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There were differences between father and son, of course. Toby had fought valiantly as an officer during the long years of the Civil War. In addition, he had spent virtually the entire year since the war ended laying out a route for the new transcontinental railroad to the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps the greatest difference between Toby and his father was too subtle for almost anyone to notice: The son had enjoyed the benefits of a higher education, not to mention the excellent training of his mother, Eulalia. As a result, Toby's speech was more literate, his manners more polished.
Toby Holt looked up from the document he had been reading and glanced out toward the distant snow-capped mountains that lay to the east of his family's ranch house in Oregon. Then he grinned at his good friend and partner, Rob Martin, the surveyor who was working with him on the all-important railroad route.
"We can still back out of this if you want to," Toby said. "It's not too late."
Rob, who was Toby's height and had red hair, chuckled as he reached for the paper. He could not imagine Toby backing out of anything that he had made up his mind to do. They had been close all their lives; Rob's parents, Dr. Robert Martin and the former Tonie Mell, had crossed the continent to Oregon with Whip and Eulalia Holt in the first wagon train to the Pacific Northwest. Most recently, the two young men had formed a partnership with their good friend from Oregon, Frank Woods, who was currently working the lumber camp in the Washington Territory, sending Toby and Rob their share of the profits.
Rob scanned the paper briefly and saw that it was dated six weeks earlier in late February, 1866. It bore the signature of Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, and was written on White House stationery.
The document itself was very simple, directing Toby Holt and Robert Martin to continue with their survey for a railroad line and specifically instructing them to proceed without delay to the Montana Territory for the purpose of determining where the railroad line would be laid there.
"Why in thunderation would we want to back out?" Rob demanded. "We've known for weeks that this presidential order was coming, and we've just been waiting for the weather to improve so we can carry it out."
Toby chuckled dryly. "If you think the Washington Territory was uncivilized and barbaric," he said, "wait until you see Montana. It's primitive! The better part of it looks precisely as it did when Lewis and Clark first traveled through it sixty years ago. As a matter of fact, it hasn't changed much since the thirties and forties when mountain men like Kit Carson and my father were leaders in the fur trade."
"All I know about Montana, really," Rob said, "is that the western half of the territory is very mountainous and the Continental Divide is located there. The eastern half is a lush prairie land and has a number of cattle ranches being established there, so it can't be all that uncivilized. What's more, a great many people raced into the territory in the gold rushes of the past fifteen years. From the stories I have heard, it was as hectic there as it was in California and in Colorado."
"The tidal wave of gold seekers passed through Montana, and practically none of them settled there," Toby replied. "As I say, the better part of the territory is still in its natural state."
"All that is going to change in a great hurry," Rob said humorously. "Beth has been insisting that she is going to move to Montana when we get to work out there, and that she's going to set up a base that we can call home. I've tried to talk her out of it, but you know my wife. Once her mind is made up, nothing will stop her from trying to get her way."
Toby's smile faded, and his heart sank at Rob's mention of his wife. The problem was ever present, and just the thought of it paralyzed Toby Holt.
The difficulty was that he had grown up with Beth Blake, the daughter of Cathy and General Lee Blake, his parents' closest friends. Their mothers had confidently expected them to develop a romantic interest in each other, and, consequently, they had done just the opposite: They had drifted away from each other. Not until he had returned to the ranch after nearly being killed fighting in the Civil War had the sobered Toby realized that he actually cared for Beth, and by that time, it had been too late. Toby was already married, and Beth became betrothed to Rob, soon thereafter marrying him. Thus even after the death of his wife, from whom he had been estranged, Toby was not free to pursue Beth.
"This is none of my business," Rob said with a touch of embarrassment, "but I've been wondering lately if you and Clarissa are going to marry."
"I honestly don't know what I'm going to do," Toby confessed. Certainly his partner knew that he'd been having an affair for some months with Clarissa Sinclair, a widow from Philadelphia, who lived in the Washington Territory. The truth of the matter was that he couldn't decide whether he cared enough for Clarissa to marry her. Images of Beth still intruded, and he felt in all fairness to himself, as well as to Clarissa, that he should get Beth out of his system once and for all before he even contemplated marriage to someone else.
