Spring"

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The Hunt
A story
by Neale Osborn

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

I certainly didn't set out that day to befriend a heathen savage. No, far from it. I set out to kill one. Or several. I'd found the remains of that settler's wagon. The dead bodies. The killed and eaten mules. Indians LOVE to eat mules. They seem to prefer them to beef and even buffalo. They'd looted and burned the wagon. I was gonna hunt'em down and take a few scalps of my own. I had me a nice Colt revolver, and a Winchester rifle, both in .44-40, and I had the righteousness of revenge in my heart. No, the settlers were strangers to me, stumbled upon while riding from my last job, driving cattle from Bozeman to the rails in Kansas City.

I'd decided that another winter in Bozeman was too much to face, so I headed south and west from KC. I'd come upon the smoldering remains of the wagons. I buried the dead, put an old family Bible I'd found into my saddlebags, and figgered to read them redskins from the Book, once I'd caught up to'em. In the meantime, I'd read the names in the back of the book, and see if it was possible to figger out where they'd come from, so's I could notify their next o'kin. I was just a-hopin' I'd find them savages before they'd finished with the womenfolk. I'd heard the stories. Since there were women's things in the remains of the wagon, and no women among the bodies, I KNEW there was a white woman or more praying for help. I ain't never been known as a partic'lar good man, I sure ain't a bad one either, unless it's "A bad man to get in a fight with". So I started scoutin' fer sign, and tracking them injuns down. Signs said there was 4 or 5 of'em. Not good odds for a lone man with a pair of horses, but what could I do? I ain't cut out to sleep sound when a woman was in danger. At dark, I made camp by a small seep.

Up before dawn as usual, I made a fire I coulda covered with my hat, and boiled some coffee, and cooked a little bacon on a stick. I put out the fire, packed up, and got on the trail as soon as I could see the tracks. After 3 days of tracking, I finally lost the trail, and was forced to guess where they was headin'. I could spot a mite of green in the distance, and it didn't have that shimmery look of a mirage, So I pointed Buck that way and let 'im go. When I go closer, I got off Buck, and scouted around fer sign. Sure enough, there was sign of at least one of the horses I'd been trackin', so I tied Buck and the pack horse to a bush, and prepared to sneak up on them murderin' bastards as soon as dark fell.

Now, much has been made of the "poor" redman, and how we done overwhelmed their lands and took their game, and much of it is true. We came with better weapons, better tools, and one hell of a lot more people. Also, the Indian didn't have the concept of property ownership. But "poor" don't describe them. There is nothing to pity about an Indian warrior, and he'd be the first to tell you that. He didn't want pity OR contempt. He was a proud man, brave and strong by his standards, even if some of them standards wasn't the white man's standards. He wanted an honest, strong opponent. He didn't always get the honest part, and I ain't proud o'what Washington done to'em a bunch of times. But I wasn't pityin', supportin', or feelin' guilty right then. I was hunting a buncha murderers. At least, I thought I was.

I grew up in the Tennessee mountains, neighbors to not much, and many a time Pap would gimme one charge for the rifle, and I better bring back the charge or an animal, or I'd go hungry (with a swithced ass, as well, if'n he'd been drinking!) I'd learned to Injun up on game, because that old rifle was purty wore out. I'm right good on the sneak, if I do say so myself, and I snuck right up to their camp. I needed to find them women afore I raised any ruckus, but at first, I didn't see one. I DID see two people, covered with a buffalo robe, sleepin' near the fire, but no white woman. Then, one got up to tend the fire. She was gorgeous, in the common clothes of a farmer's wife, but she weren't no white girl. She was an Apache. As was her blanket companion. As she got up, I saw the bloody bandages on the brave still lying down. They were brown and crusty, and didn't look none too fresh. I was trying to figger out what was goin' on when she turned and spoke. "You might as well come in to the fire. I'm unarmed, as is my brother." I guess I warn't as good at sneakin' as I thought.

