Drawn by troubling dreams of a handsome Indian Warrior, Colleen Merrill had come westward with her brutal husband to homestead in the Montana wildernessonly to fall in love with Lieutenant Matthew Douglas, a dashing U.S. Cavalry officer.
Wounded Bear, a young Cheyenne warrior and medicine man, had been told in a vision by the great spiritwolf that a golden-haired woman held the power to save his people from invasion. As the drums of war beat every louder, Wounded Bear knew he must find this woman, or the Cheyenne would be scatteredlike grains of sand in the wind.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||4.22(w) x 6.68(h) x 0.86(d)|
About the Author
KATHLEEN O'NEAL GEAR is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for "outstanding management" of our nation's cultural heritage. With her husband, W. Michael Gear, she is the co-author of many books, including the North America’s Forgotten Past series (People of the Longhouse, The Dawn Country, People of the Mist, People of the Wolf, among others); and the Anasazi Mysteries series. She and her husband live in Thermopolis, WY.
Read an Excerpt
Sand in the Wind
GLACIAL WINDS HOWLED OVER THE MOUNTAINS, TEARING at the pines and rushing headlong down the narrow valleys of the high country.
Wounded Bear pulled the red blanket tightly around his shoulders, blinking against the storm. Snow creased his face, making him look much older than his twenty summers. He'd lost track of days; the fasting and praying made his time on the mountain seem endless. How long had he been sitting here, crouched uncomfortably before the long-dead campfire? Were the four days of his vision quest over? His mind rambled through the questions. No, he shook his head, remembering this was the fourth day. The hunger pains had subsided after the second; now he floated in euphoria.
"Spirits?" he called in the shimmering night sky. "I beg you, hear me!"
He tried to concentrate his wavering mind on the Great Mystery, shutting his eyes and clearing all thoughts from his head. He prayed.
The voice of his brother, Little Deer, came to haunt him,rolling over his weakened body like one of the giant boulders scattering the mountain slope. "Wakan Tanka has abandoned his people!" his brother had yelled, raising his coup stick to the heavens and shouting a shrill war cry. Wounded Bear covered his ears; the sound of Little Deer's voice tore the air around him. He opened his eyes with a start. Was his brother here now? He shuddered, searching the white world with blurred vision. No, it was only the wind, he reassured himselfonly the terrible freezing wind.
He stood, clutching the thin red blanket to him, and walked through the dizzying torrent to a nearby pine. He let his hand trace the patterns in the mottled bark.
"We are one, my brother," he whispered, his voice seeming far away and unfamiliar. His eyes drifted across the endless stands of trees. "Once my people were as numerous as you, but now we are dying ... dying ..." His voice trailed off, lost in a rush of wind and snow.
Wounded Bear dropped his hand to his side. His body seemed to float, lifting lightly off the ground. He flowed with the feeling, trying to block out the chilling ache stabbing at his moccasined feet. He bowed his head, long black braids dangling limply in the damp air.
"Please, Maheo?" he pleaded. "Send me a spirit helper."
Tomorrow he would have to return to his people, would have to face the medicine elders and tell them that once again he had failed to have his prayers answeredhis vision quest had been for nothing. A gnawing emptiness spread through him, leaving him hollow and sick.
Faint voices called out to him. He tilted his head to the wind, listening. The soft strains of singing arose. Spirits. Three of them. He smiled, letting their song fill him. Their voices twined together, creating a harmony so stunning it tugged at Wounded Bear like a lover's gentle hands, pulling him closer, closer. Shutting his eyes, he chanted in unison. He and the spirits sang of their battles against the Shoshoni and the People's bond with the vast, undulating plains. They sang of the prophet, Sweet Medicine, and his journey to thesacred mountain. Wounded Bear's heart ached as he repeated the prophet's last words: " ... I am troubled. Listen to me carefully, carefully. You will meet a people who are white. They will be looking for a certain stone. They will travel everywhere looking for it. They will bring sickness to you. There will be many of these people, so many, many ..."
