Captain Westcott receives the news that a wagon train has been raided. Two officers have been wounded and four civilians killed—among the dead is the woman who was traveling to the western frontier to become his wife. Authorities believe that the prize was six thousand dollars, and that the local Arapaho Indians are responsible—a curious assumption given that the greenbacks in this area are the preserve of soldiers, not the tribes.
But it soon becomes apparent that there’s more to this raid than money. Having no time to lose, Westcott promptly sets out to hunt the band of raiders, on a mission that will contain more surprises than he could ever have expected.
Alive with suspense, The Girl from Fort Wicked is a riveting portrayal of America’s rugged frontier landscape, its language, and its unusual characters from celebrated author Dee Brown, whose groundbreaking classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee changed the way many Americans perceived frontier history.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Dee Brown including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.
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About the Author
Dorris Alexander “Dee” Brown (1908–2002) was a celebrated author of both fiction and nonfiction, whose classic study Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is widely credited with exposing the systematic destruction of American Indian tribes to a world audience. Brown was born in Louisiana and grew up in Arkansas. He worked as a reporter and a printer before enrolling at Arkansas State Teachers College, where he met his future wife, Sally Stroud. He later earned two degrees in library science, and worked as a librarian while beginning his career as a writer. He went on to research and write more than thirty books, often centered on frontier history or overlooked moments of the Civil War. Brown continued writing until his death in 2002.
Read an Excerpt
The Girl From Fort Wicked
By Dee Brown
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1964 Dee Brown
All rights reserved.
Headquarters Yellowhorse Command Sun River Cantonment, June 19.
Assistant Adjutant General Department of the Platte.
Sir: I have respectfully to report that a wagon train proceeding from Newcomb's Wells to this headquarters was attacked by hostile Indians on the 18th instant near Clear Creek ravine. Detachments of two companies, B and H, 12th Cavalry, acting as escort were forced to engage the enemy on ground where it would have been impossible to have maneuvered cavalry. Captain Carter in command and Lieutenant Dickey were both seriously wounded and put out of action in the first engagement. Two noncommissioned officers made the best resistance they could, but Major Daly the paymaster and two civilian drivers, and a female passenger identified as Miss Anna Llewellyn of Massachusetts were killed. The paymaster was carrying upward of $6000 for payment of troops this command. An undetermined number of new rifles and carbines in shipment were also taken by the raiders. Troop C, 12th Cavalry, under command Captain Benjamin Westcott is now in the field in pursuit of the hostiles. Captain Westcott is ...
First Sergeant Michael Connors pulled his mount in closer to the scout, Peter Dunreath, and said: "The capt'n's takin' it too hard."
Dunreath grunted, but the only movement of his muscles was the blinking of half-closed eyes against sun glare as he kept his gaze fixed down the line of Arapaho tepees to where Captain Westcott was standing.
Five squaws were lined up in front of Westcott. A pair of dismounted troopers, carbines at ready, stood on either side of them.
The squaws were wearing fancy Eastern dresses—silks and frilled satins and one that was obviously a bridal gown. A few hours ago the dresses had been packed in a trunk belonging to Anna Llewellyn of Massachusetts.
Under the hot noonday sun, Westcott stood tall and rigid as a parade-ground soldier, staring down at the squaws. His battered campaign hat swung from one hand. His shock of hair was red as fire in the cruel sunlight. His eyes held no expression; their normal bright blue looked dead and burned out.
To Westcott's left, along a narrow strip of grassy creek bank, were the other Arapahoes—women, children, and old men—held in close check by a detail of troopers.
From out of this restless mass a papoose squawled suddenly, breaking the stillness, and then Westcott turned toward his mount, reaching for his saber. The metal flashed in the sun.
"Watch out," Sergeant Connors whispered quickly to Dunreath.
Dunreath brushed his fingers across the stubby beard around his tobacco-stained lips. "I better get down there," he said mildly, "or Ben Westcott will hate hisself in the mornin'."
