"A Messiah Shall Lead Them...".
In the Wyoming wild, Blackfoot warriors prepare for battle, their bloodlust stirred by a legendary prophet promising victory in a war that will forever rid the plains of the white man. To legendary mountain man Preacher, it isn't a promise - it's a threat. But being out-numbered in a savage frontier means justice will be as hard-earned and uncertain as...survival."
...To An Early Grave".
With a loyal Cheyenne as his guide, and a spirited Dragoon squadron for cover, Preacher forges up the treacherous Sante Fe trail. But the only way to win this war is to unmask the hell-raising Messiah whose godforsaken message is leading a desperate people into certain massacre...
About the Author
Being the all-around assistant, typist, researcher, and fact checker to one of the most popular western authors of all time, J.A. Johnstone learned from the master, Uncle William W. Johnstone.
He began tutoring J.A. at an early age. After-school hours were often spent retyping manuscripts or researching his massive American Western History library as well as the more modern wars and conflicts. J.A. worked hard—and learned.
“Every day with Bill was an adventure story in itself. Bill taught me all he could about the art of storytelling. ‘Keep the historical facts accurate,’ he would say. ‘Remember the readers, and as your grandfather once told me, I am telling you now: be the best J.A. Johnstone you can be.’”
Read an Excerpt
The First Mountain Man
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1996 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Preacher had to go east to travel west, he discovered, when he decided to accept an assignment from the U.S. Army. Times had been lean for a while. Trapping was a thing of the past. Only a handful of men clung to the old ways, trapped and traded pelts to a market with little demand. Not so the legend called Preacher. Wisely he had salted away ample gold and silver coin, even invested some, most recently in what sounded to many like a fool's venture; Mr. Fulton's steamboat works.
As the smoke-belching paddle wheelers proliferated, so did Preacher's profits. Although ten years of only investment income had severely drained his reserve, he could no more leave the High Lonesome than many of the mountain men. Which meant he had to take whatever he could get to stay in supplies and keep afloat. Thus it was that he grudgingly considered accepting a commission from the War Department to act as trail guide and scout for a regiment of Dragoons. Preacher read again the letter that had accompanied the commissioning papers that had yet to see his signature.
Word has come out of the Northern Rocky Mountains of the Unorganized Territory that the Blackfoot are gathering in great numbers. The savages are being agitated by some holy man, who claims to have the way to bring back the White Buffalo and drive the white men out of the plains forever.
It is vital in these unsettled times to secure our northern flank. A conflict with Mexico seems imminent and our nation could ill afford an Indian uprising when our attention shall be directed southward. To which purpose, it is the decision of the Secretary to dispatch a battalion of Dragoons to the area of the Bighorn Mountains in the northeast part of the Territory to serve as a presence in the area.
The battalion is to depart Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, and proceed up the Missouri to the North Platte River, and from there into the high country of Wyoming where they will establish a fort. The purpose of this post will be to oversee the Blackfoot from a discreet distance, and to show the flag to the Cheyenne and Sioux.
What a stupid idea, Preacher thought. Then, as was the habit of many men who lived alone in the stunning quiet of the High Lonesome, he spoke his ruminations aloud.
"That'll only cause trouble where there's none now. What's got in ol' Quincy's head?" Preacher was referring to Quincy Vickers, an old friend. "He lived out here, and trapped, and knows the Injuns. Maybe it ain't this idee at all. Might be he needs his irons hauled out of the fire."
Knowing the striped-pants crowd from past experience, Preacher was well aware of their propensity for overreaction and ... for stupidity. He was to sign the papers and take them to Bent's Fort, where two copies would be sent by fast messenger to Jefferson Barracks and Washington City. There he would pick up the first installment of the fee offered him. After a heavy sigh and an idle scratch of his thick, yellow-brown hair, Preacher picked up a quill pen and dipped it in his ink pot. With meticulous care, he formed the letters of his name.
* * *
Preacher shut and latched the door to his wintering place, careful to poke the latch string back inside. He'd be busy all summer, most like. He curled a dally of the lead rope of his packhorse around the overlarge horn of the Mexican saddle and swung atop his most recent acquisition, a crossbreed Morgan stallion which had a sturdy mountain mustang for a dam. Preacher had named him Tarnation. He shook the reins and drummed heels into stout sides.
