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THE FIRST MOUNTAIN MAN PREACHER'S MASSACRE
By William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2013 William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSpringtime in the Rocky Mountains was mighty pretty, thought Preacher, but not so much when some varmints were trying to kill you. It was hard to appreciate the beauty of nature stretched out behind a log with a handful of bloodthirsty savages closing in.
He sure wished he could get to his pistols. All four of them were double-shots and heavily charged, and would cut a wide, bloody swath through the warriors who had jumped him first thing, just as the sun was coming up.
He had gone down to the creek to get some water for the coffeepot. Normally he would have tucked a couple of the flintlock pistols behind the broad leather belt cinched around his waist, but he hadn't put the belt on yet.
It was a greenhorn mistake, and that bothered Preacher as much or more than the fact that he might die in the next few minutes. He'd always figured on dying, but he didn't like the idea of it happening because he'd done something foolish or careless. He had spent most of the past twenty-five years in these mountains, dealing with the frontier's dangers on a daily basis, and he should have known better.
"You're gettin' old, Preacher," he said aloud. "And you're gonna have to be mighty lucky to keep on gettin' any older."
He was fortunate the first arrow that came flying out of the trees hadn't killed him. If he hadn't twisted and bent down to fill the coffeepot at just the right time, the arrow would have buried itself between his shoulder blades instead of slicing a little gash in the side of his neck as it went past him. He'd reacted instantly by launching into a dive that carried him behind a fallen tree at the edge of the stream.
More arrows had whipped through the air above him. Others thudded into the log. He got a good enough look at them to tell that they were Blackfoot arrows.
That eliminated any chance of talking his way out of it. The Blackfeet hated him with a special passion stronger than any of the other tribes. He had killed many of their warriors over the years, often by slipping into the sleeping villages and cutting throats. Some of the Indians called him Ghost Killer because of his ability to get in and out of their camps without being seen and leaving death in his wake.
Once, many, many years earlier, when he was just beginning to get the reputation that still followed him, the Blackfeet had captured him. They had tied him to a stake, and come morning, they would have lit a fire at his feet and burned him to death. He was powerless to do anything except talk.
So talk he did. Recalling a street preacher he had seen back in St. Louis, he began exhorting his captors with a voluminous intensity that would have put many a hellfire-and-brimstone sin-shouter to shame.
Kept it up all night, he did, and by morning, when the Blackfeet had planned on killing him, they were curious to see how long he could keep going. Too curious to kill him, which was just what Preacher had intended.
He wasn't sure how many hours that ordeal had lasted, but in the end the Blackfeet let him go, impressed by his oratory. They'd had plenty of reasons to regret that decision since then, but Preacher surely didn't.
The story of how he'd escaped from certain death got around, as such stories will, and the young man who'd gone by the name Art got tagged with the moniker Preacher. He'd been called that for so long it seemed like his given name.
However, the warriors who had him pinned down behind the log weren't interested in hearing any preaching. All they wanted was his hair, which was thick and dark, with a few flecks of silver, like his beard.
Preacher looked around, taking stock of his situation. He had his hunting knife in a sheath strapped to his right calf. He had the coffeepot, which was heavy enough to serve as a bludgeon. A couple of feet away lay a fairly thick broken branch. If it wasn't too rotten, it might make a decent club.
Those were close-quarters weapons, though. They wouldn't do him any good against bows and arrows.
He knew at least three enemies lurked in the trees and brush. He'd seen arrows flying from that many locations at the same time, which proved it wasn't an actual Blackfoot war party that had attacked him. But the warriors might be scouts from a larger group so there could be more. One of them might have even gone back to fetch the others already.
If he was going to fight his way out, he had to draw them closer, and that wasn't likely to happen unless they thought he was dead. He'd have to try something pretty risky.
But since he was likely to wind up dead anyway, what did it matter?
Moving fast, he pushed himself halfway to his feet as if he were about to make a run for it. Instantly, bowstrings twanged and arrows sliced through the air. Preacher twisted out of the way of a couple, but the third arrow raked along his side, ripping his buckskin shirt and drawing a fiery finger of pain across his flesh.
That was just what he wanted. He let out a yell and flopped gracelessly to the ground behind the log, landing on his back with the arrow between his arm and his body where he had clamped his arm down on it. The shaft stuck straight up in the air as if the arrow had gone all the way through him.
He shuddered and twitched like his body was going through its death throes, and the arrow jumped around accordingly.
Hidden in the trees, the warriors watched that arrow sticking up above the log jerk and dance.
After a moment Preacher grew still and lay absolutely motionless.
Time dragged by. Blackfoot warriors were no fools. They watched carefully, wary of a trick.
But they were also curious, and eager to take the scalp of the notorious mountain man who was responsible for the deaths of so many of their fellows.