"The capt'n was never one for squaw killin'," Connors went on worriedly. "Still if she'd been my girl, that Miss Llewellyn—"
"He's never said a word," Dunreath added, and nudged his gray mount gently into motion. As he rode along the line of tepees, he watched Westcott turn back to the squaws, the saber glinting like silver.
One of the squaws began wailing. She was wearing a gay blue frock with lace along the sleeves. She kneeled on the ground, facing Westcott. The captain leaned forward slightly, holding the saber extended until she rose again, and then he eased the tip into the thin blue cloth, ripping it away from her shoulders.
Dunreath halted his horse a dozen yards behind the captain, watching without comment. He glanced back quickly to where Connors waited in front of the line of dismounted troopers on the slope.
Westcott continued his slashing at the blue dress until the squaw flinched and dropped down on her knees again. The captain swore then, dropped the saber, and stepped in close to the woman. He made a motion with his bare hand, then checked himself, as if he could not bear to touch the ripped cloth. He stood erect again and took his gauntlets from inside his shirt and put them on.
With his gauntleted hands Westcott began ripping the dress from the squaw, each motion more savage than the other, dropping the torn pieces of cloth on the ground until the woman stood bare-breasted with only a red calico underskirt over her lower body. He turned to the others then, mechanically stripping the stolen dresses from them until all were left only their red and orange petticoats and underskirts.
Dunreath shook his head slowly, and shifted in his saddle. Again, as he had been doing all morning, he scanned the horizon, wondering where the warriors were, how many there were, and how fresh their horses. He heard Westcott's voice, like a rasp: "Throw that on the fire!"
The captain had moved over to a boiling cooking pot in front of one of the tepees. He booted the black pot over on its side, and prodded the fire into a blaze. "Connors!"
"Yes, sir!" Sergeant Connors' voice boomed loud down the slope.
"Bring down a searching party. They may have rifles hidden in the lodges."
The two troopers were gathering up the shredded dresses, dropping the rags on the fire which smoldered for a minute, the smoke stinking of scorching cloth, and then blazed brightly. Westcott turned his back on it.
He looks all right now, Dunreath thought, except for his eyes and that gray line along his mouth.
Westcott noticed Dunreath for the first time. "I told you to stay back up there," Westcott said.
"I can't see so good any more," Dunreath replied, and then grinned. "Unless I'm up close."
Westcott didn't smile. "Get over to that mob and see what you can find out from the old men. We can't stay here all day. We've got to find the warriors."
Not with our horses worn down like they are, Dunreath thought. He's still half crazy. Maybe I would be, too, if that'd been my girl. The scout dismounted and led his horse between two tepees toward a sapling.
Before he finished looping his tie rope, Dunreath noticed the scalp. It was stretched on a hoop suspended from a pole at the rear of the larger tepee, drying in hot sunlight. The light gave the hair a gold sheen. From the ringlets and the length he knew it was a white woman's scalp.
Without breaking his motion, Dunreath loosened a rope behind his saddle, slid his blanket out, and walked toward the drying scalp. He had dropped the blanket over the hoop when he heard Westcott behind him. The captain's breath caught in his throat, whatever words he was about to say strangled in a hoarse exhalation.
Westcott brushed the scout aside, and jerked the blanket away from the hoop. Flies buzzed in an angry cloud.
The captain stood with his legs wide apart, his erect shoulders drooping a little, staring at the scalp with the same expressionless glare he had fixed upon the squaws a few moments ago.
Dunreath touched Westcott's shoulder. "Don't pry into it, Ben," he said gently, and asked: "What you want done with it?"
"Burn it." Westcott's voice was like a file against hard metal. He turned his back on the thing, blinked at the buffalo symbols on the tepee, and started striding toward the group of Arapahoes along the creek bank. Dunreath lifted the drying hoop, and as he followed Westcott he dropped it on the blazing heap of shredded dresses. The five half-naked squaws still cowered in the shade of the tepees.
Several papooses were squawling now in the close-packed crowd. The willows offered little shade, and the midday heat made the Indians restless. The troopers also were uneasy, prodding with their carbines at any moving body around the edges of the group.
