It wasn’t easy being a half-breed in the world of the white man. Wounded Hawk pulled his coat up around him against the air that had chilled overnight. Might be winter’s knocking on fall’s door, Hawk reasoned. The half-white, half-Indian felt something more than frost in the air. He peered around the stable. Yeah, I’m right, he thought, as the owner glared at him. If Hawk weren’t a deputy US Marshal, he wouldn’t have even been allowed to board his horses here. The hotels had rejected him, each of the desk clerks holding up their hands as he entered, as if to stop him even asking before informing him “We don’t allow Injuns or breeds in here.” Their hospitality, or lack of, forced Hawk to spend the night in an empty cell at the Estes Park, City Marshal’s office.
Having delivered a prisoner to their marshal, Hawk’s duty was done, and to hell with this place. All the Indian wanted to do was get on the road and back to Golden City, and shake the dust of this town from his boots. The residents had made no effort to disguise their disgust at him. Wounded Hawk was used to the treatment, though still it stung. He had prided himself on not letting the insults affect him, but lately the words bothered him.
Leading his horse and pack mule out of the stall, Hawk headed toward the stable doors. A belligerent thought moved through his head as the untrusting eyes of the stableman continued to bore into him. Hawk settled on a kindness, pulling a silver dollar from his pocket. Resting it on his thumb, he flipped it to the man. People are uncomfortable with folks who are different than they are. The color of the skin, strange habits, or even clothing that is different from the norm causes all sorts of reactions. Give them something they can relate to, something that makes you more like them, and well, sometimes, that makes all the difference.
“Thanks. You took good care of them,” Hawk said.
The man caught the coin, opened his hand and stared at the tip that doubled what he charged for boarding the animals the two days they had been there. He looked at the Indian, and his eyes softened. Maybe this redskin ain’t sa bad after all, he reasoned.
“Been a pleasure,” the man said in an abrupt change. “That mustang paint your’n is about the best I seen fer years.”
“Well, you fed them well,” Hawk told him. “Brushed them down good. Even that cantankerous mule.”
“Well, Marshal, anytime ya’re in Estes Park, be pleased for ya to board yer critters with me,” the man said. “You might have a tad trouble finding a room for your’nself...” stopping, the stableman considered his words, “this being a resort community for the snobby rich folk, an’ all.”
“Don’t I know it, friend,” Hawk agreed, taking his leave of the man. He moseyed down the street leading the two animals, smiling to himself. He’d turned a man in fear of him into someone not sure what to think. His affability was his greatest weapon against the ingrained bigotry of the 1860’s. He wanted to say goodbye to the city marshal before he hit the trail.
“Daylight’s a burning,” Hawk muttered as the town square clock banged out a chime followed by nine bells. “Damn, late start.”
Further down the main street, Horace Ghent watched as a man unlocked the bank door. Two or three people who had been waiting, shuffled inside the building. Observing the traffic on the street, no one else appeared to be heading that way, except for a feller way off leading a horse and mule. Horace reasoned now was as good a time as any.
“Okay, boys,” Ghent said, “let’s take her to the dance. Obie, you know your place.”
The six men rode their mounts out of the alley, then dismounted in front of the bank. Obie stood and held the horses, while the five others went inside the building. Obie Meriwether looked at the women walking down the street. He smiled at each and dipped his hat, just like his momma had taught him. Standing on the mucky road, he appeared out of place, holding six horses with a hitching post right in front of him.
As Marshal Wounded Hawk grew closer, that struck him as strange, especially with the man standing right in front of the bank. Leading his horse and mule, he kept his head down, not wishing to raise suspicion, passed the bank and then stopped at the first hitching post on the next block. He tied his animals to the post and mounted the wooden sideboards. Leaning against a support for the overhanging cover, he watched the young man intently from under the wide, flat brim of his hat.
A young boy walked out of the general store near him, gnawing on a horehound candy stick. The Indian looked at the boy and wagged his finger for him to come to him. The boy hesitated. The man calling him wasn’t someone he knew, and he was an Indian dressed in buckskins. But he had a badge on his chest. How odd, the boy thought, stepping over to Hawk.
“Yes... ?” the boy said, adding, “sir,” as an afterthought to respect the badge, not the man.
“Hey, kid. Go to the city marshal’s office and fetch Marshal Larkin,” Hawk said in a hushed voice. “Be right quick about it.” He handed the boy a nickel, and the lad tore off down the boarded sidewalk to the marshal’s office.
