Dancing with the Golden Bear

Dancing with the Golden Bear

by Win Blevins


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"Blevins's 'Dancing with the Golden Bear' is the glory years of the untamed West. Fresh and rich." ~ Kirkus Reviews.

In the third book of The Rendezvous Series, DANCING WITH THE GOLDEN BEAR, Sam learns the poignant meaning of the words of his mentor, Hannibal McKye: "Life is like a golden bear. It's magnificent, it's beautiful, and it bites."

When the enigmatic Jedediah Smith, greatest of the mountain men, puts together a brigade of trappers for an expedition into the unknown territory of Mexican California, Sam Morgan joyfully joins up. With his Crow Indian wife Meadowlark and his coyote pup at his side, Sam sees the expedition as a chance for adventure-and wealth.

Captain Smith leads the group south in search of the Buenaventura, a great river believed to connect the Great Salt Lake to California, but when the river proves to be a myth, the trek toward the Pacific becomes a nightmare.

Struggling through the Mojave Desert, a land of sand and scrub in which game is practically nonexistent and water a rarity, their lives are saved several times by strange bands of naked Indians who share food with the starving trappers.

Like ghosts they struggle into the San Gabriel Mission in southern California and there recuperate, but the Mexican government eyes them with suspicion and Sam and his companions are forced to flee back into the Mojave. And then, Meadowlark falls ill.

With extraordinary courage, energy, and the force of rivers, the old adventure ends. Where will the next one lead?

"Blevins is capable of expressing the most romantic, the warmest, also the cruelest emotions imaginable, and maintaining the perspective of his protagonist." - G. Whitesides

"No one writes about the westering experience better than Win Blevins. He has a poet's way with words and imagery to match the wilderness reality. Blevins has re-created that long-ago world where the improbable was commonplace, and where courage and audacity made anything possible." - Lucia St. Clair Robson, author of Ghost Warrior.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780692203835
Publisher: WordWorx Publishing
Publication date: 08/28/2014
Pages: 292
Sales rank: 503,560
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.66(d)

About the Author

Win Blevins, an authority on the Plains Indians and fur-trade era of the West, is author of Give Your Heart to the Hawks, Stone Song, his prize-winning novel of Crazy Horse and many others including his Rendevous series that began with So Wild a Dream.

He lives in Utah with his wife Meredith, also a novelist.

Read an Excerpt

Dancing with the Golden Bear

By Win Blevins


Copyright © 2013 Win Blevins
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3310-7


We Los Dos

Captain Jedediah Smith sniffed the steam rising off his black coffee. Sam and Flat Dog passed the jug back and forth. Though Diah didn't drink, he was accustomed to being the only man who didn't.

Meadowlark touched her twenty-two-year-old husband's white-blond hair. He looked into her face, lit by the last embers of the fire. The eyes of the two honeymooners made promises. "Soon," he murmured. He handed Flat Dog the jug and said, "Kill it."

As though the whiskey had loosened his tongue, Jedediah said, "Sometimes I wonder what it all means."

"What?" Sam tossed back, grinning.


"Means?" asked Flat Dog, hoisting the jug, also grinning.


"That's what I thought, Captain," said Sam. "Sometimes you're funny."

Jedediah gave him a peculiar look. "Funny?"

Flat Dog gurgled long on the whiskey. Meadowlark watched it run down her brother's neck. He lifted the jug high, and the last few drops plopped into his mouth. "There!" he said, and slammed the jug down, as though he'd had his say.

After the brigade left camp tomorrow, whiskey and coffee would be only memories until next summer and next rendezvous.

"Isn't it worth asking?" said Jedediah.

"My father taught me," Sam said, "that when a bird is on the wing, all that's on its mind is flying. And he does best to keep it that way."

Flat Dog slapped his brother-in-law on the back. "Coy sees it like that too." Coy was Sam's pet coyote, which lay as always at his feet.

"When we're about to head out," Diah said, "I get thoughtful."

Sam shrugged. "What's on my mind is, there's a new place to go, and my heart is big to see it."

"Where are we going?" asked Flat Dog.

The captain had told all his men that the brigade was headed south and west looking for new beaver country. But he'd told Sam and Meadowlark more.

"I think you know," Diah said.

"California," said Flat Dog.

"Don't spread it around," said Diah.

The Crow nodded. The word "California" hardly meant a thing to him. Adventure meant something. Whiskey did too.

"I want to see the ocean," said Meadowlark.

Sam grinned at her. His bride, who had spent her entire life in the Yellowstone country, was clear about that one thing. She wanted to go to the big-water-everywhere. Sam wondered what was between here, on the shore of a creek in the northern Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific shores. He remembered what Diah had said. When the mapmakers didn't know what was in a big empty space, they sometimes filled in, MONSTERS THERE BE HERE.

