Night Wolf Ch. 02byLady_Blackhawk©
Disclaimer: I have tried to make sure my historical information is correct and I'd like to think I haven't offended any Native Americans peoples with the telling of this tale. I am 1/8th Cherokee and am proud of that heritage. I'm not trying to show any Native Americans in a bad light... that is not my intention.
Two days later, Charles Gillen came upon one of the other wagons as it stood charred and smoldering. He immediately recognized the dark haired man who lay upon the ground, riddled with arrows.
"Hello, the camp. Is anyone there?" He called out as he pulled his wagon to a stop, set the brake and hopped down. He walked around the remains of the wagon, finding the bodies of Clarence Bennett and his wife Katherine. Scanning the area around the camp, he looked around for the two girls, Tessa and Chloe. Where were they? And what had become of Clarence's infant son? Had Indians stolen them all away? "Is anyone alive? Tessa? Chloe?"
Ione ran toward him and screamed from the shock. "NO!" She wailed as her eyes drank in the sight of her friend's murdered family.
"Get back to the wagon, girl!" Charles ordered.
"No, papa, I must find Tessa!" She retorted as she ran around the camp and into the stand of trees that stood nearby.
Charles charged after her, catching her just inside the tree line. "Fool girl, she's probably dead or she's been hauled away by the heathens. If that's the case, she's probably wishing she were dead. Now do as I told you and get back to the wagons." He dragged her back to the camp. "It's time to give these good people a decent burial."
"No, papa, I must find her," Ione wiggled free of his grasp and dashed back to the stand of trees. She wiped her tears away with the back of her hand before hiking up the hem of her skirt, which would allow her to run like she hadn't run in years. Just as she made it to the trees again, she felt something slam into her and knew she had been caught. She whimpered pitifully as her body crashed to the ground and felt an oppressive weight pin her face down in the dirt. "Get off me!"
"Do as Pa told you to do and get back to the wagon," her younger brother growled in her ear.
"Get off me, John, now!" She bellowed as she flailed her legs about.
John, being a year younger and at least seventy-five pounds heavier and six inches taller than she, hauled her up from the ground as he stood up and shoved her back toward the wagons and into their mother's waiting arms.
Mariana hugged her tightly. "Come with me, sweet girl. Your pa and your brother are only doing what is best for you. Your friend may be dead."
"She can't be, mama." Ione brokenly cried as she let her mother lead her away from the massacre.
She watched as her father and John, along with Henry and Andrew, dug shallow graves and buried the broken remains of Clarence and Katherine Bennett. Tears flowed down her cheeks. Would she ever see her friend again? She curled up in a ball within the confines of her sleeping pallet in the wagon. She had already lost so much; add to it the apparent loss of her new found friend hurt even more.
Before she knew it, her father was calling for them to move their wagons out. He hoped to put a few miles between here before they made camp for the night. He manned the main wagon while John drove the other. He had fourteen-year-old Henry ride in the seat along side him with a loaded rifle while his other son, fifteen-year-old Andrew, manned the seat beside John.
A few hours passed and they came to a slow moving shallow river. Charles coaxed the team of oxen into the cool water and crossed it, waiting on the other bank for John to bring his across. He scouted the surrounding area and deemed it a good place to stop for the night. He directed them to a copse of cottonwoods that stood nearby, directing his family to set up camp. Each member went about their assigned chores before reconvening at the fire when Mariana called them to supper. She ladled heaping servings of stew into each of their bowls and served them cornbread that she'd baked in a cast iron skillet over a low fire.
Before bedtime, Charles brought out his fiddle while John accompanied him on the banjo and Henry on his harmonica. They played a merry tune. Ione and Samantha joined in, singing the words to the tune as Mariana clapped in time with the beat. Danger may lurk beyond their cheery fire, but within the confines of its glow all was right with the world.
The family traveled for three more days before coming upon a wagon with a broken wheel. Charles slowed up, approaching the wagon that sat off to the side of the rutted trail cautiously. He called out when he came within a few wagon lengths of it. He could make out a campfire and horses grazing on a grassy slope a few yards north of the wagon.
"Hello, the camp," he called out, easing his team closer. "Hello, anyone there?"
