Few historical frontier sagas have captured the pioneer spirit as boldly and brilliantly as the acclaimed Wagons West series by Dana Fuller Ross. Now readers can rediscover America—in the sprawling epic journey that forged a nation’s destiny…
From the rugged beauty of the Badlands to the epic sweep of the Great Plains, the Dakota Territory offered a wealth of opportunities for those who dared to tame it. The promise of golden fields of wheat, grazing herds of cattle, and growing new empires built from railroads and mines lured the boldest pioneers to this unchartered land. But with their arrival came the war cries of the Sioux, echoing across the plains. Now, the mighty red nations are united in a pact of blood to defend their sacred grounds against all newcomers. Frontiersman Toby Holt is determined to make peace—even though his love for a beautiful Sioux maiden could ignite a powderkeg of trouble. Young Beth Blake faces captivity and a homicide trial. And Lakota chief Red Cloud gains new support in a fierce campaign that could bring freedom—or death—to his people.
These are the men and women who fought, who loved, and who died…for the land of the free and the home of the brave.
About the Author
Dana Fuller Ross was the pseudonym of Noel Bertram Gerson. Gerson, a prolific writer, wrote numerous works under many pseudonyms including the White Indian novels, which he wrote as Donald Clayton Porter.
Read an Excerpt
Wagons West: DAKOTA!
By Dana Fuller Ross
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1983 Book Creations, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Red Elk, chief of the mighty Blackfoot Indians, stood at the edge of a high cliff and watched the snakelike column of a wagon train far below. His expression was fierce as he tried to contain his fury and frustration at the presence of white intruders in the lands that had once belonged to the Indians. Stretching out his arms, he looked up to the heavens, and in a voice bursting with emotion, he cried out:
"By the gods above and by my ancestors, I swear we will destroy the white men who intrude upon our lands! Soon bloody scalps will hang from the belts of all red men. I, Red Elk of the Blackfoot, have been called by Thunder Cloud of the Sioux to meet with him in Dakota. There we will also meet with Big Knife of the Cheyenne to plan ways to work together in trampling the white man into the dust."
With great agility, Red Elk leaped onto his horse and galloped away, followed by his war chiefs and braves, whose faces mirrored the feelings of their chief. The wagon train they had seen heading west would be the last to pass through unharmed. After the meeting of the chiefs in the Dakota Territory, white men would be eliminated from Indian lands once and for all.
The wagon train that moved slowly across the rugged Rocky Mountains, en route from Fort Shaw in the Montana Territory to Fort Vancouver in the Washington Territory, bore a strong resemblance to the trains that had made similar journeys more than two decades earlier. For one thing, the canvas-covered wagons, filled with food supplies and household goods, were similar, as were the teams of sturdy workhorses that pulled them. Also, the men and women who drove the wagons, most of them young and self-reliant, bore a striking resemblance to the earlier pioneers, and the rate of travel in the mountains—approximately ten to fifteen miles each day—was about the same.
But the big difference of this wagon train was the presence of the blue-uniformed troop of one hundred horsemen, members of the Eleventh U.S. Cavalry, who escorted the train. The troops, supplied by Colonel Andrew Brentwood, commander of Fort Shaw, were veterans of the recently ended Civil War, as well as the conflict in Montana the previous month with the Sioux Indians. The soldiers carried rifles and cavalry sabers, and they acted as deterrents to those who otherwise might have found the wagon train a tempting target.
Members of the wagon train included army personnel and their families, as well as a few immigrants from the East, who had traveled to Fort Shaw in Montana by way of steamboat on the Missouri River. Without the army escort, these wagon train members would have faced raids by the Indian tribes of the mountains as well as by bands of outlaws, who preyed on so many immigrants traveling west.
Clarissa Holt, a scarf tied over her red hair to protect it from the sun, was on the seat of her wagon. She was tall and statuesque, qualities that couldn't conceal the fact that she was a few months' pregnant. As she drove the vehicle with practiced ease, she reflected that she was enjoying herself enormously. She had made a journey like this just a few years earlier, when, as a widow in Philadelphia whose husband died fighting in the Civil War, she had traveled to the Washington Territory in what came to be called "the cargo of brides." Her friends on that journey had found new lives and husbands for themselves in the West, and she had found happiness when she had fallen in love with and married Toby Holt, son of the legendary Whip Holt, the mountain man and guide whose name was synonymous with the opening of the West.
Clarissa knew that in years past, when Whip Holt had led the wagon train across the Rockies, the pioneers had only themselves to rely on, and she had heard corroborating stories from Toby's mother, Eulalia, about the adventure-packed, dangerous travel that the settlers on the first wagon train to Oregon had endured. Now, in the 1860s, the trails were well traveled, many army posts were established, and wagon trains frequently moved in the company of army troops. Thus, overland travel in the West held fewer dangers, though it was no less arduous, especially in the mountains. Only the establishing of the transcontinental railroad, which Toby Holt was working on, would make travel through the mountains seem easy.