Rob tactfully dropped the subject. He knew more than he was revealing; he had heard, for example, that Eulalia Holt was urging her son to marry Clarissa and that young Cindy Holt, Toby's teenage sister, had become another of Clarissa's champions. Certainly he had no desire to add to Toby's pressures. Besides, right now he and his wife were going to go up to Washington to spend some time together, alone, in the lodge Rob and Toby had built. Rob Martin would have enough pressures of his own coping with his beautiful, impetuous wife.
The mountains of Montana, wild and remote, with many peaks soaring thousands of feet above sea level, brooded in white-capped, silent majesty and set the tone for the territory of which they were an integral part. To their east lay the lush prairie grasslands and meadows, a continuation of the lands to be found in the Dakotas. Buffalo attracted by the vegetation roamed in large numbers, and it was the fertility of the land that had lured settlers here. Rugged and hardy ranch owners, who found the climate and soil perfect for the raising of cattle, were beginning to move into the territory and were establishing homesteads, most of them separated from their neighbors by vast distances.
The isolation, the difficulties of travel, were responsible for most of Montana's problems. The territorial legislature met rarely. The first governor of the territory had resigned in disgust, and the second was dead, widely believed to have been murdered. The administration in Washington as yet had been unable to find a willing replacement for him, just as it was unable to find individuals willing to work as marshals or sheriffs.
Bands of outlaws roamed through the populated sections of the territory, robbing the inhabitants and then disappearing into mountain refuges. The settlers were also harassed by sporadic Indian raids. Of late, large numbers of Indian warriors were arriving in the eastern part of the territory, all of them mounted on their small, swift horses, and all of them wearing war paint.
Had the Montana settlers been in a position to check more closely, they would have realized that the Indians were traveling to a conclave in the hill country that led to the mountains. They came from every direction except the west, and some traveled singly, others came in groups. Some were old friends and had fought numerous battles against the wagon trains of the settlers all the way from Iowa to the Continental Divide. Others had never seen a white man but had heard bloodcurdling tales, in song and in story, of the greed and rapacity of the whites.
"Why have we been called here?" they asked each other as they set up their tents of animal skins.
The reply was always the same. "Only Thunder Cloud knows."
Thunder Cloud was the Sioux chief of chiefs, the undisputed leader of the nation's seven separate, distinct subtribes. He had been elected to his high post a decade and a half earlier, and he had lived up to the highest expectations of his colleagues and supporters.
Thunder Cloud was no ordinary warrior. Educated by early missionaries in what became the state of Iowa, he not only spoke and understood English, but could read and write the language, as well. He kept abreast of the activities of the white men, whom he despised, by reading their newspapers; and by avidly following the battles during the Civil War, he had become an expert on military strategy and tactics.
Tall and rugged, with an aquiline nose, deeply bronzed skin, and penetrating eyes, Thunder Cloud resembled the American Indians who were popularized in the illustrations for the stories by James Fenimore Cooper. Habitually closemouthed, he confided in no one and was regarded as something of an enigma even by the few colleagues who were relatively close to him.
More than one hundred war chiefs of the Sioux had gathered in a hidden valley in the Mountains of the Plains, located in the heart of the Montana Territory. Until Thunder Cloud arrived, they whiled away their time by hunting. In addition to the vast herds of buffalo attracted by the splendid grass of the plains, the area abounded in deer and moose, elk and antelope. Flocks of ducks, geese, and quail flew northward overhead toward their summer resting places in Canada, and the lakes and rivers were full of trout, salmon, and other prized fish.
Thunder Cloud had an instinctive flair for the dramatic, and he arrived in the valley at a moment when his subordinates were beginning to become restless and bored. He rode into the encampment with an escort of twenty-five young warriors, each of them carrying a distinctive Sioux lance, a long, perfectly balanced polelike weapon that braves were taught from earliest boyhood to hurl while mounted on their galloping horses. For his noon meal, Thunder Cloud selected portions of the hearts and livers of a moose and an elk, a deer and an antelope. This was not accidental, and as word of his selection spread through the camp, the wiser and more experienced of the warriors realized that he had deliberately chosen a symbolic meal.
At last he was ready to speak, and he summoned the war chiefs and warriors to his campfire. They surrounded it, sitting cross-legged in a circle on the ground, their arms folded in front of them. For this special occasion Thunder Cloud had worn a headdress of feathers that encircled his head and trailed down his back. He had also revived an old custom of the Iroquois of upper New York state: Over his shoulders he wore a robe of buffalo skin decorated with dyed porcupine quills that formed various geometric patterns.