A sound made its way to Wounded Bear's numb ears. He jerked his eyes open. Behind him some creature passed through the bare branches, its thick fur catching on the twigs. He spun around, legs trembling.
On the other side of the blazing fire a huge white wolf sat motionless, staring into the orange flames. Wounded Bear struggled to think. Had he lit a new fire? He couldn't remember, but in his euphoria, he might have without knowing it. He clenched his fists to bolster his courage. The wolf hadn't seen him yet. Its huge eyes were riveted to the flames; reflected flickers danced in the black depths.
Then the wolf looked up at himand suddenly the warrior knew.
Wounded Bear shuddered under the penetrating gaze and looked around him. The snow had stopped, the howling wind quieted. He shuffled toward the beast on leaden legs.
"Grandfather," he murmured hoarsely, "have you come to help your people?" He swayed, the effects of four days of fasting taking its toll on his strength. But still he did not sit, would not, until asked to do so.
Strange eerie lights glowed in the spirit creature's eyes. They drew Wounded Bear closer, bathing him in a stillness and serenity. He felt warm, warm for the first time in days. He let the ice-encrusted blanket drop from his shoulders.
"Yes, grandson," the wolf answered, its deep voice echoing from the forested slopes. "Comesit with me. We have much to discuss and little time."
Gratefully, Wounded Bear sank to the frozen ground.
"The people are lost," the wolf said. "They have forgotten the prophecies of Sweet Medicine."
Wounded Bear shuddered at the terrible words. "Yes,grandfather," he whispered. The voice of Little Deer came to haunt him again, shrieking that Wakan Tanka had abandoned the Cheyenne. He cringed against the pain in his breast.
The wolf breathed deeply, its shimmering white teeth revealed in the light of the fire. "I know what the young are saying, grandson. Do you believe the Great Mystery has forgotten?"
Wounded Bear shook his head fervently, causing him to sway again. "No, grandfather. Wakan Tanka would not forsake us."
The wolf walked closer, nodding his approval.
Wounded Bear's mind drifted to the images of his people camped at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains, faces pinched with want. He could hear the children crying out in his mind. Hungry ... hungry. His shoulders slumped forward.
"Tell me," the wolf asked, its tone soothing and warm, "when have the people been hungry before?"
Wounded Bear thought of the old stories, the stories told by the elders around the blazing night fires of winter. Memories of Ehyophsta filled him. Silently he offered a prayer, begging forgiveness for his need to tell the story of the Yellow-Haired Woman aloud.
"In the beginning, grandfather," he said, voice strong and sure, "before Sweet Medicine was born to the people."
"Yes, warrior." The wolf's dark eyes sparkled brighter. "And how were we saved from famine?"
Wounded Bear swallowed, his throat dry. "The Yellow-Haired Woman came to us from the high peak to tell us of the buffalo." His mind grew sharper with the telling.
"You know the Hee man eh, grandson?"
"Yes," Wounded Bear replied. The dances of the halfmen-halfwomen society were well known to his people. But he was bewildered by the wolf's reference. He waitedknowing he was being taught.
"Tell me, warrior, what you remember of the prophecies of Sweet Medicine."
The creature's eyes had become so bright he could no longer gaze into the furred face.
Leaning to his right, Wounded Bear retrieved a handful of sage he had brought with him to the mountain. He threw it on the fire, purifying the air. The wolf deeply inhaled the fragrance.
"Grandfather," he began haltingly, "Sweet Medicine taught ... taught that the whites would come to our sacred lands and kill the buffalo. The people would suffer for many winters." Images of starving children flashed before him; a wave of pain and anger tore his stomach. "He ... he taught that if the people were unfaithful to the Old Ways they would be pushed out by the whites, and the whites would cover the ground as thickly as the spring grasses."
He looked up at the wolf, but its face was turned away, eyes closed, listening to some spirit song the warrior could not hear. He kept silent, waiting for a sign that he should continue.