Little animal noises that had fallen silent earlier started up again. Had the Blackfeet left? Impossible, Preacher decided. Even if they had decided not to scalp him, they wouldn't go off without making sure he was dead.
In the early morning quiet, he heard his stallion moving around a few yards away. Horse wasn't happy. He snorted and snuffled and danced around skittishly, smelling the bear grease on the warriors' hair. If he had caught that scent earlier, he would have given Preacher some warning, but the lurkers had skillfully avoided getting upwind of the camp.
Dog, the big, wolf-like cur who was Preacher's other long-time trail companion, was off hunting somewhere. He would be back, but maybe not in time to help.
Preacher couldn't hold that against him. Dog had saved his life more times than the mountain man could count.
It was up to him, he thought as the sun climbed above the trees and began to shine down in his face. He closed his eyes against the glare.
More time crawled by. Preacher breathed as shallowly as possible so the arrow wouldn't move around enough for the Blackfeet to notice. What were they going to do, let him lie there all day before they came to lift his hair?
He felt a shadow over his eyes, surprised something had moved between him and the light. He hadn't heard any footsteps. Just like him, the Blackfeet could move mighty quiet when they wanted to.
His eyes flew open just as one of the warriors stepped over the log, knife in hand to cut Preacher's scalp away from his head. Preacher snatched the arrow from between his arm and body and rammed the sharp flint head as hard as he could up into the warrior's groin.
The man screamed in agony and dropped his knife. Preacher snatched it out of midair and rolled to the side. His arm drew back and snapped forward. The knife flashed through the air and caught one of the warriors hanging back a few yards in the throat. The blade went deep, causing blood to spurt out around it. The man gurgled and staggered as he dropped his bow to paw futilely at the wound.
Preacher grabbed up the coffeepot and hurdled the log as the third warrior was trying to nock an arrow to his bow. The Blackfoot threw the bow and arrow aside, knowing Preacher was too close, and grabbed for the tomahawk at his waist.
The move came too late. Preacher swung the coffeepot and smashed it against the side of the warrior's head. Bone crunched under the brutal impact. The Indian fell and began to twitch and shudder much as Preacher had done earlier. The death spasms were real this time.
Preacher dropped the pot and grabbed the warrior's tomahawk just in case either of the other Blackfeet was still alive. He quickly saw that precaution wasn't necessary. Both men had bled to death from the wounds he'd inflicted on them.
Somehow he was still alive, with nothing to show from the encounter except a couple of scratches that didn't amount to anything.
"Horse, I reckon you're lookin' at the luckiest son of a gun on the face of the earth," he told the restive stallion.
But a strong possibility still existed that a Blackfoot war party was in the area. Preacher needed to clear out, get up higher in the mountains, and find a place where he could fort up.
If the three dead men were indeed scouts for a larger group, one thing he could count on was that the men in the war party would come looking for him as soon as they discovered the corpses.
And he didn't want to be found.
Chapter TwoPreacher had gotten his gear packed up and was tightening the cinch on Horse's saddle when Dog came bounding into the clearing beside the creek. "Now you show up," he drawled as the big cur stiffened and approached the bloody bodies to sniff at them. "Could've used a hand a little while ago."
Dog just looked at him and cocked his head a little to the side.
"Naw, I ain't mad at you," Preacher went on. "We got to pull out, though, and can't waste any time doin' it."
Less than five minutes later, Preacher was riding away from the campsite. He sent Horse into the shallow stream and followed the rocky bed with Dog splashing along beside them. The water was cold, but it stayed that way year-round because of the snowmelt from the white-capped peaks around them.
Tall pines covered the steep slopes higher up. In the valleys where he was, aspen, juniper, and birch lined the creeks. Wildflowers bloomed in some of the meadows. Birds flitted from branch to branch in the trees. Preacher saw a moose raise its antlered head at the other end of a long, grassy park.
He liked nothing in the world better than being in these mountains, which was why he always returned to them when life took him to other places for a while. They were the only real home he had ever known. Even when he'd been a kid, living on his folks' farm back East, he hadn't felt like he'd belonged there. He had left as soon as he could, setting out to see the elephant, as the old-timers said.
He had seen the elephant, all right. Seen it and then some.
A smaller creek flowed into the stream he'd been following. He turned Horse and sent the stallion walking upstream. Within a few hundred yards, the creek bed began to rise and soon became too rocky and steep for Horse to keep going in the water. Preacher rode out onto the bank.
He dismounted and all three rested for a few minutes. Then, holding Horse's reins, he led the stallion up the slope with the waters of the creek dancing and bubbling down alongside them. Dog bounded ahead to lead the way through the brush.
An hour of walking lifted them a long way above the valley where Preacher had encountered the Blackfeet. The view was spectacular from the spot where Preacher paused to rest again. Mountains and valleys fell away all around them. He could see so far the distance became hazy even to his eagle-keen eyes.
