Robert Thornton was a fool! It was 1868, and the war was over. The whole country was suffering under another financial panic, and businesses everywhere were failing because they couldn't get the credit they needed to buy new stock. Robert had been operating a haberdashery in Philadelphia, but suddenly decided without consulting his family to sell out and move West. He knew absolutely nothing about farming or anything else about life outside a major city. But how complicated could it be to run a farm? All you did was put some seeds in the ground and wait until the crops were ready to harvest—any fool could do that, so Robert was sure that the was a prime candidate to become a gentleman farmer.
One of the major reasons for the failure of his inherited haberdashery was that he had spent too much time in a local saloon listening to stories of the great opportunities to be found on the unclaimed federal territories in the west. Anyway, Robert decided that the best thing for him was to settle a claim for land in the West under the terms of the Homestead Act of 1862. Knowing absolutely nothing about the West, he got the idea that he should move his family to Tucson, Arizona Territory and start a "ranch" there where he could relax on his veranda and watch his cattle herd grow as his crops also grew. The fact that there was little or no good farm land left to be found around Tucson was just another manifestation of Robert's stubborn foolishness.
One day, he came home from work (at the saloon) and announced that the business had been sold for enough money for them all to move West. All kinds of protests arose from his wife and 4 children, but it was too late—the business had been sold, and Robert had the money in his pocket. (He would be damned if he would deal any way but in cash in this time of financial unrest. His only smart decision!)
There were two weeks until the end of the month when the lease was up on their apartment, so they had "plenty" of time to get ready for the move. His plan, such as it was, was to take the train as far west as they could before buying a wagon and the necessary supplies for the rest of the trip to Tucson. His family now had the choice of move or starve, so they agreed to move.
The trip by train to Sedalia, MO, was uneventful, but very tiring. The trip took 2 weeks because of all the times that they had to change trains, but they finally made it. Robert now set out to equip them for a trip by wagon to Tucson. Robert had only the vaguest idea of how to get there or what he would need for the trip, but he had his son Bobby (Robert, Jr) along to keep him from being too badly cheated.
Bobby was only 12 years old, but he already had an uncanny knack for knowing when somebody was lying. Bobby's mother had insisted that Bobby go along with his father, and further insisted that his father listen to what Bobby had to advise. The implication was, not too subtly transmitted, that Robert would be spending his nights sleeping alone if he ignored what Bobby had to say. This ability to detect lies and some other traits were just beginning to show themselves as Bobby entered puberty. He had not mentioned these abilities to anyone because he assumed that everybody had them. Bobby looked somewhat older than his 12 years, so he was able to get adults to take him seriously, but this may also have been a manifestation of one of his capabilities. Bobby never thought about it.
After a lot of serious negotiating, Bobby and Robert, who naturally took all of the credit, had what they needed to make the trip. Robert was advised to wait for a wagon train headed for Santa Fe, but he was too impatient to assume the duties of a country squire to wait around for a bunch of ignorant peasants. Therefore, the Thornton family set out with its single wagon drawn by 4 mules. Robert pretended to drive, but Bobby's 9-year-old brother, Jesse, actually led the mules by a lead rope as he walked ahead of them down the road.
Bobby was appointed as scout for the expedition, so he had a horse to ride as he ranged ahead of the wagon, keeping an eye out for trouble. Bobby had learned to ride at a school in Philadelphia, so he had some bad habits to unlearn, but he did that quickly as he mastered the art of riding a Western horse while mounted on a Western saddle. Robert had wanted Bobby equipped with an Eastern saddle like they used in Philadelphia, since that was what gentlemen used, but Bobby insisted that, since they were now "out West," they should use the same kind of saddle the locals used. Robert was somewhat disgusted at Bobby's insistent choice, but maintained that HE would never be seen on anything but a gentleman's saddle. Bobby's mother finally put her foot down, and the issue was dropped from further discussion.
Bobby's mother had been talking to some of the women she met in the hotel where they were staying while the supplies were being procured, so she was not as innocent as her husband. She insisted that Bobby be equipped with a rifle and and pistol for his scouting duties for protection against wild animals. Bobby took the time to learn how to handle his Henry rifle and his Remington .44 caliber pistol before they left. Robert fumed at the delay, for he was certain that the women his wife had talked to were just trying to scare her and were not to be taken seriously. That is why nobody else in the family was armed.