"Well, Tarnation, we'd best be eatin' miles. I reckon I can find some companionable fellers down Bent's Fort way to accompany me on this commission as they called it."
In his letter, Quincy Vickers had told Preacher that he was authorized to hire on up to four men, at a rate of three dollars a day. Leave it to the government, Preacher mused, to offer enough money for some men to kill over it.
* * *
Big Nose Harper and his sidekick, Algernon Bloore, had gotten roaring, stumbling, falling-down, crap-in-their-drawers drunk the previous night. Now, some seven hours later, they didn't fare much better. Still too soaked in alcohol to suffer hangovers, they nevertheless sought some "hair of the dog." Their source, no matter how ill-advised, was William "Nifty" Bates, who had recently opened a trading post and road ranch saloon at the summit of Trout Creek Pass. Nifty was frankly afraid of Big Nose.
Big Nose Harper was a bear of a man, with a barrel chest, long, thick arms, tree-trunk legs, and his most memorable feature which gave him his nickname, an overlarge nose that had been smeared over his face. He held in contempt all "shopkeepers," to which subspecies he considered Nifty Bates belonged, and he went out of his way to make their lives miserable. Nursing his alcohol fog, Big Nose now went about tormenting Nifty.
"This whisky tastes like frog pee. You waterin' it down again, you cheat?"
"N-n-no, not at all, Mr. Harper," the barkeep stammered. Bates would soon sell out, inspired in part by the events of that afternoon.
Harper slammed his pewter mug on the pine-plank bar hard enough to make dust rise. "I say yer waterin' it. An' m'name's Big Nose."
"No I'm not, Mr. ... er ... Big Nose."
Harper's mean, close-set eyes narrowed. "Are you makin' fun of my honker?"
"Oh, no. You — you told me to call you Big Nose."
Big Nose looked offended. "I never said no such thing. Any man calls me that's lookin' for a killin'. A pantywaist like you's good for a knuckle-drubbin'."
A shadow fell across the toes of the boots worn by Big Nose, cast by a figure that filled the doorway. "Why don't you pick on someone nearer your size, Big Nose? Or should I call you blubber ass?"
Harper spun to face his detractor. "Who in hell are you?"
"They call me Preacher."
"Folks say he's a mean one, Big Nose," sniggered Algernon Bloore, who was more than a few biscuits shy of a plateful.
"Shut up, Algie," Harper snarled. He sized up Preacher and found him wanting. Whisky had so clouded his reasoning that he failed to see the hard, deadly glint in the gray eyes of the raw-boned man in the doorway. "Now, if you'll oblige me by gettin' the hell outta here, I'll have another drink. Barkeep, make it snappy."
Emboldened by the presence of Preacher, Nifty Bates took a stand. "No, sir. You've had too much. The bar is closed to you."
Harper cut his eyes to Algie. Surprise registered on both their faces. No man ever spoke to Big Nose Harper that way. Growling, Big Nose reached across the plank bar and balled the front of Bates' shirt in both hands. With a yank that looked effortless, and was, he hauled the proprietor off his feet and across the bar.
Taking quick, mincing steps, which caused his long, greasy black locks to churn in protest, Big Nose Harper crossed the room and threw Nifty Bates out into the dusty dooryard. He then dusted hamlike palms together and snarled a reply to Bates.
"I say who drinks an' who doesn't around here."
Preacher took exception to that. "Like hell you do."
Glee brightened the pig eyes of Big Nose. "Mr. Preacher, prepare to meet yer maker."
With that, he came at the living legend of the mountains, arms widespread for his favorite bear hug. It had crushed the life from seven men before this. Big Nose saw no problem in making it eight. Which proved to be a terrible mistake.
Preacher crouched and duck-waddled out of the grasp of those powerful arms. When Big Nose blundered past, Preacher popped up and slammed an open palm into the side of the brawler's head, cupping it over the ear. If not for the thick ropes of greasy hair, the blow would have burst the ear drum of Big Nose. All it did, though, was set up a furious ringing and made him even angrier.