Forthright and blunt, Clarissa told herself that her happiness would be complete if only Toby were with her right now, sharing the pleasures of this wagon train journey in the pleasant autumn weather. But Toby, whose exploits were winning him a measure of fame almost as great as that of his late father, had been summoned to Washington City to confer with General Ulysses S. Grant, the chief of staff of the United States Army. The exact nature of the meeting was secret, but Clarissa knew it had something to do with the growing problems with the Indians.
Before heading east, Toby had insisted that his wife leave Fort Shaw, where she had stayed while he worked on the survey of the railroad in Montana. She was to travel with the small wagon train of army men and their families and join Toby's mother and stepfather, General Leland Blake, at Fort Vancouver in the Washington Territory, where General Blake made his headquarters as commander of the Army of the West. Clarissa was carrying their child, and Fort Shaw, Toby had decreed, was too much of a frontier post for a new Holt to begin life there.
Clarissa and Toby had been married only a scant six months, and in that time they had experienced a number of trials. Toby's proposal to Clarissa the previous spring had been sudden, and she was conscious that he had made it not so much out of love for her as out of a sense of bewilderment and distress at events in his own life. First, there had been the violent death of his estranged former wife. Then he had lost his father in a tragic rockslide in the Washington Territory. They had been close as few fathers and sons are, and Toby was thrown completely off balance. To further complicate his life, he had been infatuated with Beth Blake, who married his best friend. And to top it off, Toby's mother, Eulalia, married again. Of all the men who could have become his stepfather, Toby couldn't have wished for anyone more worthy than General Lee Blake, but nevertheless, he had had difficulty accepting his mother's remarriage.
Now, however, all this unhappiness seemed to be fading. Toby had come close to losing Clarissa in the recent battle with the Sioux in the Montana Territory, and this made him realize how much he loved her, that she was the one person in his life who really mattered. Clarissa fervently believed that now their love could shield them from all difficulties—past and future.
A move on the seat next to her aroused Clarissa from her reverie, and blinking, she diverted her attention to Hank Purcell, the sixteen-year-old orphan she and Toby had informally adopted in Montana. Tall for his age, Hank was thin, with sun-streaked hair and freckles on his nose. At the moment he was petting Mr. Blake, Toby's German shepherd, who sat beside him and was accompanying Clarissa and Hank to Washington, acting as their protector.
Hank's accuracy as a marksman with rifle and pistol was remarkable, and the Holts had placed him under their wing to prevent him from becoming a professional gunslinger. Indeed, he was such an expert shot that he had already become the wagon train's principal hunter.
Clarissa was horrified when suddenly she saw that Hank had his rifle raised to his shoulder and was squinting down the barrel.
"Hank!" she exclaimed. "What on earth do you think you're doing? You know very well that the cavalry escort has forbidden anyone to shoot a gun from the wagons. Put down that rifle this instant!"
Hank gave a deep sigh, the reaction of an adolescent to the restrictions of adults. He lowered his rifle, then furiously brushed the bridge of his nose, as though trying to rid it of the freckles that dusted it. "I had the heftiest bighorn sheep you ever saw lined up in my sights," he said regretfully. "In another half-minute, I would have squeezed the trigger, and we'd have had a real treat for supper tonight."
Clarissa averted her face so he wouldn't see the humor that welled up in her green eyes. Toby had been right when he had told her, "That boy is a natural with a gun. He'd rather shoot than eat or sleep."
He was sensitive, too, and inclined to brood over grievances—probably because he was so conscious of being alone in the world. He now looked very unhappy, having been denied his sport, and Clarissa felt she had to distract him.
"I'm sure I'd have enjoyed the mutton," she said. "But to tell you the truth, I'm looking forward to that antelope you shot yesterday." Actually, she had never eaten antelope meat, which she had heard was tough and stringy, and she wasn't looking forward to it at all.
Hank was self-disparaging. "Shooting an antelope," he said scornfully, "ain't what I call fancy shooting."
Clarissa, a former schoolteacher in Philadelphia, had spent months at Fort Shaw teaching Hank correct English. Occasionally, however, especially when he was excited or irritable, he forgot his grammar, which was one reason Clarissa was anxious to enroll him in school once they reached Fort Vancouver. But for the moment she had other matters on her mind. "You brought down three animals in less time than it takes to tell it. I'd call that very fancy shooting, indeed," she said with finality. "Besides, I've been anxious to try out my father-in-law's recipe for antelope meat."
The boy was excited. "One of Whip Holt's own recipes? Golly! If it ain't—I mean, isn't—a secret, maybe you could tell it to me."
As Clarissa had hoped, his failure to shoot the bighorn sheep was forgotten. "You may watch when I make the dish," Clarissa replied sweetly. "I learned the recipe from my mother-in-law." As a matter of fact, she had indeed been told the recipe by Eulalia, who had laughingly explained at the time that she had no intention of ever preparing the dish, having eaten enough antelope steak on the original wagon train journey to the West.
"The only secret of preparing antelope," she said, "is that you cut the meat into small pieces and put them into a pot with some bones and a little water. You don't add the vegetables until later. Then you cook the meat very slowly over a low fire, and you let it bubble away for at least twice as long as you'd cook beef. Antelope is tough unless it's cooked for a very long time, even longer than buffalo meat."
