Colonel Stedloe led his troops in what was intended to be a peaceful mission. But Kamiac, a murderous Palouse chieftain, saw an opportunity to gain control over the tribes in that part of the Pacific Northwest. He declared the mission an act of war…one that must be met with annihilation. Sergeant Emmett Bell has been toughened by wilderness fighting, and his chief of scouts is a Nez Percé chieftain. They are willing to fight to the death if need be, but they know there isn’t much they can do to defend Stedloe’s small command against the mighty forces being assembled against them by Kamiac.
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By Will Henry
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2007 Dorothy H. Allen
All right reserved.
High on the lonely reaches of Horse Creek, lost in the tawny sea of the buffalo grass, stood a small island of timber called The Cottonwoods. It was here that Preacher Nehemiah Bleek built his mission school for the Indian children orphaned by the warfare between red man and white then firing the south plains. This was scarcely an ordinary undertaking, but then Bleek was scarcely an ordinary man.
To begin with, he was a preacher who never preached. Believing literally in God himself, he never argued the case with others. He was ordained by no church, seldom opened his Bible. If necessary for the peace or protection of his dark-skinned flock, he would alter the text of the Good Book to suit the emergency. It was said of him, beyond his ministry, that he had an infallible eye for a fast horse, a hard bargain, a good white man and a bad Indian, and an accurately aimed set of rifle sights. He was, withal, as gentle as a lamb. But what a lamb!
Nehemiah Bleek was six feet three inches tall. He weighed 238 pounds. No man knew his full strength. His very appearance was enough to halt most enemies in their tracks. Full-bearded and brawny as any blacksmith, his head was huge, with a mane of red hair. The face was square, homely, spattered with freckles. His small blue eyes danced with that inner spirit that the Indians called hotoma, but his trust of friendship, once bestowed, became the chanciest of gifts.
"That crazy preacher," the white settlers said of him, "he will kill you if you cross him."
By this they meant that, if they lied to him, or tried to steal from him, or cheat him, or, above all, if in any manner they threatened his Indian orphans, men would find themselves in real peril from Preacher Bleek.
"He will as soon break your back as your arm," the settlers angrily declared. "He's crazy, plumb daft!"
The burly giant from Horse Creek presented no such social problem to the Indians. They said of him only that he was touched by higher power. This did not make him crazy, but simply distinguished. They never used the harsh word, mashane, sick of mind, when they spoke of Bleek. They called him by his English name, Preacher, and they were always glad to see him and to make room for him in their camps.
But the whites, particularly the Indian Bureau and War Department men, saw Preacher Bleek in quite another way. To them, Bleek's presence in the country was sinister and dangerous. His mission school served as a refuge for wanted hostiles, as well as for their unwanted war orphans. It was, they said, an intelligence post from which the defiant red warriors might safely plan and launch their bloody raids on the settlers' homes and the stage stations of the Arkansas River valley. Specifically Preacher was accused of encouraging the Indians to think along lines other than surrendering to the Army commanders and going to live on the arid and desolate reservations set aside for their captivity.
"He constantly stirs them up," the officers charged, "by telling them that the real aim of the white man is not to improve the lot of the red man, but rather to imprison the lot of them."
What Nehemiah Bleek was in honest fact attempting to do, of course, was to teach the orphaned Indian youngsters how to live as the white man lived. He reasoned that if the children could be so taught, they would have a chance to survive in the coming time of the white man, whereas their red parents, refusing surrender, must certainly perish.
But the newly appointed commander of the military district of Colorado had a pet theory of his own for the best care and education of Indians, large or small. "Kill them all, little and big," he said. "Nits make lice."
The Indians understood the new commander's beliefs. Wherever his troops ventured, red mothers desperately hid their little ones, or fled with them as far and as swiftly as they might.
"Mashane is coming!" became a cry to strike terror into every unsurrendered heart.
The year was 1864, the month November, the Heavy Frost Moon. In the summer just passed, the Cheyennes, the Sioux, and the Arapahoes had raided the white settlements of the valleys of the South Platte, the Smoky Hill, and the Arkansas Rivers. Particularly were the Cheyennes guilty of this warfare. Too long had the cavalry troops pursued them. Too long had the commissioners of the Indian Bureau cheated them of their lands. Too long had the settlers driven them from their hunting grounds. The Cheyennes could stand no more.