Big Nose whirled and swung at Preacher's chin. Preacher pulled his head back a few inches and let the big knuckles swish past. Then he went to work on the exposed ribs of Big Nose. Soft thuds sounded clearly enough to be heard by Nifty Bates. Dull-witted Algie Bloore decided to get in some licks on Preacher to win favor from his companion. He got a solid kick in the stomach for his efforts, flew backward with a hefty grunt and smashed into the bar. At once he began to spew up the liquor he had consumed.
By then, Big Nose had rallied and again grappled to encase Preacher in a bear hug. Preacher would have none of that. He backpedaled and swung a short, hard right to the face of Harper. Big Nose's most prominent feature got a little bigger when Preacher connected with the much-broken bridge. Preacher followed with a left hook that snapped Harper's jaw shut with a loud click. A second later, arms and legs twined around Preacher from behind.
Always a sneak, though not bright enough to profit by it, a somewhat recovered Algie Bloore had maneuvered to where he could leap on Preacher's back. "I got him, Big Nose, I got him!" he yelled gleefully.
Instead of struggling, Preacher simply flexed his knees and rammed himself backward into a six-by-six upright that supported part of the roof. Algie's shout of triumph turned to a squeal of pain.
"B'god, b'god, I think my back's broke."
"You'll git over it," Harper growled. Then he came for Preacher.
Always obliging, Preacher stepped away from the post and let Algie fall limply to the floor. He met the onrush of his opponent with a series of fast lefts and rights. A small grunt came from Harper with each impact. Half a dozen and he staggered sideways, his vision blurred. Fresh rage welled up inside him and he reached for a knife.
A shaft of sunlight through the open doorway made the keen edge a streak of fire. Harper advanced on Preacher, who produced his Greenriver and took a couple of swipes through the air. When Harper lunged Preacher cut him across the back of the hand. The knife fell from pain-filled fingers. Preacher kicked it aside.
Preacher whirled to find a revived Algie Bloore hurtling at him, a knife extended in one hand. Preacher parried and sidestepped. He kicked Bloore's feet out from under the slightly built, ferret-faced man and Bloore went sprawling on the plank floor. His face was gouged by the rough boards; his knife skidded across the room. Preacher paused to take stock.
Both men looked fairly well whipped. Big Nose Harper stood, slope-shouldered, his breath harsh and irregular, head bowed. He tried, clumsily, to wrap a bandanna around his wounded hand. Preacher strode to the bar and pulled a beer for himself.
"Look out!" The warning shout came from Nifty Bates in the doorway.
Preacher spun on one heel to see Algie Bloore pull a long, single-barrel, caplock pistol from his waistband. Now, Preacher had been willing to oblige when the pair of frontier trash yanked steel on him, but he figured this was going too far. Recently outfitted with a pair of. 44 Walker Colts, Preacher unlimbered one. He smoothly cocked the hammer as the muzzle cleared leather and snapped his elbow inward to elevate the barrel and level it on the target.
For all of his getting started last, Preacher's bullet reached the target first. Algie Bloore's head snapped backward from the impact of the 200- grain ball. A fist-sized chunk of his skull erupted from the left rear and showered the wall with gore. Reflex triggered his pistol and sent a ball into the front of the bar, close by Preacher's leg.
Enraged beyond caution by the swift death of his partner, Big Nose Harper dragged out a pair of double-barreled pistols. He thumb-cocked one awkwardly and swung it in the direction of Preacher. His first barrel discharged and put a ball into the wall beside Preacher's head a split second after Preacher put a .44 slug from his Walker Colt in the center of Harper's forehead.
Ears ringing from the confined detonations, Preacher examined his handiwork. Thick layers of powder smoke undulated in the cool interior of the saloon. Shakily, Nifty Bates entered. He walked over to Preacher and wrung his hand in gratitude and relief.
"I ain't never seen such fancy shootin' in my born days. Drinks are on the house, Preacher. Dinner, too. This pair's been nothin' but a misery and torment to me the past three days."