"California," said Jedediah.

Sam smiled, stood up, and offered Meadowlark a hand. "Bedtime," he said. Her eyes softened, and she took his hand.

"We'll camp here," said Jedediah.

The place looked good to Sam. It was in a bend of the river, a fair way below the Utah camp. Never a good idea to camp too close to Indians, who thought of horse-stealing as a sport. He would stake Paladin right by the tipi.

"Capitan!" cried Manuel. He was a trapper out of Taos, new to Jedediah's outfit. "This place ... We go somewhere else. We must no camp here."

A score of men and their several women stopped dismounting and unloading. They gawked at the Mex who dared to tell the captain where to camp.

Jedediah looked at Manuel and around at his men, all waiting for orders. He studied the man's eyes. "What are you scared of?"

"Two years ago on this place, exact this place ..." Manuel's face was loose with panic. He couldn't go on.

"Set up," the captain told the men.

Manuel's story didn't come out until the men had grouped into cook fires. He told it, at Diah's request, while Sam, Meadowlark, the captain, and others were sharing a supper of fresh deer tenderloin.

Two summers before, in 1824, Manuel had been trapping with Etienne Provost's brigade out of Taos. They held a parley with a village of Shoshones right where the Utah village was now.

The men knew that both Shoshones and Utes, who hated each other and fought at every chance, liked to camp and hunt here on the shores of Utah Lake.

"Bad Left Hand, Shoshone capitan, he ask all men, Indio and trapper, they should leave their weapons at a distance from the council lodge. His medicine, he say, it forbid that metal, it come near the sacred pipe."

Manuel watched his companions register this information. Setting down your rifle, your pistol, your butchering knife, even your patch knife, and any hidden knives, that would go hard. Sam thought, I wouldn't put down my hair knife. He had a blade disguised as an ornament holding back his long, white hair.

"Provost, he say yes, all right, do this. Trapper and Indio, we watch each other. Slowly. Slowly, we lay down guns, knives, tomahawks, all. Us Taos men, eighteen or nineteen, and maybe twenty-four, twenty-five Indio, we all set down weapons and go into council lodge. Everyone nervous.

"Then pipe is smoked," Manuel went on. "Probably there is a secret signal. Suddenly them Indio, they draw knives and tomahawks from under the blankets and the shirts and attack.

"A knife, it dive at mi corazón, my heart. I shoot out hand and knock it away maybe half. The knife, it bites me here." He tapped the point where his shoulder joined the neck. He bore a jagged scar. "Same time the cuchillo, knife, it bites me, BLAM, Indio who attacks me is knocked backward big, how you say, ass over teacups.

"Mi corazón, it jump. I see that Provost, he is a big man, very powerful and very quick, he toss one Indio straight over my head and onto the fire. Sparks fly. Indio, he scream.

"Provost, he grab tomahawk out of the burning hand. I grab hand of knife that bite me and twist fierce, seize knife — I slash wild, wild everywhere.

"All is, how you say, like whirlwind. Bodies, they spin. Men crash to ground. Screams cut at my ears.

"Provost, he kick one Indio in belly and knock him into two other men, red and white, behind. All go down.

"I leap on the back of Indio and sink knife deep into the belly.

"Provost, he holler, 'Get out! Get out!'

"I ride dead Indio like horse. He fall, I run. Last thing I see is Provo, he throw Indio into mob and sprint one step behind me.

"We two, we los dos, charge like bull through darkness, we hack knives at anyone get in the way.

"One hundred yards, maybe, we get to horses. The men we left to hold the horses, they have no idea of trouble.

"The four of us, we ride like hell."

According to the rest of Manuel's story, los dos and one more man escaped Bad Left Hand's trap. Fifteen of their comrades died in that council lodge.

"Me too die there for sure, muerto, but Provost he save mi vida, my life."

"That was then," said Jedediah.

"And those were Shoshones," said Sam. He'd always had bad luck with Shoshones.

Manuel gripped Sam's wrist and spoke urgently. The whites of his eyes flashed in the flickering firelight. "This terrible thing that happen, it still goes on here. Evil deed, it happen over and over, it keep happening always. The evil, it becomes a curse."

Jedediah let the words sit for a minute and said, "I don't put stock in curses."



Sam's throat burned like someone shoved a flaming stick down there. It always did when he was scared.

Nothing to do now but wait and watch.

The Utes and the trappers sat in a circle in the council lodge. The Ute chief, Conmarrowap, sat in the center, the place of the host. Captain Smith sat between the chief and Sam. Now Diah drew deep on the sacred pipe, offered the smoke to the earth and sky, and pretended to think lofty thoughts. Sam knew that Diah, a good Methodist, would offer no prayers he regarded as pagan.