If an Indian fought, he was tracked down and punished. If he obeyed the white man and camped peacefully, he was attacked. If he came in and made a treaty to go on the reservation, he was tricked and lied to. If he then tried to leave the reservation, he was shot down. His Sioux friends from the north advised the Cheyennes to come up to their country and make a new home. But the south plains were the home of the Cheyennes by this time, and they would not leave. So they went on the war trail to defend their freedom and to keep their wandering way of life. This determination made the times risky for Preacher Bleek and his Horse Creek missionary school.
Every cavalry patrol that came toward The Cottonwoods were of the regular Army, in the field for the reasonable purpose of keeping track of the movements of the various large bands of Indians known to be in that southern part of the Colorado Territory. Yet Bleek had no way of being certain when any given patrol would be of this proper origin, or one of local volunteer troops with secret orders to kill Indians wherever found. And now, with the snows of the Heavy Frost Moon beginning to whiten the buffalo grass, Preacher had sudden new cause to fear the latter possibility.
All Colorado troops were called home from the north, where they had spent the summer chasing the Sioux, and were ordered south to the Arkansas. At their head came the Colorado commander himself, the officer the Cheyennes had named Mashane, Sick Mind. From the day of his return, the Indians felt the chill of the presence of this man. The uneasy peace that had been established in his absence by Major Wynkoop, of the regular Army, commenced to melt away at once. "Mashane has come back," said the People, and the mothers watched anxiously where their children strayed, the herd guards held the ponies close by, the warriors nodded grimly and oiled their guns.
The friendly Cheyennes who passed his way continually warned Preacher Bleek of such things; thus it was that he knew Mashane was back from the Platte and had bivouacked his main body of troops in Bijou Basin, east of Denver. He also had been told that the dangerous commander was presently away from that big camp, out somewhere on the prowl with one of his killer patrols. This worried Bleek, since he was much concerned at the moment with the nature of the troops that Mashane had brought down to Bijou Basin.
The 3rd Colorado Cavalry was a volunteer organization. As such, it differed greatly from the regulation pony soldier regiments and was never to be confused with responsible commands like the United States 3rd Cavalry. The Colorado troops had uniforms and were in truth authorized by the United States government, but in all other respects they were vigilante troops in the darkest tradition. Their members were enlisted for but 100 days, a span of time seen as ample to "clean out the redskins along the Arkansas Road." Moreover, many of these 100-day volunteers were the draft dodgers of their time. They sought, by enlisting with the 3rd Colorado, to avoid the War Between the States and service to their country. This questionable patriotism, together with the fact that they were local men with a background of hatred for the Indians, was what multiplied Bleek's fear of them.
Thus, when he heard that Mashane was in the field with a patrol of these men, he took all due alarm. But it was only when he received the subsequent report of that patrol's whereabouts and direction of travel that he understood the full nature of menace to his beloved red orphans.
"Beware, Preacher!" cried the Cheyenne scout, reining in his lathered pony only long enough to shout the news. "He is riding for the upper waters of Ohecmoheno!" The Indian waved his war lance and spurred his mount away from The Cottonwoods. Bleek sympathized with his haste, for in Cheyenne ohec meant creek and moheno meant horse. Mashane was coming to see Nehemiah Bleek at Horse Creek.
But another commander had heard of the big white man's mission school at The Cottonwoods and had started for it sooner than the commander of the 3rd Colorado. He halted now with his two fellow riders on an elevation of the prairie overlooking Horse Creek. It was a cold dusk. All day the wind had been spitting a sleety rain at them. The horses were tired. They were tired. Now all of them hoped that this was the final rise to be ridden over, the final silence to be peered warily into.
"There," the leader said, pointing. "That's it, over where the stream turns toward the sunset. That dark spot of timber. That is The Cottonwoods." By the darkening light his companions saw him straighten. "Mahesie," he said to the smaller one, who was only a boy, "you are a Cheyenne. Remember that. There will be times ahead when you will need to remember it."
Excerpted from Frontier Fury by Will Henry Copyright © 2007 by Dorothy H. Allen. Excerpted by permission.
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