Westcott had halted, and was motioning the troopers to bring out one of the old men. An Indian, naked but for a pair of blanket-cloth trousers, lurched forward hesitantly. His dirty hair was cropped at the shoulders. His arms were bony, the flesh corded with knotted veins.
"Ask him the name of the warrior," Westcott ordered sharply, "who lives in the large tepee with buffalo markings."
"We better sit him down in the shade first," Dunreath replied easily, and motioned toward a broken log downstream. Westcott frowned with impatience, and then followed Dunreath and the old Arapaho to the shaded log. The scout held his closed hand out, moving it downward and the old man sat.
With signs and a word or two of Arapaho, Dunreath asked the question. The old man shook his head. Dunreath squatted in front of him, patiently repeating his interrogation. With a gesture of indifference, the Indian replied in Arapaho. Dunreath repeated the words, and added in English: "Black Horn?"
The old man nodded slowly, and said something else in Arapaho.
"It's Black Horn's tepee," Dunreath said to Westcott. "Subchief of the Greasy Faces band. The old man says one of them squaws you insulted by disrobin' her in public is Black Horn's woman."
"Which woman is Black Horn's?" As he spoke, Westcott glanced back at the half-naked squaws. He rubbed one hand hard over his rumpled red hair, and his lips tightened over his teeth.
"What difference it make, Ben?" Dunreath replied quietly. "That wouldn't fix nothin'."
"Right now I wish to God I was an Indian. Breach for a breach, eye for an eye." Westcott's jaw squeezed shut as he turned his back on the squaws.
Behind them came the clatter of First Sergeant Connors' detail, beginning their search through the lodges. Tin pans rattled and troopers shouted as they turned up rifles hidden under blankets, and brought them out to stack in neat military fashion in the center of the village. The rifles were ancient, most of them rusted. The warriors had taken the new ones captured from the train, leaving their old ones behind with the squaws.
"Ask him where his chief, Wolf Moccasin, is now," Westcott said.
Wolf Moccasin, the old man said, was hunting deer with the Sagebrush warriors in the snowy mountains to the south. He had been there six or seven days.
Westcott looked surprised. "Ask him if Black Horn led the raid on the wagon train."
Of the raid, the old Arapaho professed to know nothing, only that Black Horn and the Greasy Face warriors had come in with their spoils—rifles and whiskey and a few scalps—and then had gone away again.
"Ask him where they went," Westcott persisted.
They had ridden to where the sun sets, the old man replied.
"Ask him where did they go to hide from the bluecoats?"
Dunreath gave the old man a sliver of chewing tobacco, and then drew a rough circular map in the sand beside the log. He posed the question patiently, using the map to explain what he wanted.
The old man, however, said he did not know where the warriors had gone. He was too old for fighting or hunting, he explained, and the young Greasy Faces did not confide in him. But he added slyly that if he himself had done a bad thing against the bluecoats and was afraid to stand and fight them, he would ride west to the Porcupine country. In there, a warrior would be as hard for the bluecoats to reach as a star in the sky.
"He may be humbuggin' us," Dunreath said to Westcott. "Whether he is or not, we won't get any more from him."
Westcott pulled his hat on, his disordered red hair spraying out over his forehead. "They could be holed up less than ten miles from here. Better go look for tracks, Pete."
"A lot of tracks were leadin' out of here—headed west like he said."
"Look for tracks in other directions," Westcott repeated curtly.
As Dunreath turned toward his horse, Sergeant Connors called to Westcott from the lower end of the village: "Sir, somethin' here the capt'n might ought to know about!"
Westcott squinted down the creek. "What is it, Sergeant?"
"We found a boy hidin' under some blankets."
Westcott frowned, and motioned Dunreath to wait. "Hustle him up here."
The boy, who might have been fifteen or sixteen years old, scurried like a flushed deer up the creek bank with Connors close behind. He was wearing a faded Army shirt and dirty brown Kentucky jeans.
When Connors halted him in front of the captain the boy glanced away, and Westcott wondered if his attempt at concealment indicated guilt or excessive fear. The youngster was handsome in spite of his mop of greased hair. Westcott thought there was something oddly familiar about the olive-skinned face. He was obviously a half-breed, and looked more Mexican than Indian.