A deep bellowing gunshot barked out from inside the bank. The report preceded a man flying through the front doors of said bank by a moment so brief it is hardly worth noting. The outlaw lay on the rough boards of the sidewalk, with a gaping wound that poured blood all over himself and the wooden boards. He rolled about with his hands clutched uselessly to the wound, then they fell to his side as he stilled. He died before several higher pitched gunshots tore into the morning air from the open door of the bank, before four men ran out of the door, jumping over their fallen compadre.
Hawk swore, yanked the Remington cap-n-ball from his holster, took aim and pulled the trigger, dropping one man. The remaining men fired at him and Hawk dove behind a water trough. The bandits mounted up and rode west, spurring their animals away from the scene. Poking his head up, Hawk watched as the men fled the town.
The four riders drove their animals down the steep embankment to the southwest, into the long valley below the resort community. Twisting and turning to avoid trees and boulders they moved as fast as safety would allow them. After a few minutes, the leader slowed the group. Pacing the mounts, he continued sneaking glances back here and there. He pulled his horse to a stop, and the others followed suit. Ghent swiveled in his saddle and studied the town at the peak. He couldn’t believe no one had followed.
“Must be lily-livered cowards, boys,” he said. His hopes fell faster than they had risen as Horace saw a group of riders leave the town. In a slow and deliberate manner, the lead rider studied the ground. Their leader turned the ten riders onto the fresh trail that Ghent and his men left.
“Spoke too soon,” young Obie told him. “I think that’s the Half-Injun marshal they call Hawk.”
“Why?” one of the other men asked.
“Cause, I think it was him that took shots at us,” Obie Merriweather said.
“We can debate this later,” Ghent said, “ride hard that away,” he told them, pointing to a peak to the southwest. “Thar’s a long narrow canyon at the base of that peak. At the end of it, it breaks into a box canyon. We’ll lie in wait in there and blast them most anyplace we want. Make our way around the mountain to the valley on the other side. They won’t follow beyond where we ambush ‘um. Deputy US marshal or no, put four or five of ‘um down like rabid dogs, they’ll go home, tail tucked betwixt their legs, licking their wounds.”
“Not Hawk, he won’t,” Obie said.
“Then I’ll lay the breed low myself,” another man said.
“We’ll have time to argue who shoots who, after we get thar,” Horace Ghent told them. “Take us till noon, or not at all, if you y’all keep a jawing.” Ghent put his spurs to his animal. The group followed suit and moved on at a dangerous pace for a bit, then slowed down to save the horses. An hour later, they rode into the long narrow ravine, a few hundred yards long. The brigands moved up the sharp embankment and backtracked close to the opening, then settled in to wait.
The Yellow Stone River 1848
17 Years Earlier
“How long?” Swift Hawk pointed to deer tracks on a small dusty trail.
“Which ones?” the ten-year-old Wounded Hawk asked, then didn’t wait for the answer. He’d cover all his bases. “The ones coming toward me that are crisp, they are less than an hour old. Some of the others coming this direction are a day old and the rest, well, they’re older. The ones that are going away from me are a maybe six hours old. Well, not all of them. Most are days old, but those that have a good outline, the tracks with edges just starting to crumble are six hours old.”
“Good, my son,” Swift told him. He pointed to one set of tracks, “One day,” pointing to another, he added, “two day. Rest many day. How long for grass to straighten if horse walk over?”
“If he has a rider, hour and a half or longer, if no rider, an hour or so,” Hawk told his father, then looked downcast. “Do I really have to go back east?”
“Yes, educationing important,” Swift told him.
“It’s education, father,” he said.
“More like mother ever day,” Swift said, shaking his head. “We education you about tracks this day. You go east soon.”
“I know, son, educate...” Swift told him, smiling at his son. He tried his best, but would never be as eloquent with the language as his English wife.
The pair explored the river bank as the older Indian taught the younger how to do many things. He told him of the prejudice to expect back east. Not that Wounded Hawk hadn’t already known bigotry, for the Crow didn’t treat him much different than the whites would.
“Why do people do that?” he asked his father as they sat down on the bank.
“Hate, just because of the color of a person’s skin.”
The old man rubbed his smooth chin and contemplated that. It was a difficult question for him to answer. Swift Hawk himself didn’t understand it fully. Still, he would try to explain it to his son.