A face he recognized poked out of the back of the wagon. Charles relaxed and directed his wagon to the side of the trail, parking a few yards behind the one that say there. "Thad Kendall! You are a welcome sight! I wasn't sure I'd run across anyone else alive!" Charles exclaimed as he set the brake on his wagon and hopped down to the ground, approaching the young man who was now exiting the back of his Conestoga wagon.
"Mr. Gillen, I sure am glad to see you! I haven't seen hide nor hair of anyone since the Green River," he exclaimed as he met the older man and shook his hand exuberantly.
"Are you here alone, Thad?" Charles asked, glancing around. At that moment, another head poked its way out of the back of the Conestoga. Charles' eyes narrowed as he recognized her. He cocked an eyebrow at the younger man before turning his attention to the female. "Tessa Bennett! Is that you?"
Tessa smiled widely and climbed out, straightening her dress as she made her way over to the father of her friend. "It's wonderful to see you! I thought we'd be stuck here forever."
"I am glad you are alive, child. We found your family's wagons some days back. What happened? And how is it that you are alive and where are your brother and sister?"
"Chloe's here with us, sir. My brother died." A sad look crossed her face as her large cornflower blue eyes glistened with unspilled tears.
"I'm sorry to hear that. We buried your parents, thinking the heathens had carried you, Chloe and the boy off."
Tessa shook her head, valiantly holding back the tears. "No, Pa told us to run so I grabbed Chloe and William and ran away. I was so scared. I thought I'd be killed. I hid in the woods until I thought it was safe to come out. I saw the smoke from the burning wagon, but I couldn't go back. I ran further away. Thad found me the next day and I've been traveling with him ever since. Chloe is sleeping. Is Ione with you?"
The elder Gillen nodded. "She's worried about you as well. She's back in the wagon. Let me talk to Thad here before we all get back on the trail."
Tessa gathered the hem of her faded calico skirt and dashed back to the second wagon. She called out Ione's name, shrieking with glee as the girl came out of the wagon. The two friends embraced fondly, tears flooding from their eyes. They hugged for several long minutes before breaking apart.
"I'm so glad we found you!" Ione gushed, happily.
"I was so scared! I thought I'd surely die at the hands of the bad men who attacked us. Their faces were painted, but they didn't look like the savages. I think they were white men masquerading as Indians. They had on buckskins and boots and carried rifles along with their bow and arrows. They must've been after Pa's lock box of money. It's the only thing of value we had."
"That is terrible, Tessa. You are safe with us now." Ione directed her friend toward where her mother stood near the wagon. "Ma, I've found Tessa!"
Mariana smiled at her, knowing how happy this made her daughter. "It is good to find you alive, dear child. Where is your sister?"
"Oh, she's in the wagon, sleeping. She's been sick for the past few days and we've been trying to care for her, but it hasn't been easy to do with our meager supplies. Also Thad thinks one of the horses is lame. We were hoping someone friendly came along soon."
"I'm sure my husband will insist you accompany us to Fort Bridger. It'll be safer for all of us. I'm sure young Mr. Kendall will see the logic in that," Mariana relayed to the girl. "Now take me to your sister. Let me see what I can do for her."
Tessa led Ione and her mother to the back of Thad's wagon. The girl was sleeping restlessly, thrashing about as Mariana entered the wagon bed. She soothed her with a soft voice and felt the girl's forehead. She was burning up with fever. A hoarse cough wracked the girl's small body while cold chills raced through her. It was as Mariana feared. The child had a case of pneumonia. She left the wagon, forbidding anyone to go near it as she sought out her medicine chest. She repeatedly washed the girl down with some cold water, hoping to cool her fevered skin and gave her a small dose of laudanum to help her sleep.
As Mariana treated the ailing child, her husband sat with Thad, deciding what was best for the young man and his two charges. "Best I see it is you should follow us to Fort Bridger. I have an extra team of horses that I can loan you until we reach the fort. There you should be able to see about obtaining some of your own. If not, we'll settle up once we reach Oregon Territory. You just can't stay here, though. You'll be prone to attack by savages."
"I appreciate your offer, Sir. I was hoping to accompany you. Little Chloe needs a doctor and Tessa and I will be requiring the services of a preacher. I mean to take care of both of them. They're very special to me."