Not the least of Thunder Cloud's attributes was his talent as a speaker, and he did not disappoint his listeners. He addressed them in a deep, mellifluous voice that was capable of expressing a full range of human emotions, and as he talked, his listeners felt first sadness, then anger, and ultimately even outrage.
"My brothers," he said, "how good it is to share fresh, roasted meat with my blood brethren of the Sioux! How I have longed for this day!" He slowly scanned his audience, and whenever he saw a familiar face in the throng, he nodded, his dark eyes brightening.
Most of his audience was composed of mature men, Thunder Cloud's contemporaries who remembered their own youth in far-off Iowa, which lay to the east. There was no need for the chief of chiefs to remind them they had been slowly pushed westward by the pressure of the colonists who had come from the east and set up their homes and established their farms on the lands that had belonged to the Indians.
Thunder Cloud appeared to be a mind reader. "How far back we go together!" he exclaimed. "How many winters we have been friends. How many summers we have ridden together on the hunt for buffalo."
He had struck precisely the right note, and his listeners stirred. They and he were attached by strong bonds of shared memories, and in their nostalgia, they were ripe for whatever he chose to propose to them.
"Long ago in the time of our fathers," Thunder Cloud said, "all the lands that lie west of the broad Mississippi River belonged only to the Sioux and to our friends from other nations. Then the white men came. Their appetites were huge. Little by little they took our lands from us to build their towns, to create their farms, and to excavate their mines. Little by little we were pushed farther and farther to the west. Until now, for we can go no farther." He gestured in the direction of the distant snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide.
His listeners nodded, and a grizzled subchief of the Sioux shouted, "The mountains are a final barrier. We can retreat no farther."
"We can retreat no farther." Thunder Cloud repeated the words with seeming relish. "In the eastern part of this land called Montana, and on the plains of Dakota, there is game without number. There graze vast herds of buffalo. There, as my brothers know, are elk and moose, deer and antelope for all. In this paradise, this great hunting ground, which we shared with the Blackfoot, who make their home in the northern Plains, and with the Cheyenne, who live in the Wyoming country to our south, we have found contentment But even here the white man has no intention of allowing us to live in peace!"
"Thunder Cloud speaks words of truth!" a young warrior shouted.
The chief of chiefs appeared to ignore the interruption. "Far to the east," Thunder Cloud said, "on the far bank of the Mississippi River, I have seen a terrible invention of the white men. It is an iron horse, an instrument made of metal that belches great clouds of smoke and that travels at high speeds on beds of shining rails. The iron horse carries fifty men at a time, perhaps a hundred, perhaps even two hundred. It carries all of their belongings as well, and it could be used to transport a whole herd of buffalo in safety."
There were some in his audience who had never seen railroad trains, and they were fascinated by his description. Those who knew railroads realized he was not exaggerating and nodded somberly.
"The first settlers who have come into the region," he said, "have traveled by wagon train. How well we know these horse-drawn wagons of the white men! But those who will follow these first settlers expect to travel by iron horse!" His voice rose in wrathful excitement. "No longer will they come in tens or in ten times ten. Now they will travel by the hundreds, and they will spread out through our hunting grounds like a plague of locusts or grasshoppers!"
His auditors were becoming aroused, and they began to move restlessly.
"When an Indian steals," Thunder Cloud declared scornfully, "he is clever. He moves silently in the night, and he makes no sound as he takes that which is not his. But the white man is arrogant—as he always is. Believe me, my brothers, it is good that I know the tongue of these pale-skinned serpents. They actually dare to boast that they are going to build the shiny rails that will carry the iron horses to our hunting grounds. They are so certain they will succeed that they boast in advance of the benefits they will enjoy."
He shook his fist above his head, and his listeners echoed him by doing the same.
"What say you, my brothers?" Thunder Cloud demanded fiercely. "Are we going to sit back and do nothing? Are we going to be like helpless women when the white men come in their iron horses to steal our hunting grounds from us?"
His words had the desired effect. More than one hundred warriors were on their feet now, brandishing tomahawks above their heads and shouting, "No! No!"
The chief of chiefs quieted his audience with a series of sharp, abrupt gestures, and they sat down again.
Excerpted from Wagons West MONTANA! by Dana Fuller Ross Copyright © 1983 by Book Creations, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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