I stood up, walked in to the fire, looked'em both over, then holstered my Colt .44. "Could you be tellin' me what the hell is goin' on here? I was tracking a raiding party that attacked a settler's wagon and stole a white woman. And here YOU are, dressed in her clothes, riding with the raiders. Sumthin' don't add up here!" She sat back and explained. "First, my name is Mitena, which means _Born at the New Moon_. Friends call me Moon." It turned out she'd been living in the the house of a rancher's family, who'd befriended her daddy, the patriarch of a small group of Ojibwe, moving through the area on their way north. When most of the group was killed off by a smallpox outbreak, the family took her in and gave her a home for a while. A few weeks earlier, the rancher and his wife and son were killed by some "settlers" who'd stopped by on their way past, and been put up like westerners always do for a traveller. The "settlers" took Moon with'em for a play toy. Her brother and a few friends who'd been away, trapping when the pox hit, took exception to that, and raided the wagon when they caught up to it. The problems really started when they split from her brother's friends. It seems they hadn't gotten ALL of the raiders, and two of 'em caught up a couple days back. Her brother'd taken two bullets, one in the leg and one in the side. The one in the side was infected pretty badly, and she'd had to stop here to wash the wounds and hunt for some herbs to clean them.

"Why did you call me in, then. How do you know I ain't one of 'em?" Moon said "I couldn't be sure, but if you were, you probably would have killed my brother as he lay there. You didn't so I felt I had a chance to talk my way out of trouble." Now what was I to do? I'd set out to free a white woman from Injuns. I ain't a man overly fond of Injuns. I've met some good ones and some bad ones, kilt a few in my 3 years in the army, and a couple more that were raiding trail herds. I've traded with 'em for horses, and found 'em to be great judges of horseflesh. Hell, Buck was a Nez Perce Appaloosa, traded off'n an old Injun a couple years back. But you couldn't call me a friend of 'em. But I also couldn't walk away from ANY woman, even if she warn't the white woman I'd set out after, and a wounded man who'd risked all to save his sister. Nor am I much of a Christian. I mean, you couldn't grow up back then and not wind up in church. It was a place for everything from socializin' and business dealin's to hymn singin' and courtin' girls. I confess, though, it was the girls I went for mostest. But ain't no way I could walk away. No matter the race, a woman and a wounded man wasn't somethin' I could walk away from. So I told her I was gonna go git my horses, and we'd see about feedin' up her brother and do what we could to fix him up. A little while later, with water boilin' on the fire for coffee, some bacon broilin, and my horses picketed with theirs, I set out to do some doctorin'.

After cleaning the wounds as best I could, I gave Moon my spare Colt and a handful of ammo. Then I took my guns and blanket and headed away from the fire. I'd decided to set up a watch from a hundred yards away or so. It woulda been better to kill the fire and move camp, but her brother couldn't be moved. With the "settlers" out there, I didn't want to be by the fire. I'd camped cold many a time, and once more wouldn't hurt me none. By the time I'd moved to my own camp, it musta been past midnight. But them raiders had me worried, so I didn't set up to sleep. I wrapped my blanet around me, set my rifle on my knees, and watched across the prairie. With no moon to speak of, though, I didn't have much hope of seeing them, so I also kept lookin' to the fire. Suddenly, I saw her tense up by the fire. They had arrived. Fortunately, they DIDN't shoot her brother from the dark. but they sure as hell got the drop on HER. I wanted to shoot from there with my Winchester, but two things were stopping me. First, they were between me and Moon. I wouldn't miss them, but that didn't mean the bullet would stay in my target. And I couldn't be sure two was all there were.

Now, I didn't know Moon from Adam's housecat, but I figgered she wasn't gonna be one to roll over and play dead. And I didn't see'em take the Colt I'd left her, so she was still armed, although the gun was probably inside her dress, so it'd be hard to reach fast. So I had to wait a few and see if anyone else showed, then get into the camp. Then I'd read'em from the book, as Pappy would say. First things first. No cowboy ever carried his six-shooter with 6 rounds in it. Drop the gun on a hard surface, and the hammer might well fire the round. and workin' cattle, you're likely to drop it. But with a fight in the offing, I loaded that last chamber. That plus my rifle gave me enough ammo for a short battle, and I wasn't plannin' on lettin' the other guys do any shooting anyway. I could smell the sage and some woodsmoke as I started sneakin' towards the fire. Suddenly, I smelled stale tobacco smoke, too. Somebody was out here with me.