They had gotten a few miles out of town when they ran into their first obstacle: they were stopped by 3 bushwhackers who wanted to collect a "toll" for them to use the public road. Robert was about to pay when Bobby rode up behind the toll collectors with his pistol drawn and cocked. The rest of the Thornton family was shocked when Bobby threatened to "blow their fucking heads off" if they didn't go away and stay away. Bobby later had to explain to his mother why he had used such crude language; he said that he had to use the kind of language the ruffians could understand. But, for whatever reason, they were not bothered again by toll collectors.
Robert insisted on a proper meal each of the 3 meals per day, so they were making very slow time as they rode across Missouri to Oklahoma. They crossed the river at a ferry, Bobby never could remember the name of the place, and Bobby had to finger his gun to keep them from being cheated. Of course, Robert took credit for the negotiations. At last, they were in the Choctaw Nation, and Robert gloried in the fact that they had finally reached the "true West." Of course, he had no idea that they had hardly come half the distance they had to travel to reach Tucson.
A day or so later, they were finally out of sight of the river; their rate of progress had slowed even more. Bobby was sure that they would never get to Tucson at the rate his father wanted to travel, but there was nothing that he could do about the foolishness. Out of pure boredom, Bobby had begun to range farther and farther ahead of the wagon; he was now 10 miles ahead of the rest of his family, and it was going to take 3 days for them to travel this far at the rate they were going.
Bobby was riding along, letting his mind coast in idle, when he suddenly felt a sharp pain in the back of his head. The pain got worse, but it was not so bad that he couldn't act. Somehow, he was not sure how, he knew that the pain was coming from his family back at the wagon. He turned his horse around and raced as fast as it could carry him back toward the wagon; he gave no thought to the safety problems in running a horse this fast over rough ground.
It took him almost 40 minutes to reach the wagon, and he recoiled in horror. Six Indians were torturing his family! His father and brother were already tortured to death, which was probably hurried because the Indians were anxious to start playing with the women. All three women were stretched out on the ground being actively raped while the other three Indians were standing around and laughing at the antics of the White women. Actually, Bobby's 7-year-old sister was already dead, having bled to death during her first rape experience; this was the fourth.
The 10-year-old sister and his mother were still alive, but barely. Bobby's brain seemed to explode with rage as he pulled his pistol and charged at the Indians. The Indians were intoxicated with their success in overcoming these stupid Whites and had laid all of their weapons aside while they were enjoying the little party.
The Indians saw him coming, and all jumped to where they had dropped their weapons, but Bobby did not give them a chance to arm themselves before he struck. The Indian who had been amusing himself with the younger girl was the furtherest from the arms pile, and the closest to Bobby as he charged toward the hated enemy. The horse was well trained in Indian fighting and ran right over that warrior, not killing him, but putting him out of the fight with numerous broken bones.
Meanwhile, Bobby was busy shooting at the other Indians, mostly hitting them in the belly or hips with his bullets, though one he did catch in the shoulder, which was shattered. With nearly miraculous ease, Bobby overcame all 6 of the Indians with the ferocity of his attack. They never really had a chance, but Bobby was not done yet. He jumped from his horse and hit each Indian in the head with his pistol until the man was unconscious—he had plans for these monsters.
His next job was to check on his mother and older sister, but both were now dead, also from excessive bleeding. There was nothing that he could do to help any of his family—they were all now dead. But he could exact revenge for the way they died. He got the hatchet and some firewood from the wagon and cut enough stakes so that the could stake out each Indian, spreadeagled on his back. Once this was done, he brought them back to consciousness by pouring water over their faces.
All of the Indians were in a painful panic, though they were trying not to show it. Bobby collected more firewood and build a little stack over each crotch. Once this was done, he set each one on fire and kept feeding it until there was enough fat and grease exuding for the men's bodies to keep the fire going. He tried to keep the fire going for a long time at a slow burn, since he didn't want the men to die too soon.