"I'm glad to hear that, son. I think Ione will be happy to have Tessa around for the remainder of the journey. She cried something fierce when we found her families' burnt out wagon. I was happy to see that the heathens that butchered her folks hadn't carried her or her sister away, but that still leaves her baby brother missing."
"William was with us, but he succumbed to a fever. I buried him a few days ago. Tessa has cried ever since, but she's been valiantly trying to save Chloe as well. I was afraid we'd lose her too, if no one found us. I had very little in the way of medicine. I managed to scrape off some willow bark for some tea. It seemed to quiet her somewhat, but not long enough. I am obliged that you came along when you did."
"Can you tell me who attacked the Bennett family wagons? Which bunch of savage heathens?"
Thad shook his head. "I'll be damned if they weren't the white men. I never saw the likes of Injuns with light skin and greasepaint on their faces. I figured they were trying to stir up trouble, in order to bring the Army in here. But they weren't any kind of real Injun."
Charles nodded. "I had wondered since neither Clarence or Katherine were scalped, but why kill them?"
"Tessa thinks it had to do with the money Clarence had hidden in the wagon. Everything they had was in that lock box, but they didn't find it. Tessa took it with her when she ran away with Chloe and the baby."
"I'll be damned. Good for her then. It'll come in use for you once you've married her. You'll be able to set her up in a house and provide for her until you find work. I accepted a job as a logging supervisor. I'll gladly see that you have a job if you follow us to Oregon." Charles replied as he patted the younger man on the back.
"I'll gladly do that, Sir."
"Good. It's settled then. Let's get your wagon hitched with a fresh team. Hopefully we can head out soon and put a few miles behind us." Charles took control of the situation, leading his spare team to hitch to Thad's wagon while the younger man rounded up the horses that grazed upon the slope. He tied them to the back of the wagon, put out the small campfire and loaded the meager supplies he had out into the back of the wagon. Mariana insisted on riding with Chloe to take care of the ailing girl while Tessa joined Ione in the wagon driven by John.
As Ione and Tessa talked, she found out what happened to Thad's parents and his younger siblings. The older Kendall's, Albert and Sarah, had been washed away by the flooded Green River and were assumed to have drowned. Then she lamented that wild Indians had stolen his brother and sister. They didn't know if either still lived, but hoped to find them as soon as they alerted the Army of what had happened. But soon enough, Tessa's sad tale turned to one of joy where it involved Thad. He had proposed marriage and vowed to take care of her. Tessa beamed joyfully over her news and Ione was very happy for her. Samantha flashed Tessa an angry look, miffed over the fact that Thad had not offered for hers, but Tessa pointedly ignored the younger girl, knowing full well that Thad hadn't ever really been interested in her.
Several days passed rather uneventfully with Chloe slowly recovering from her bout with pneumonia. Her lungs seemed to clear up with the help of the laudanum, venison broth and the willow bark tea that Mariana spooned down her throat. She predicted that Chloe would make a full recovery, but it would take some time. She hoped they'd reach Fort Bridger soon and could procure the services of a real doctor. He would be able to provide better healing for the young girl.
Ione spent every moment she could with Tessa. The two girls twittered and giggled constantly about everything under the sun, but usually their favorite topic was Thad. He weathered their attention with an easy-going smile, often allowing them to ride in his wagon with him. Yet Ione knew that Tessa wasn't telling her everything. He was far too casual in his affections with Tessa to simply be courting her. Ione knew something more had to be going on, but wasn't brave enough to ask her friend. They behaved like they were already married, touching and kissing when they thought no one was looking. The familiarity between them caused a pang of jealousy to course through Ione. She didn't want what Tessa had. She wasn't interested in Thad in any way, not like Samantha had been, but she wanted a beau to treat her the way Thad treated Tessa. Despite what she told her mother about not being ready for a new suitor, she knew deep down she wanted to experience love and what it was like to be in love.
As morning came and the sun peaked over the horizon, the camp stirred. Ione and Tessa giggled as they headed for the nearby stream to wash up and bring back enough buckets of water to fill the barrels. Tessa was happy that Chloe was thoroughly on the mend from her bout with pneumonia, but complained to Ione about Samantha's rude remarks and taunts over the fact that Thad hadn't chosen her. Ione promised to talk to her sister and make her stop being such a brat.