Hank looked grateful. "I'll remember that," he said.
The atmosphere was far less tranquil on the seat of the next wagon in the line. Holding the reins of the team of four horses was Rob Martin, Toby Holt's closest friend and partner in laying out the Northern Pacific's route for a transcontinental railroad. Tall and solidly built, with a strong, square jaw and thick red hair, Rob was the son of Dr. Robert and Tonie Martin, who had traveled to Oregon in the original wagon train. Rob had grown up in the Portland area, and he and Toby had known each other all their lives. Now, however, Toby was en route to Washington City and an unknown destiny, while Rob was heading for Fort Vancouver and then on to California. He had agreed to oversee the construction there of the Central Pacific Railroad, which was scheduled to meet the tracks being laid by the Union Pacific somewhere in Utah.
Seated beside him on the wagon seat, her long blond hair tousled, her blue eyes icy, was Rob's wife, Beth, the daughter of Lee and Cathy Blake. Many old friends of her parents claimed that she bore a startling resemblance to her mother, but few people had ever seen Cathy be as moody and temperamental as Beth. Indeed, the young woman had suffered terribly when her mother had died with Whip Holt in the rockslide. Missing Cathy so much, Beth had become nearly hysterical when her father had married Eulalia Holt, and Beth's attitude—toward life in general and Eulalia in particular—had grown worse and worse.
"Did you actually tell me," she suddenly demanded, "or did I just dream about that gold mine you and Toby found in Montana? Weren't we supposed to be financially independent for the rest of our lives?"
"All I know," Rob said patiently, used to her sarcasm, "is that when Chet Harris and Wong Ke took over the management of the mine for us, they told Toby and me that we'd be comfortable for as long as we lived. What they mean by comfortable, and what you mean by financial independence, I don't know. I'm inclined to accept the estimates of Chet and Ke because they made their own fortunes during the big strike in California back in forty-nine, and they obviously know what they're talking about."
"If we have the money to do what we please, then I see no reason to hold back," Beth said flatly. "We can buy a house in San Francisco, and I can live there while you're out in the Sierra Nevada, overseeing the construction of the railroad."
He sighed heavily. "Yes, I'm sure we could afford to buy a house there, but why you'd want to live in San Francisco, where you don't know a soul, is beyond me. I think you'd be much better off living with your family in Fort Vancouver until I finish my assignment."
Beth replied in a low, intense voice. "Nothing on earth will force me to live under the same roof with that woman!"
Rob arched an eyebrow. "You mean Eulalia?"
"Correct," she replied angrily. "Eulalia Holt Blake. You won't believe this, Rob, no matter how many times I tell you, but I saw her expression when my mother and her husband died in that terrible rockslide. She was determined not to be a widow. She wanted my father's rank and social position, and she went after him right then. She played all her cards right, presuming on a lifelong friendship and demanding his sympathy. Well, she got him, and she's Mrs. Lee Blake now, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to show approval by spending even a single night under their roof."
Rob looked with unseeing eyes at the rugged, snow-covered peaks on both sides of the narrow valley through which the wagon train was traveling. Tugging his broad-brimmed hat lower on his forehead, he sighed. "By this time," he said heavily, "you know I don't believe that. I've known Eulalia all my life, and in my opinion she's a fine woman—a damned fine woman."
"You like her because you and Toby are so close," she said. "But I know what I know."
The unending argument led them nowhere, and once more Rob tried to sort out the situation. He recognized that his obstinate, independent wife had been badly spoiled as a girl by her parents. But, as he realized all too well, their problem went beyond that. After her father's remarriage, Beth had become increasingly remote, failing to respond to his lovemaking; her indifference had cooled his passion so that he was rarely aroused. The lack of ardor shown by one was felt by the other, and the vicious cycle was growing increasingly worse.
Rob, who loved his wife, was in a quandary. If necessary, he knew he could exercise his prerogatives as head of the family and insist that she obey him. But such a course was certain to cause more problems than it would solve. Not only would Beth be miserable if she was forced to live with her father and stepmother, she would also cause them great unhappiness. Worst of all, the gulf that separated her from her husband would become wider and deeper, and it might not be possible for them ever to bridge their differences.
He wondered whether he might to wiser to give Beth her head in the hope that the passage of time would soften her opinion of her stepmother. Once she was cured of that strange fixation, he reasoned, all her other troubles might solve themselves.
"Suppose I were to leave this whole matter in your hands?" he said. "What would you do?"
Beth suddenly brightened. The prospect of having her own way improved her mood instantly. Once again she became the lovely, vivacious Beth Blake Rob had known when he first married her. Her smile was radiant, and her eyelashes fluttered as she looked up at him. "First of all," she replied sweetly, "you and I will leave Fort Vancouver as soon as the wagon train gets there. We'll hire a carriage, load up our belongings, and go directly to your family in Portland."
Excerpted from Wagons West: DAKOTA! by Dana Fuller Ross. Copyright © 1983 Book Creations, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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