I figgered that if'n they heard a gunshot at the fire, they might kill either her or her brother. So I slowly removed the strap from my bowie, holstered the Colt, and placed the Winchester on the ground, hoping I'd be able to find it later. Then, sniffing the breeze like a wolf, I began followin' the cigarette smell. As the smell got stronger, I went slower. I didn't need him to spook OR make a noise. Now, normally, I'd never dream of knifing a man in the dark. But these boys had already proven they wasn't no good guys, and I had a girl and a wounded man to look after. I know many wold never help an Injun like this, and I admit I'd started this trip out intending to kill me a few of 'em, but things had changed. First and most important, the Injuns were'nt the bad guys here. Second, a wounded man and a girl were NEVER legitimate targets for ANYONE. And, last but certainly not least, after looking at those black eyes, set in that strong face and surrounded by that long straight black hair, well, I'da charged the gates of Hell with a bucket of spit and taken on Ol' Nick hisself. Even though I'd never said a word of what I was feelin' to her. So here I was sneakin' through the sagebrush, knife in hand like an Injun, for the gorgeous eyes of an Injun girl I'd probably never see after this was over. Yup, I'm a man, all right!

As I crept through the dark, I finally made out the form of a man, leanin' against a rock, keepin' a watch out over the camp. As I was gettin' ready to kill him, I thought "What if he ain't with the raiders? Am I gonna kill an innocent man?" I hadda find out before I could do it! DAMN, this was gonna make things a lot harder. But once the thought occurred, I had no choice. So I started snakin' up behind him. I grabbed him around the throat, jabbed my knife a half inch in towards his kidneys, and hissed "Don't make no noise if you want a chance of living! If you answer me true, I won't kill ya. If I think you lie, or find out you did, I'll come back and cut your throat before you wake up. Are you with them murdering bastards down at the fire?" He exclaimed "Hell no! I ain't no Injun! We was huntin' them Injuns down. That buck kilt my brothers fer jest playin' around with that purty little squaw!" Wrong answer. He thought I thought he was with the Injuns. I choked him till he stopped moving, then tied him with a few piggin strings, and stuffed hiw own bandanna in his throat and tied THAT in place, too. If'n I survived the night, I'd show up and loosen his ties a little before we left. Now, I had work to do and bad guys to fight. So I headed back to grab my rifle, then, it was off towards the fire.

I had to study up on a way to do this that gave me a chance to save Moon and her brother. I knew when the fighting started, she'd join in once she got that Colt out, but it's take her a few seconds to get it out of wherever she'd hidden it. And in a fight, those few seconds would take longer than the fight probably was gonna be. So it was all on me. As I got closer, I could hear them talking to her. "....shoulda run, missy. If'n you'd just behaved an' played nice, we'da probably turned you loose when we was done with you. Now, come dawn, I'm figgering to play a little game of Injun and anthill with that buck there, then me, Jimmy, and Bob are gonna spend a few days teaching you manners. And believe you me, you ain't likely to enjoy the lessons." Well, there wasn't no doubt now about who was wrong here and who was right. These old boys was trash, pure and simple. And trash gets buried, which I was aiming to do right quick. Since the speaker and his partner were standing fairly close to each other, and Moon was off to their left compared to where I was standin', I decided that simple was best. So I simply stepped into the firelight, said "Howdy, boys!" eared back the hammer on that ol' Colt, and opened fire. No, it wasn't fair. But then, fair is highly over-rated when it comes to dealin' with murderous scum like that. 3 seconds of thunderous fire, and the two of them were dead on the ground. As I thumbed fresh ammo into my pistol, I realized I was bleeding from my arm. Damn, that guy was fast. Moon put her own smoking Colt in her dress pocket, and came over and bandaged my arm. Now, to deal with that tied up fellow. Being practical, Moon wanted to cut his throat (a girl after my own heart) ((Okay, she already HAD it, but ya get my drift), but I couldn't just murder anyone. So, after we packed the horses, gathered up THEIR horses (that were tied up a ways away), I carried that ol' boy down to the fire, and set him down by his friends.

"This better be the end of this crap, boy. If I EVER see you near any of us again, I'll kill you. Now, I'm gonna loosen you up a bit. WHEN you work loose, you can bury your friends or not at your choice. You have water, and I'll leave you a little food. No horse, because we don't feel like being followed. I REALLY better never see you again."

No, I never set out to befriend a heathen savage that day. OR to find a mate. But that's how I met your Mother, my children.

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