At last the beast opened its eyes and turned back to Wounded Bear. Tears glistened in the blackness. "Do you know the prophecy of how the whites will come to dig up our lands?" Its smooth voice rang with sorrow.
He nodded gravely. Sweet Medicine had foretold that the whites would come to desecrate the earth by tearing at her surface with sharp sticks until she cried out in anguish. If the people let that happen, he had foreseen the Cheyenne swept away like grains of sand in the wind. A ragged pain coursed through Wounded Bear's body. He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes. "Yes, grandfather," he said.
The fire blazed furiously, sparks scattering through the still air to curl in the pine branches overhead.
The wolf stood and walked closer, standing only a few inches from the warrior, its huge furred nose pointed at Wounded Bear's forehead.
When the helper spoke again, its voice pounded against his ears like the sacred drums of the Sun Dance.
"There is a wagon train coming, grandson. The men of the train are digging a road through the last hunting groundsof the Cheyenne. They must be stoppedlest the prophecy come true."
Wounded Bear could feel the warm breath of the creature on his face. He slowly nodded his understanding. The train must be stopped.
"Soon," the wolf breathed, seeming farther and farther away, "you will be called upon to sacrifice a great deal for the People."
Wounded Bear sat silent, his heart throbbing in his ears. He could feel the bristly fur of the spirit wolf brushing against his buckskin shirt. He stared intently at the enormous paws beside his crossed legs. The wolf laid one of the white paws on his thigh.
"You must open your heart for the People." He paused, tilting his head. "Are you willing?"
"Yes, gran ..." he began as a blast of icy wind splashed his face. He raised his arms to shield himself. The trees moaned and jostled violently in the gale. Even before he let his arms down, he knew the snow had started falling again.
Golden rays of light streamed through the pines, dappling the forest floor like an irregular patchwork quilt. Wounded Bear studied the wavering patterns as he weaved between trees, his moccasins crunching on snow. He'd seen such a blanket once at Fort Laramie. A pretty redheaded emigrant lady had traded it for flour. He remembered standing for over an hour at the post store staring at the intricate swirls and brightly colored squares of cloth.
Stepping into a broad meadow, wind gusted around him, whipping the fringes of his buckskin pants until they cracked like whips. He shivered, snugging his blanket tightly around his shoulders as he gazed across the vast plains below. The high desert was a sheet of white, interrupted here and there by the dark brown of windblown hilltops. Thin puffs of clouds drifted through the turquoise sky, heading southward to the lands of the Shoshoni, the enemies of his people.
Wounded Bear stood for a moment, looking toward the eastern horizon. Still low in the sky, the sun sent out amilky wave of light to flood the snow-covered plains. Hills touched by the light shimmered a pale yellow.
He exhaled and watched his warm breath form an icy cloud before it was whisked away by the freezing wind. Trudging across the meadow, he headed down the mountain to the flatlands where his village nestled along the first terrace of the creek.
As he walked, his exhausted mind rambled over the words of the wolf. They came back one by one, the helper's deep voice interspersed with the crunching of snow beneath his feet and the shrill caw of bluejays. The birds hopped from branch to branch as he passed.
"There is a wagon train coming, grandson ... a wagon train coming ..."
As he wandered through a copse of bare-branched cottonwoods along the creek bottom, he heard laughter. On the terrace above him over fifty conical lodges sprouted. He could see the tops of the tipis. Curling gray ribbons wafted from the smoke holes, tumbling before they vanished in the wind. He inhaled a deep soothing breath before climbing the icy lip of the terrace to stand at the edge of the community. He would tell the chief, Dull Knife, and the withered medicine man, Box Elder, of the wolfs words. Then his people could prepare.
"Wounded Bear?" The soft feminine voice came from behind a nearby pine tree.
He turned slowly, feet unsteady, to see Yellow Leaf. Her long black hair fluttered in the wind. She was bundled in a heavy buffalo robe, gathering kindling by breaking dead twigs from the trunks of live trees. A pile rested in the crook of her left arm. She walked toward him, smiling.