“Fear,” he said. “Not an invading kind. Not overwhelm type, but fear.”
“Fear of what?”
“I do not know. Fear of things different. Many whites and Indians have this fear. Hard to put in English word for me.” Swift Hawk dropped the attempt at English, preferring to speak in his own tongue. “White men are afraid of the difference in the way Indians live their lives. Not all, maybe, not most. But the ones who are fearful are loud. They want to think, no, to know, they are the best. The fear is, well, of being wrong. That the different thing might be as good, or even better. So, they lash out at what they fear.” Switching back to English, he added, “Indian the same. The mixing of the blood frights them even more.”
“Frightens,” the boy corrected his father.
“So like mother. Make me proud of you,” Swift told Wounded. Putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder, he squeezed, then rubbed his son’s back.
The Hawk men, father and son, sat together looking at the water as it flowed by. Swift observed a small backwash and saw fishing swimming in the water.
“Go in there and catch us lunch,” he told his son.
“Yes?” Swift Hawk asked him, turning toward the boy.
“I’m not going east,” he said, “I’m staying here with you.”
“You are going to go east to school, my son,” Swift Hawk said, turning away from his son. He gazed at the mountains, the river, or anything to avoid looking his son in the eye. While he wanted the boy to go back east and go school, then college, he also wanted him here with him. The older man knew the way of the Indian would soon be gone. The Indian knew war would come and the Indian would lose. For his son to have a future, he had to leave the tribe.
“Why?” Wounded Hawk asked, tugging on his father’s sleeve.
“Because your mother wishes it,” he said, turning to his son. “You should know by now, what Sorfina wishes, that is what is so. She is English. They are like that, you know.”
“I don’t want to go. No one back east will like me,” he said defiantly.
“Son, no one in the tribe likes you, it is part of being mixed. We have already talked about this part.”
“I am used to their dislike,” Wounded Hawk said, fighting tears.
“Stop that. It will not be worse than here. Have I ever told you why your name is Wounded?”
“No, father, you have never told me that,” the boy said. He had no idea why his name had anything to do with this.
“When you were born, your sister Susan asked us what we should call her baby brother. I said we should perhaps name you George Harrison, after your sister’s real father. But your mother Sorfina say, as she put you in my arms, that her first husband was gone, and you were not George’s boy, but my son.”
“Sophronia,” Wounded Hawk said.
“I can’t say name that way. Don’t erupt your father,” Swift said.
The boy resisted his impulse to further correct him as his father continued.
“So, again, Susan asked us, ‘Yes, but what do we name him, then?’ Your mother say, ‘Hawk, after his father. We will call him Wounded Hawk.’ The sadness in her touched me so deep inside my heart. I asked her why, and she say, ‘he is half you and half me. Half Crow, and half white. A half-breed. He will never be at home with the Crow or with whites—he is wounded,’ she say.”
The boy sat there, folded his arms and declared, “You won’t be there. Mother won’t be there. I’ll hate it and won’t learn anything.” Tears trickled from his eyes.
“You will learn. You are too good a son not to learn. And we be there at first, when we go, well, until you get used to that. And you will get used to the whites not liking you, just as you got used to Crow not being fond,” he said, then pointed to the river.
“But for now, go out there and get our dinner. This is a dispensation for us.”
“Dispensation. Your mother taught the word to me. Do you not like how it sounds? Dispensation?” Swift Hawk thumped his son on the back.
“But, what does it mean?”
“Oh, it is a wonderful word. It means,” Swift held his hand up, “a divine ordering of a worldly thing, a time set aside by The Great Spirit for just you and me. Now, go get me a big one. I’m hungry.”
Drying his eyes, the boy stood. He strode down to the backwash, waded into the water, and dropped his hands into the fridge stream. His father knew him well. He would learn both the ways of the Indian and the ways of the white man. Wounded Hawk would make both his mother and father proud of him.
“See that big one?” his father asked him. Wounded Hawk nodded. “That mine. So, catch him.”
“Yes, Father,” the young man said.
Southwest of Estes Park, Colorado Territory
Memories of the past flooded Wounded Hawk’s thoughts while following the tracks though the lush grass. His father had taught him the gift of tracking prey well. Shaking the recollections from his mind, Hawk led the men toward the fleeing bandits. As the posse approached the canyon opening, Marshal Hawk slowed the advance, holding up his hand to indicate they should stop. Marshal Silas Larkin trotted his horse up next to Hawk. The two men studied the opening.