He didn't spend a lot of time taking in the scenery. He searched the landscape below for any sign of pursuit.
At first it appeared there wasn't any, but then he spotted a flash of motion and color. Might have been a bird, might have been a face painted for war, he told himself. He concentrated on the area. A few moments later, sunlight winked on something metal.
A rifle barrel or a knife, Preacher thought. Definitely not a bird.
"Let's go," he said quietly to Horse and Dog. "They're down there lookin' for us."
He used the trees for cover as much as possible. They reached a spot where the creek had carved a narrow canyon into the rock, forming a pass of sorts on the side of the mountain. It looked wide enough for Preacher to get through with the stallion. He worried about being spotted while they crossed the short stretch of open, rocky ground to reach it, but the canyon was the best route he could see away from the war party.
A hundred yards in, it grew narrower. If it came to a dead end at a waterfall, he and his friends might be trapped in there, Preacher mused.
But if that turned out to be the case, within the cramped confines of the canyon the Blackfeet could only come at him one or two at a time. He would have his pistols and his rifle ready, and he would take them on until he ran out of powder and shot, and then he'd meet them with knife and tomahawk. They would kill him in the end, but they would pay a hell of a price to do so.
He pressed on. After a mile or so of the rock walls so close they scraped on Horse's flanks and the sky was just a thin ribbon of blue overhead, the canyon opened out again into several valleys branching off through the mountains. To Preacher's left was a small pool. Water trickled down an almost sheer cliff and gathered there before forming the creek he'd been following.
It was a good place to stop for a while. He hunkered on his haunches next to the pool and made a late lunch on jerky and pemmican he took from a pouch tied to his saddle.
High above his head, a couple of eagles rode the wind currents, swooping and gliding in apparent joy at being free and living in such a place. Preacher knew how they felt.
After he had eaten and rested, he found a game trail that curled around the shoulder of the mountain and followed it to a ledge where pronghorn antelope grazed. They bounded away at the sight of him. If he hadn't been trying to dodge those Blackfeet, he might have stalked and killed one of the antelope and had fresh meat, but under the circumstances he wasn't about to risk a shot.
At the base of a granite cliff, he found several giant slabs of rock that had sheered off and slid down the mountain sometime during the last centuries. They leaned against the cliff forming a cave-like area. It was big enough for him and his two companions. He led Horse into the shelter. Dog wasn't far behind. The sun was low by the time he unsaddled Horse. It had been a long day, starting early with that fight with the Blackfeet, and he had pushed himself and his friends pretty hard. They'd climbed high and it was quite cool at that altitude.
Once the sun went down the night got pretty chilly. He built a fire right up against the leaning rock so its face would reflect the heat. After it burned down, its embers ought to keep them fairly warm the whole night, he hoped.
After another skimpy meal, he spread his bedroll and crawled into his blankets. All four pistols and his rifle were loaded and close beside him. He hoped he wouldn't need them. He had put a lot of distance between himself and the three dead warriors, and had used every trick he knew to cover his tracks. All he could do was hope it had been enough.
He didn't fall asleep right away. It was very dark behind the rocks, but bits of starlight filtered in around them. Dog lay against him on the side away from the guns. He felt the big cur's steady breathing. If not for the worry about the Blackfeet, it would have been a mighty peaceful night.
His thoughts strayed back over the past few months. Preacher and three of his friends had spent the winter with a Dutch trader named Horst Grunewald, who was better known in the mountains as Blind Pete, even though he wasn't blind.
Pete's trading post had been burned down by some of Preacher's enemies—now deceased—so it only seemed fair that Preacher help him rebuild it. That was what he had done, with assistance from Audie, Nighthawk, and Lorenzo. The diminutive Audie and the taciturn Nighthawk were old friends who had shared many a camp with Preacher. The black man Lorenzo had come west from St. Louis with Preacher after helping him settle a score back there. They were all boon companions, as the storybooks might have phrased it.
But once the weather had turned nicer, Audie and Nighthawk had set out to do some trapping on their own, and Lorenzo had decided to remain at the trading post with Pete, who was glad to have the help.
"My rheumatism's gettin' worse, and I ain't gettin' any younger," Lorenzo had explained to Preacher. "I don't think I'm in any shape to go trampin' around all over these mountains with you, Preacher, much as I might like to."
"Well, that's fine, Lorenzo," he'd said. "I'll miss your company, but I understand."
"You can come by here any time you want to, whilst you're traipsin' around gatherin' up them beaver pelts."
"Yah," Pete had put in. "You are always most welcome here, Preacher."
Excerpted from THE FIRST MOUNTAIN MAN PREACHER'S MASSACRE by William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2013 by William W. Johnstone. 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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