Dunreath spoke sternly in Arapaho: "Why do you hide from the bluecoats like a shivering girl?"
The boy did not reply; his fingers played with a round object suspended from a chain about his neck, an amulet carved from a wooden beer case, the stamping of a bottle.
"He was with the warriors," Westcott guessed, slashing his hand down in anger. "He went with the warriors against the wagon train on Clear Creek!"
"I went only to guard the horses," the boy cried out in fair English, and fixed his handsome eye defiantly on Westcott. Again there was something familiar about him.
"What are you called, boy?"
Westcott knew him then, with a flood of memories of Fort Laramie—five or six years back, while he was still a lieutenant at Laramie. The boy's name was Zha-day or some unpronounceable name that the soldiers had changed to John-day, spoken as one word, a bright-eyed little brat, always on the prowl around the fort with his grubby hands held out for coins to buy rock-sugar candy in the sutler's store. John-day's father could have been anybody. His mother was Arapaho, all right; she washed the enlisted men's clothing cheaper than the white laundresses, who had hated her for it. The officers in Old Bedlam had adopted John-day for a lucky talisman. They'd had him in to dance tribal dances on Saturday nights and showered him with pennies. That was before Westcott was ordered south under General Crook to help pacify the Apaches. That was before he went back East and met Anna Llewellyn at that West Point hop.
The boy was regarding him shyly.
"We were once good friends," Westcott said.
"Yes, Soldier-chief Westcott."
"You will talk straight to a friend."
"John-day always talk straight."
Westcott tried to hold the boy's eyes with his own. "Then tell me where the warriors are."
John-day glanced innocently up at Westcott, his dark eyes shifting to the leather pouch fastened at the captain's belt. Westcott got the meaning as quickly as if words had been spoken. He loosened the rawhide tie on his money pouch and pried a few coins out into his hand. "This sprout learned the value of money early," he said to Dunreath.
Dunreath nodded, grinning. "Nothing like a sutler's store to spoil a breed boy."
John-day already had his hands out, cupped, and then clutching eagerly at the coins that dropped from Westcott's fingers. The captain spoke harshly: "All right, tell me where they are."
"Black Horn and the Greasy Faces and some of the young braves of the Sagebrush men run away. They run away because trader with black hair on face is stronger than they. He make them go in fear." The boy held up his hands and made them quiver as with fear, the quivering spreading down into his body.
In Westcott's face now, there was eager alertness. "Who is this trader with the black beard? What do the white men call him?"
"The white men call him Yankee. He is strong and fears no one."
"Yankee—" Westcott repeated the name and swore. "Yaneka Snell!"
Snell had been at Laramie, too, Westcott remembered. A hunter who had a government contract for a while, and then a wood contract, but was too lazy to hold them. The commanding officer had him on the carpet once or twice for selling whiskey to the tribes, but was never able to prove a thing. Yaneka Snell, a heavy set man with a black greasy beard, large rolling protruding eyes, and giant hands. "Where is this man called Yankee?"
"He go with Black Horn and the braves—far to the Porcupines. You will never find him. He rides like the wind and is afraid of no man."
"How do I know you speak true?" Westcott shouted, catching at the boy's shoulders and shaking him roughly.
"I'll wager he's talkin' straight," Dunreath said, and spat tobacco juice in the sand.
Westcott drew another silver piece from his rawhide purse and flipped it to John-day. "We'll soon know if he's lied." He slapped the boy on the rump. "Go along, you little beggar." Westcott watched the boy jogging away up the creek, clutching the coins greedily in one hand. "Pete, you think the raid was Yaneka Snell's doing?"
"It explains why the paymaster's wagon got special attention, don't it?" Dunreath drawled.
"What would Black Horn and the Arapahoes get out of it?"
"Guns, horses—and whiskey from Snell. Except for that money-crazy John-day, the payroll wouldn't agitate the hostiles. It wouldn't be easy for them to spend greenbacks in this country."
Excerpted from The Girl From Fort Wicked by Dee Brown. Copyright © 1964 Dee Brown. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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