That story Manuel told, Sam couldn't get it out of his mind. Right on this spot.

Now Sam looked at Conmarrowap, the chief, and then at the other gathered Utes, without meeting their gaze directly, the way you do with Indians, a sign of respect.

He fingered the ornament weapon in his hair. Its whiteness was a cause of teasing among the trappers, who called him towhead. Sam's friend Hannibal McKye, a Delaware Indian, had given him the ornament knife. It was polished walnut as thick as a finger and a little longer, decorated with circles painted in the colors of the four directions. Aside from keeping his hair back, it also slid apart at one of the circles and exposed a razor-sharp blade. Sam could put his hands on top of his head and surprise a captor with a slit throat.

Diah tapped Sam and handed him the pipe.

He accepted it properly, left hand on the bowl, right hand on the stem. Reverently, he drew the smoke in and offered it to earth and sky. He fanned some of it onto himself, asking its blessing. He smoked again. With each puff he prayed for the success of this parley, the success of the expedition, the well-being of his wife Meadowlark and her brother Flat Dog, and the health of all the men on the expedition.

Then he held the pipe up to the sky, touched the bowl to the earth, and handed it properly to Manuel.

Sam's throat burned again, hotter.

Manuel murmured, "I watch for sign, yell a warning."

Jedediah scowled at the words.

Parleying took time, time, time, and there was no rushing it.

Diah asked Sam to be here because Sam had a gift for communicating with Indians, either in their own language or with signs. The captain asked Manuel to be here because the clothing of the Utes showed that they traded with the Spaniards in Taos. But as it turned out, none of the Ute leaders spoke Spanish.

At length the time came for Sam to tell Conmarrowap and his colleagues what Jedediah wanted. Would the Utes please permit the trappers to travel and hunt in Ute country? In return, Jedediah would offer the Ute people many fine gifts. The trappers would offer more gifts, finer ones, every time a hunting party came to Ute country. This treaty was to last forever.

Manuel now unwrapped some blankets and laid out the gifts — three yards of red ribbon, ten awls, a razor, two knives, forty lead balls, some arrow points, and a half pound of tobacco. Jedediah would have liked to offer more, but he couldn't afford it.

At great length, after discussing it with his Big Bellies, men of experience, Conmarrowap agreed. The burn in Sam's throat eased a little. He breathed deep, in and out. The next subject was touchy. Would the Utes make peace with the Shoshones?

Conmarrowap frowned, and some of the Big Bellies grumbled. Young Utes had earned their war honors fighting the Shoshones since before the memories of the oldest men. The Utes had enjoyed stealing Shoshone women and Shoshone horses for just as long. Sam knew another truth: In some ways the Utes defined themselves as those who always fought Shoshones.

Jedediah told Sam to sign these words. "The Big Bellies of the Shoshones have promised to stop the fighting if you will also stop."

The Ute leaders still weren't sure.

"Stop just for a time," Jedediah said. "Soon I will return and meet with both peoples and help make peace between you."

Conmarrowap hesitated, pursed his mouth, and made the sign for yes.

Now Sam's throat ached again. This next item terrified him.

The captain said, "We want to buy the two Shoshone women who were recently brought into your village."

Slave women. For now they were forced to sleep with their captors and act as servants. Soon, probably, they would be tortured and killed.

Jedediah wanted to save their lives, and was willing to spend good money to do it.

Conmarrowap's face was unreadable. Sam looked around at the red faces, without appearing to look. "We need women," he signed. He felt inept, like he was stammering. The Ute faces were stony. Sam's legs were ready to jump and run.

Manuel pitched in, speaking and signing at once. "They will do the camp work, the skinning ..."

"You want them for your blankets," said a Big Belly across the fire in English.

Hell, the bastards have understood everything we've said to each other.

Sam's gullet spasmed now, and he tasted hot bile.

"Shoshone women are not so good in the blankets, but ..." This was the Big Belly on Manuel's left.

All the Big Bellies chuckled.

Conmarrowap said, "We know why men want women." In the corner of his eye, Sam saw the chief was grinning.

He took a deep breath in and out. "We will pay you well for them."

Some of the Ute leaders traded smiles.

Sam made an offer. The first counteroffer was accepted. As it turned out, this was the easy part of the deal.

Sam's gullet relaxed.

Then came the last part.

"What do you know of the country to the south and southwest?"

The Utes looked at Jedediah like he was loony.

"South and southwest? No one goes there."

"Are there beaver in that direction?"

"There's nothing at all."

"What about rivers that way?"

"No rivers. No nothing."

Now the English-speaking Big Belly spoke up. The words sounded like he was talking to children. "To the north and east is good country. Lots of water, lots of deer and elk. Sometimes even buffalo." The man smiled big.

"I hear," said Jedediah, "that there is a great river leading to the south and west." Sam signed the words.