He tried to smile back, but his frozen jaws made it more of a scowl. His eyes wandered over her beautiful face. She'd loved him for three yearsturned down four marriage proposals from warriors more respected than he. The old women of the village whispered that Yellow Leaf would be an old maid forever. She was already twenty. He snugged the blanket to his throat, wondering why she waitedandwhy he didn't love her. She was kind and his friend, but his heart was too worn and cold to love any woman.
She stopped only a foot from him and gazed up into his numb face. Her large brown eyes were warm. "Your vision quest," she murmured, "did"
"Yes," he responded, eyes drifting over the tufts of snow weighing down the pine branches.
She nodded, dropping her eyes, a smile of pride on her lips. "The people will be grateful."
He took a deep breath and held the chilling air in his lungs. A lightness filled his head. He swayed, staggering sideways. She quickly reached out and gripped his forearm with her free hand, steadying him. A few twigs fell from her other arm to sink into the snow.
"You're going to the chief's lodge?"
"Yesand Box Elder's."
"I'll help you."
As they entered the village, a tangle of laughing children scampered around them to weave between the lodges, barking dogs close on their heels. Wounded Bear smiled wanly and continued forward, watching the erratic course of the boys, noting their frequent falls. Though the morning was still new, a broad path of tiny footprints already compacted the snow in front of the lodges. They followed it, listening to the feminine voices that came from the tipis. Most of the women would be working inside today to avoid the cold. Already he could smell the fragrance of pemmican stew seeping through the closed door flaps. The concoction of buffalo, fat, and berries was all the village had left to consume after the long, bitter winter. And these days the stews were thinner and thinner, barely enough pemmican to sustain a man. No animals had given themselves for food in over a week; and the last large game, an elk who had chanced proximity to the village to gnaw the bark of the aspens along the creek, had been eaten in a single daytwo weeks before. The people were hungry, yet no one complained. Soon the snows would be gone and the buffalo would return. At least that was the spoken hope. But thefuture looked different to him. The great beasts were dwindling rapidly, their ranges cut by the white man's roads and limited to a single basin now: the Powder River Basin. And all the tribes, friend and foe alike, were condemned to hunt them there, avoiding each other or waging war to maintain hunting rights so that their people could eat.
The thoughts and smells of food made Wounded Bear's stomach growl miserably. This was his fifth day without eating or drinking, but soon it would end, as soon as he delivered his messagethe wolfs message. He dropped a hand to his shrunken belly and patted gently.
"Just a little longer," he whispered reassuringly.
Yellow Leaf looked up at him, frowning. A gust of wind sent a veil of black strands whipping over her face. She pulled it back, tucking the hair behind her ear. "Perhaps you should eat before you talk to the chief. I have a pot of stew in my"
He lifted a weak hand and smiled, shaking his head. "Nothank you."
As he approached the chiefs lodge at the other end of the village, he heard laughter coming from within. He stopped a few paces outside. His brown eyes surveyed the location. Dull Knife's lodge was stationed up and away from the creek on a low rise overlooking the rest of camp. Wounded Bear turned halfway around to gaze down at the village. The lodges formed an irregular crescent moon, the opening facing east so that the warming rays of the rising sun could heat them. And so that the people could offer daybreak prayers to the source of light and life.
"I'll be all right," he said, meeting her soft eyes.
She reluctantly released his arm, nodded, and backed away. He watched her walk down the hill to her parents' lodge and duck inside. A puff of warm air seeped out, sending a cloud of ice crystals to swirl around the entrance.
He shifted positions. Cold pierced his moccasins like a sharp knife. The snow screeched at his movements. Inhaling deeply, the burst of cold air in his lungs made him cough.