* * *
Up in the Blackfoot Mountains of Montana Territory, a huge gathering of warriors whooped it up around a large fire. The entire carcass of a bison, cut into quarters, turned on green-wood spits over separate cookfire. Off to one side, three Blackfoot braves handed out shiny new rifles from wooden crates at the back of a wagon. Each man gifted with one of these received a bag of a hundred lead balls and a horn of powder. For the time being, they would not be given the percussion caps. Four older men, seated around a large drum, hit the final double beat and concluded their song. The warriors stopped dancing and gathered in a wide semicircle around a startlingly white buffalo-hide lodge.
A young-looking man stepped out of the entrance and struck a pose before them. Although in his mid-thirties, he had the look of a man in his early twenties. His coppery face was elastic and unlined. He wore ankle-high moccasins, beaded and quilled in traditional Blackfoot design, a knee-length loincloth and an abbreviated, soft, pliable, elkskin hunting shirt. Over that was a most unusual item of garb, which lay in turn beneath a second, larger hunting shirt. Hair-pipe bracelets adorned his forearms and a breastplate of bison teeth, hair-pipe beads and brass cones covered his chest. He raised his arms above his head to command attention. The silence, immediate, became profound.
"My brothers, there are many among you who say Iron Shirt is too young to make strong medicine. You say that I have been a medicine man for only ten winters. Yet, I say to you that I have the strongest medicine. I received it in a vision when I visited among the Paiute. My spirit guide appeared to me and showed me a hidden valley. 'Dig here' the spirit said, pointing at a low mound. 'You will find the power of White Buffalo. You will learn the ways of making the medicine that will bring back White Buffalo and drive the white-eyes from our land forever.' I dug there, and I found what the spirit wanted for me. Then I was shown the dance we have just danced, and much more. It makes me safe from any white man's bullets. It will work for you also. The day is coming soon when the white men will fall to the earth like soft hailstones. I bring you rifles, the newest and best. Plenty of bullets, too. When you have finished the ritual of Iron Shirt, you will be stronger than any bullet."
"You say the white man's bullets cannot harm you, Iron Shirt. Prove it and we will follow you," a doubter among the experienced warriors challenged.
Iron Shirt looked at his detractor contemptuously for a moment, then forced an amiable expression on his face. He was, after all, selling something. He pointed with his chin at one of his earlier converts.
"I ask Bent Trees to step to the far side of the fire. Take your gun in hand and point it at my chest." Bent Trees did as bidden. When he was in position, Iron Shirt continued. "When I say so, shoot me."
Gasps of surprise and shock arose among the Blackfoot. "He will not aim at Iron Shirt," one brave stated flatly.
"The gun is not loaded with a bullet," opined another.
"It is a trick."
Another convert sought to disabuse them. "No, it is the power of Iron Shirt's medicine. Watch and see."
"Now, Bent Trees."
With a sharp crack, the .60 single-shot pistol discharged. A black hole appeared in the outer hunting shirt worn by Iron Shirt a split second before he violently rocked backward, his face twisted in pain. Several Blackfoot rushed forward. Iron Shirt held up a hand to stay them.
Carefully he reached into the hole and worked his fingers a moment. He came out with a flattened .60-caliber ball. Yips and whoops of victory broke out among the spectators as he held it high and slowly turned full circle. When the jubilation subsided, he spoke again.
"You will be shown the secret of this medicine when you complete the ritual to become part of my Iron Shield Strong Heart Society. Death to all white-eyes!"
* * *
Seated inside the lodge of Iron Shirt were three white men, dressed as Blackfoot. One, Morton Gross, with thinning, mousy brown hair and eyes that looked like chips of blue ice, smoked a cigar. All three looked inordinately pleased with the progress being made. The nominal leader of their cabal nodded to Gross.
"It's fortunate that you have important friends in high places, Morton. Nice to get advance warning that a regiment of troops is on the way, and that it would be guided by an experienced frontiersman."
Morton Gross made light of his informant's importance. "He's only a clerk. The really important ones are so high up they don't dare make direct contact with us, but my informant was able to read the letter sent to the former mountain man, Preacher."
Excerpted from The First Mountain Man by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 1996 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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