Several of the Utes shrugged or gave disgusted looks.

One said, "That way you will have to eat the soles of your moccasins."

Another said, "You'll travel many days without water."

Another said, "To the south and west ten or fifteen sleeps maybe you come to the end of the world."

Jedediah opened his mouth to speak again, but Sam said quietly to him, "They're about to lose respect for us."

Jedediah nodded. He knew that was dangerous. Sam could almost feel Manuel panicking.

So Jedediah spoke words of thanks and said he would set out many, many items on his blankets to trade to the people tomorrow. If all this worked as Jedediah planned, the Utes would talk for years about when they made the treaty with the Americans.

Outside, Sam tapped his leg and Coy came. Then Sam, Diah, and Manuel walked quickly toward their own camp, Coy perking along. Finally Manuel couldn't hold it in any longer. "Which direction we goin'?"

Sam already knew.

Jedediah smiled dryly. "South and west."

And maybe eat our moccasin soles on the way.


A Trackless Desert

The brigade of trappers had started from the rendezvous above the Salt Lake in the middle of August. The new fur company of Smith, Jackson & Sublette divided its forces for the fall hunt, and Captain Jedediah Smith was assigned the southwest. The fur men had a lot of good country to trap, but the British were pressing in from the northwest, the Blackfeet blocked the way to the north, and the Spaniards were coming up from the south. New beaver to the southwest, that sounded good.

"My ass," said a lot of the men. They knew Captain Smith. Maybe he liked to trap a beaver and make a dollar as well as the next man, but he loved one thing even more — seeing new landscape. During four years in the mountains he'd led men in every imaginable direction, a migratory bird covering miles, but without the ease. Searching for beaver, he always said. But the men watched the way his face looked when he topped a divide and gazed into a landscape no white man had seen before, and they saw rapture. Some called it obsession.

They also watched the way he spent his evenings. He didn't trade stories with the men around the fire, nor tipple with them, nor court Indian women. Always he sat off by himself, sometimes reading his Bible but most often making careful drawings of whatever hills and rivers he'd seen that day. It seemed like he cared for a book or a map more than his fellow human beings. And they concluded that this strange man fancied the color of a new lake and the shape of a new hill the same as they fancied the curve of a woman's thigh.

Yet they would follow him. He was the man, new to the mountains, who traveled alone three hundred miles past hostile Missouri River Indians to take a message to General Ashley. He was the man who got his head caught in a griz's mouth, came away a mass of blood, and coolly gave instructions for sewing his own ear back on. Most of all, he was the man who, late every afternoon, when the day's travel was done and the men felt beat to a pulp, rode or walked several more miles, to the top of the nearest big hill, to take a look at the country ahead. He was the toughest, most capable man any of them knew.

The trappers didn't know where Jedediah was heading. But they put adventure ahead of trapping and signed on.

Which got them into this pickle.

It was a mongrel brigade, and polyglot. As the couple of dozen traipsed along the desert far below the Great Salt Lake on a typical September day, they were strung out, plodding along on their mounts. Captain Smith rode in front with a distinctive expression, still as a waiting raptor.

This was a ragtag string of rough-looking men dressed in hides, and three women. The men led packhorses, and the women led a horse or mule with a pony drag behind. The packhorses bore the belongings of the fur company, items to give or trade to Indians, pay for passage through the country, or information, or guide services, or horses, or whatever else the outfit might need. It wasn't much. A better-outfitted brigade would have carried English blankets instead of American, kettles, wool cloth, cotton cloth, and all sorts of foofaraw for the squaws, from bells to vermilion. But this was a new company, and prosperity only a hope.


Excerpted from Dancing with the Golden Bear by Win Blevins. Copyright © 2013 Win Blevins. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter One: We Los Dos,
Chapter Two: Parley,
Chapter Three: A Trackless Desert,
Chapter Four: To the River,
Chapter Five: Native Hospitality,
Chapter Six: Across the Desert,
Chapter Seven: The Mission,
Chapter Eight: The Pueblo of the Angels,
Chapter Nine: The Pacific Ocean,
Chapter Ten: Banished,
Chapter Eleven: Fandango,
Chapter Twelve: A Ceremony,
Part Three: EXPLORING,
Chapter Thirteen: California Mountains,
Chapter Fourteen: Going for Help,
Chapter Fifteen: A Voyage,
Chapter Sixteen: The Unimaginable,
Chapter Seventeen: Lost in the Wilderness,
Chapter Eighteen: Journey into Night,
Chapter Nineteen: Holy Water,
Chapter Twenty: Friendship,
Chapter Twenty-one: A Battle,
Chapter Twenty-two: Laughing,
Preview: Heaven Is a Long Way Off,
Author's Note,
About the Author,

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