The voices inside the lodge ceased and the hide flap was pulled back slightly. Wounded Bear was surprised to see the wrinkled face of Box Elder peek out. The flap was opened wider and the aged medicine man stepped into the cold, the flap dropping behind him. His sightless eyes focused on Wounded Bear. He hobbled forward, a mostly toothless grin on his lips. The shaman was a small man with long gray braids that hung below his waist. He wore a heavily beaded buckskin shirt adorned with orange porcupine quills; the fringes lining the arms flapped in the biting wind. He walked to within two feet of the warrior, his white-filmed eyes fixed on Wounded Bear's tired face.
"I saw you climb the sacred mountain," he said in a rusty voice, pointing a gnarled finger to the ragged snow-clad peak.
Box Elder tipped his chin to the turquoise sky and murmured a hushed prayer. "And the spirits came to you." It was a statement, not a question. The aged head tottered in a nod.
"Yes, Holy One."
"Come inside, warrior." The shaman waved a hand at the chiefs lodge. "We have been waiting for you." He strode back and entered the doorway.
Wounded Bear gazed through the village again, watching the children play, then walked numbly forward. When he lifted the hide flap, warmth struck him like the blow of a fist, making his face sting wildly. He entered and let the flap fall closed.
Darkness swelled around him, his eyes, used to the glare of sunlit snow, blinded for a moment. He stood still, blinking until the fire in the center of the lodge blazed normally and other things appeared. Buffalo robes were spread out across the floor, buffering the chill from the ground. The chief's round shield sat in the back, men and running horses painted across the front in red. In the firelight, the honey-colored tipi walls flickered orange, shadows dancing over the faces of Dull Knife and Box Elder.
The chief sat cross-legged by the fire. Though a middle-aged man, his hair was still black, eyes sharp. Strips of white tradecloth were woven in the braids that dangled over his chest. He had a round face with a broad flat nose and full lips. A blue and yellow blanket was draped over his shoulders; the chief unwrapped it and waved a hand to the place on his left. The warrior gratefully dropped to the thick warm buffalo hide.
"Here, son." Dull Knife handed the dry blanket to him.
He took the ice-cold one from his shoulders and replaced it with the chief's, shuddering for a few moments as the warmth seeped through his hide clothing to touch his skin.
Box Elder laid out a thick bundle. Murmuring a series of prayers, he unfolded layer upon layer of cloth until the contents were revealed. Wounded Bear swallowed convulsively, eyes widening. The sight of the sacred Straight Pipe struck fear into his heart. The long pipe rested on the fine cloth beside a buffalo wool and sinew tamper. Braided sweet grass scented the bundle.
The warrior averted his eyes, focusing on the flickering flames while the shaman prepared the pipe. Wounded Bear was confused, uncertain as to why his presence warranted such special treatment. The Straight Pipe was used only at Sun Dance or when the Mahuts, the sacred arrows, needed renewing and occasionally when the survival of the people was threatened. Through the corner of his eye, he saw Box Elder use a carved stick to retrieve a red glowing coal from the fire. The old man carefully placed the coal into the pipe, then offered it first to the earth, then Maheo, and finally the Four Sacred Persons. Cupping his hand beneath the pink stone bowl, the shaman smoked. Inhaling deeply, he closed his eyes and tipped his face heavenward to slowly blow the blessed smoke out to the four directions.
Wounded Bear's breathing quickened, his fasting euphoria returning in a rush. He felt light, as though his flesh barely touched the kinky hide beneath him. His eyes followed the shaman's puff of smoke as it was drawn up through the smoke hole and out, carrying a message of renewaland rebirth to the earth, humans, and all living creatures.
The aged medicine man's hands trembled as he passed the pipe to Dull Knife and bowed his head in private prayer. Wounded Bear carefully observed the delicate transferral. The chief's hands remained level, unmoving from the height at which the sacred artifact was given. Before touching it to his lips, Dull Knife imitated the ceremony performed by Box Elder, lifting the pipe to the appropriate spiritual agencies. Then he smoked.
Taking a deep breath, Wounded Bear pulled his broad shoulders straight in preparation. He felt warm now, too warm. Blood raced in his veins to throb at his temples. At last his turn came. The chief passed the pipe.