Ione smiled as she washed her face and hands in the clear cool water. Despite the bad things they'd encountered, the trip had been fairly pleasant. She loved the sight of the verdant trees, the majestic mountains and wide expanses of prairie. And Oregon was said to be green and lush where a man could find his destiny. Everything seemed perfect right now. She had her family and her best friend and a new life in a new place to look forward to. How could it get any better than this?
How could she know that her happy world was in imminent danger... that it would soon be turned upside down? How could she have known they were being followed, being watched? Stalked by a war party of twelve seasoned Crow warriors, their very lives at stake without so much of a clue what was to come of them?
The attack began just as the sun came up. Swiftly, the Crow rode upon the unsuspecting wagons, firing guns and arrows at Ione's family. Mariana screamed as a war whoop split the silence and dove underneath the wagon. Charles, Thad and John raced to grab their rifles, returning fire. Charles aimed at a particularly menacing looking warrior with a black and white painted face and a caricature of a snarling panther on his chest, but the shot went off target as an arrow slammed into his thigh. He bellowed in pain and snapped the shaft off as he cocked the rifle again. He joined Thad in screaming for the womenfolk to run and hide before another arrow pierced his chest. Thad reacted, pumping off several rounds from his repeating rifle as he watched Charles go down. His first shot hit a garishly painted warrior between the eyes while his second hit another in the upper chest. Another warrior with a intricate braids and a black hand painted over the lower portion of his face launched himself from his horse, leaping into the back of the wagon. He jumped down, avoiding a shotgun blast, and reached beneath the wagon. He grabbed Mariana, yanking her out from it and dragged her across the camp to the tree line.
Noticing what was happening, John aimed his next rifle shot at the warrior's head. He pulled the trigger and watched in awe as the bullet hurtled outward, hitting the Crow between the eyes. He slumped to the ground, releasing Mariana. She screamed and took off running, only to find her escape halted by a tomahawk to the back thrown by a warrior galloping behind her on horseback. Her scream caught in her throat, leaving behind a sucking noise as the tomahawk blade severed her spine. Then heartlessly the warrior steered his horse to run over her, trampling her into the ground.
A barrage of arrows and bullets flew through the campsite. One bullet hit John in the shoulder, knocking him from his perch on one of the wagons. He crawled beneath it, dragging his rifle with him. Through the wagon spokes he aimed and fired, despite the intense pain in his injured shoulder. Two more hideously painted warriors leapt from their horses, war lances in hand. As if on cue the warriors heaved them at Andrew and Henry, as the boys attempted to reload their rifles. One caught Henry squarely in the chest while the other lodged in Andrew's neck, knocking both to the ground below.
Thad was the next to be attacked. Two warriors surrounded him, their skinning knives held in one hand and a tomahawk in the other. Thad managed to squeeze off a round, hitting the Crow in the shoulder before they pulled him to the ground, cleaving him to death with each bloody stroke of their weapons.
As soon as the battle was over, four warriors dragged Ione, Tessa, Samantha and Chloe back into the camp. They'd been found hiding in a stand of woods near the shallow creek. Ione screamed at the sight of her murdered family, seeing the bodies of her mother, father and brothers on the ground.
Tessa clutched Chloe and sank to the ground, sobbing at the sight of Thad's mutilated body. She couldn't believe this was happening again, but this time it wasn't white men dressed like the natives. She screamed again in horror and received a harsh cuff to the head for her trouble.
Then Samantha shrieked in fright as a tall warrior with waist length raven hair and black and red face paint tangled his hands in her pale blonde hair and began to drag her kicking and screaming to his horse. The tall one addressed one of his comrades in a deep guttural language before throwing her over the back of the horse and climbing up behind her. She hung belly down over his thighs. He spoke a few more words, before wheeling his horse around and spurring it into a fast canter.
The apparent leader on the war party made a few hand signals then issued what sounded grunting commands to the rest of his warriors. They raided the wagons and stole the livestock before setting everything ablaze. He, whose name was Black Tail Eagle, stalked his way over to Ione and hauled her to her feet. He shoved her toward this large roan stallion, growling in her ear to mount the horse. He turned to his companions, a smile on his face and spoke in that same language Ione didn't understand. "We have much to show for this raid. Let us move as swift and silent as the mountain lion and be as cunning as the fox."