At the very first of their attack, the Indians had killed the 4 mules, so there was no way for Bobby to move the wagon. He went through the wagon, pulling out the food and other necessities and packing them on the backs of the Indians' horses. He found that there was not really much that he wanted to keep, but he did pick up the last of his father's cache of gold coins; he would count it later. Bobby distributed the flammable items throughout the wagon and poured on some coal oil. He then arranged the bodies of his family as best he could on top of this and poured on the last of the coal oil. When he was ready, he set fire to the wagon and watched the funeral pyre burn.
By this time, all but one of the Indians had died from the fire at his crotch, so Bobby dumped some of the burning embers from the wagon on the chest of the last living one and watched him die. Bobby drove the points of their lances into the ground near each one's head. He used the hatchet to chop off the head of each Indian and stuck it on the top of the lance, so that it faced outward as if it couldn't bear to look at the bodies on the ground beneath it.
Bobby had reloaded his pistol while he was waiting for the Indians to die, so there was nothing more to hold him at this melancholy site. He mounted his horse and led the string of Indian horses behind him as he continued his journey West. He rode west until he could no longer see the smoke from the funeral pyre before he stopped for his evening camp.
He made a minimal supper because he just was not hungry. He was handling the deaths of his family with remarkable stoicism, considering he age. He was acting as an Indian warrior might who was several years older, but under the same circumstances. Bobby made sure that the horses were properly cared for, then bedded himself down for the night.
Strangely, he had little trouble getting to sleep that night. While he slept, his mind processed the grief he felt for the loss of his family. The result was a rash of troubled dreams, but the strangest of all was a visit by the spirit of a long dead Indian. He had a conversation with the spirit of the Indian which he never forgot. The Indian began the conversation with the statement, "I, Storm Who Walks, congratulate you on the manner and thoroughness of your revenge. No Indian brave could have done better. It is gratifying to see such spirit still exists on the plains. You should assume the name of Fire Bringer, it fits you so well."
Bobby was able to ask, "What are you doing here, Storm Who Walks? Where did you come from, and what do you want with me?"
"I have a long story to tell, so be patient and don't interrupt. I am the living spirit of a shaman who lived so many years ago that I have long lost count of the number. The Great Spirit has commanded me to find a hero, a champion, to fight against the evil that is coming to this world. The worst of the evil had not come, yet, but it will do so now that I have found you.
"You have no choice in this assignment; you were chosen by the Great Spirit and cannot refuse the job. I was appointed to be your guide in this endeavor, and I cannot refuse, either. I hope that you will willingly undertake this task, because that will make it easier on both of us. But, rest assured, you have no choice and will eventually take the job, even if you don't do so now.
"I have been searching for centuries; you cannot imagine how relieved and grateful I am that I have finally found you. Do not worry about your young age, you must spend years in training, both physically and mentally, so it is well that you are starting young; that will make it easier for both of us.
"You have already started to develop some of your mental abilities. You can feel and sometimes read the surface thoughts of others. It is very important that you develop this ability as soon as possible; one of its advantages is that it will make it possible for you to speak any language, even before you hear it. For example, I am not speaking English, though it seems to you that I am. If I spoke to you in the ancient language that I normally use, you would have no chance to understand me.
"Do you understand what I have said? And, do you have any questions?"
"I have millions of questions, but I can't get them organized right now. How can I contact you in the future?"
"That will never be a problem. I will always be with you. Think of me as a friend always standing at your shoulder eager to offer advice, even when it isn't always wanted. If you think of me, I will answer you. A thought is all it takes—you never have to speak."
"What sort of battles will I be fighting?"
"You will have fights similar to the one today where you attempt to right obvious wrongs and punish the perpetrators of those wrongs. You will be stronger and swifter than most humans, but you will not be immortal. You can be killed if you do not take that into consideration, so please don't do something foolish.
"You will also engage in purely emotional and mental conflicts, but your purpose will be the same. I cannot give you exact examples, but, rest assured that I will do my best to prepare you for them and help you whenever I can."
"Who will I be fighting against?"
"You will fight people of all races, anyone who tries to do evil things. You will also fight against institutions which will do evil, often without realizing it. Again, I cannot give you specific examples, but you will know when you are needed."
"That is a lot of work. How long will I live?"
"You will live until you die. Now, sleep soundly, for tomorrow we start your training, and you need all of the rest you can get."