“Good place for a bushwhack,” Silas told Hawk.
“Right ... good ... place,” Hawk said. “They rode in, but how far?” Hawk rubbed his hairless chin as Silas Larkin removed his hat and ran his fingers through his sparse hair. “Chilly today isn’t it?” Hawk asked his friend.
“Yeah, winter’s right around the corner.” Marshal Larkin looked up at the trees on the sides of the canyon. “Wish them aspens had lost their leaves already.”
The rest of the posse moved next to the leaders. A few clouds rolled over the sky, casting moving shadows on the countryside.
“We moving in?” one anxious man asked.
“Not jus’ yet,” Marshal Larkin told him. Leaning out, he craned his neck and spit tobacco juice out on the rough ground. “Plenty of boulders to hide behind,” Larkin said, “Plenty of places for hell to rain down on us.”
Two of the men on the far north end of the line grumbled, about what, the two leaders couldn’t hear. Hawk yelled for everyone to hold their ground a minute as he studied the trees and boulders on the slopes. At last, the two anxious moaners grew tired at the hold up, prompted their beasts and rushed headlong into the tight valley.
Gunfire erupted, dropping the two men from their horses. Two other posse men were shot from their mounts, as Wounded Hawk heard a ball whiz past his ear. With a yell at the men to move, Hawk and Larkin charged toward the valley opening. Finding cover behind the rocks, they dismounted and concealed themselves as best they could. After a few seconds, Wounded Hawk identified where the fire came from on the south grade. Using his big Sharps 50, Hawk found his mark with his first shot. A man tumbled down the hillside. Pulling the trigger guard lever down, the spent cartridge fell to the ground, before the Marshal shoved home a new round.
Likewise, Silas Larkin found where the gunfire came from on the northern slope. Using his Henry rifle, he sprayed the area, killing the concealed desperado. The man tumbled from his hiding place down a washout.
A third gunman fired from the south. He sprayed the posse with several volleys before Wounded Hawk located him, dispatching him with another blast from his long-range rifle. They heard the other bank robbers moving away on the northern slope, as they spurred their mounts, crashing through the fallen timber, rough terrain and knocking over saplings. The battle ended almost as soon as it began. Five of the posse lay dead, with two wounded. The sound of the fleeing men grew fainter the further they moved down the canyon.
“Damn, they’re going to get away,” Larkin said. He moved up the mountainside to the north, gathering up the horse of the fallen man. Draping the dead man over the saddle, Silas Larkin tied him to it. Checking the saddlebags, he found some of the loot. “At least, I got some of the money back,” Silas yelled across the valley to where Hawk retrieved the fallen on the south side.
“No money here,” he shouted.
The two men met at their own waiting horses. The posse men who weren’t injured gathered up their fallen and wounded. The group looked dejected. Hawk and Larkin led their horses back to the group.
“I gotta get these men back to town,” Larkin said.
“I’ll go after them,” Hawk told him, nodding his head in the direction the remaining bank robbers had gone.
“No, you can’t. You still have two desperados out there,” the marshal said. “I can’t spare narry a one to go with you.”
“I don’t need anyone to go with me,” Hawk replied. He walked over to the horses carrying the dead and took two canteens, returned to his mount, and climbed onto his saddle. All the time Larkin argued for him not to trail the remaining bandits.
“Where’s my damn mule?” Hawk asked, ignoring Larkin. Spying the animal, he smiled. “Mule ... get yourself over here!” he shouted. The pack animal moved from some brush and trotted to Hawk. Pulling his rifle from its boot, he shucked out the empty shell and replaced it with a fresh load.
“Give me a few hours, and I can come back and help.” Larkin hadn’t given up.
“I don’t mean to offend you, Silas, but I don’t need or want your help,” Hawk said. “You won’t be able to find us. They’re heading to that long valley on the far north side of the mountain. Then they’ll be turning south once they reach the other side.”
“Wouldn’t they just go around the south side if they intended to go south?”
Smiling at the city marshal, Wounded Hawk let out chuckle, “That’s what you’d do, yeah, shortest distance. But these guys are avoiding you, hoping you’ll lose their trail.”
“I guess Tom can get these fellers back,” Larkin told him.
“Don’t need any help,” Hawk insisted, shook his head then turned southward. “Take care of your flock, Marshal Larkin. I’ll take care of the miscreants and bring the bank money back to you.” Hawk waved without turning back to the men.