Stretching out his arms to touch the ancient sacred device, a tingle pricked his spine. He kept the Straight Pipe perfectly level and slowly brought it even with his eyes. Squeezing his lids shut, he whispered a personal prayer to the wolf, then offered the pipe to the earth, Maheo, and the Four Sacred Persons. When he placed it against his lips, Wounded Bear's entire body quaked, the instrument's power filling him, raising him to the sky until he felt he could no longer contain the divine power. He held the blessed smoke in his lungs for as long as he could, then gently blew out to the four directions.
When he handed the Straight Pipe back to Box Elder, the revered medicine man smiled. He tenderly stroked the device, then laid it across his lap, gnarled fingers caressing the stem.
Wounded Bear waited. The mixture of tobacco and sweet grass had gone straight to his head, making him dizzy. He dropped both hands to the buffalo robe to steady himself.
"I had a dream," Box Elder cackled at last, breaking the profound silence. "I saw you talking to a spirit wolf." He pointed toward the mountain peak.
"He came ... Holy One."
Dull Knife folded his hands in his lap and gazed intently at the flickering orange flames, brow furrowed in thought.
"In my dream," the shaman continued, tilting his head precariously to the right, "I could not hear the words the helper spoke, but I knew you understood."
Wounded Bear nodded, swaying slightly. He pressed his hands harder into the robe. "I understood."
He watched Dull Knife clench his fingers together, the knuckles growing white, but still the chief kept his eyes downcast, his chest rising and falling erratically.
"And what did the wolf tell you, my son?" Box Elder leaned forward, gray braids sweeping over his knees. The old man's seamed face flickered eerily in the firelight. Wounded Bear studied his haunting eyes.
"He ... he told me the people will be swept away like grains of sand in the wind ..."
His words were cut off when Dull Knife sucked in a sudden breath and jerked up his eyes to stare. Fear and pain lined the chief's face.
"And?" Box Elder prompted.
"There is a wagon train coming. The men of the train want to dig a road through our last hunting grounds. We must stop them ... If we cannot, Sweet Medicine's prophecy will come true."
Box Elder nodded slowly and leaned back. His buckskin shirt glistened, the blue and red beads reflecting the wavering flames.
"So," Dull Knife whispered hoarsely, "another battle is forced upon us."
Wounded Bear dropped his gaze. "Yes, my chief."
"When? When will they come?"
Box Elder answered, his withered face turned heavenward. He clutched the Straight Pipe with crooked fingers. "They will come during the moon when the buffalo bulls begin to rut."
Wounded Bear blinked. Somewhere inside of him the timing rang strangely ominous. During the moon when the buffalo were creating new life, the Cheyenne would be threatened with final destruction. His gut tightened, stomach muscles going rigid. A sign?
"I will organize scouting parties," Dull Knife murmured and stood.
Wounded Bear started to follow, but the chief held up a hand and shook his head. "No, my son. You must rest now and later eat." He paused, anxiety clear in his strained voice. "I will call a meeting for tonight. Then you can tell them."
Dull Knife pulled back the door cover and slipped out. A gust of cold wind splashed Wounded Bear. He shivered.
"Lie down, warrior," Box Elder said gently. "Sleep." Wounded Bear followed instructions, curling on his side in front of the fire. He yawned deeply and closed his eyes. In the back of his exhausted awareness, he heard the shaman start singing. The old man's voice was soft, the tune lilting to swirl through the tipi.
Just before sleep overpowered him, Wounded Bear recognized the words. Box Elder sang the wolf songs.
Copyright © 1990 by Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wonderful book. I was hooked in the 1st 40 pages.
The story of starcrossed lovers, and two generations when the west was conqured, and how the native american responded to fruition of legend coming true of the coming of the white man his stick that threw little rocks, and dogs that could carry a man across the plains, letting the native americans have a breif time of high prosuit, and legendary daring