There is more than one genre that this tale would fit into. I chose novels and novellas because the real story is about people, their interaction with each other and their lives and times.
Thanks for taking the time to read my work. As usual constructive comments and emails are much appreciated and welcome.
James Ambrose Randal was thoughtful as he followed the Indian called Spirit Healer; Jim couldn't pronounce his Indian name. Spirit Healer was the shaman or medicine man of the Lakota Sioux. The medicine man had told him that they were going to a sacred cavern for a ceremony that would adopt Jim into the Lakota tribe. Spirit Healer had explained that the ceremony was requested by Tatanka Maza, or Iron Buffalo, the chief of the Lakota Sioux; Iron Buffalo was also Jim's father in law.
He'd never felt comfortable around his father in law. The older man didn't like the fact that his daughter chose to marry and have children with a white man. But it's more than that, Jim thought. The fact that my ranch used to be Lakota land probably has something to do with the barely concealed dislike, maybe even hatred, which Iron Buffalo has for me.
It was 1890 and the ranch had been in Jim's family for better than 60 years. Jim had inherited the ranch, named Eagle's Nest, from his father, who had inherited from his father, who had inherited it from his father. Jim's great grandfather, Ambrose Randal, had settled the land and fought off the Lakota, Cheyenne dog solders, rustlers, and Mother Nature to keep it.
Lately Jim and Iron Buffalo had become closer, almost friends. Although a bit surprised at the invitation from his father in law, Jim agreed to accompany the shaman to the secret cavern. The cave was in the rock buttes that rose from the valley floor behind Jim's ranch house.
Jim had met Chante, his wife and Iron Buffalo's daughter, just over a year earlier. He had stopped at a small trading post to pick up a few supplies on the way back to his ranch. As he came out of the post he saw three men attacking two Indians, trying to steal their furs. Two of the men were fighting with the brave, who looked to be about 16, and the other one was trying to control a young woman. She appeared to be a couple of years older. The men were dirty and greasy looking, apparently down on their luck trappers.
We've still got enough Indian trouble around here without these three making it worse, Jim thought. Just then the man scuffling with the girl backhanded her, knocking her to the ground, and started kicking her. Why'd you have to go and do that Jim asked silently?
Jim quickly closed with the three ruffians. Before he could get there the young brave moaned and slumped to the ground. "That's about enough," Jim ordered as he leveled his Winchester at them.
The men stopped and turned toward Jim. One of them held a bloody knife and he asked, "You an Indian lover boy?" The trapper standing behind the other two moved his hand down to the pistol stuck in his belt.
"If you pull that hog leg, I'll kill you Mister," Jim said in a threatening voice. "It don't make a difference what I am because you boys are leaving. Get on your horses and ride."
The trappers stood for a few seconds and then moved toward their horses. Jim watched them until they rode out of sight on the far side of the clearing. Turning, Jim saw the girl kneeling by the young man. There was blood on the boy's shirt and he was unconscious. Hurrying to the youngster Jim pulled up the boy's shirt; there was a stab wound with a long gash just under the ribs.
Guess the knife slid before it went in, Jim thought. He stood, ran to his horse, and grabbed his saddle bags. When he got back to the injured boy, he quickly worked to stop the bleeding. Jim bandaged the wound, stood, and turned to the girl. She had a large bruise on the side of her face where the trapper had hit her. He began using sign language trying to find out where their camp was.
"I speak your language," the young woman said. "Our camp is beyond Red Mountain. Help me get him on his horse.
"Red Mountain is a full day's hard ride," Jim replied. "If he has to travel that far he'll bleed to death." Jim hesitated for a minute. "My place is about an hour away; let's take him there. I can tend to him better at my house and then I can go fetch your people.
"I will go for my father."
"You need to stay with, what's his name anyway?"
"He is my brother Chayton," the girl replied. "I am Chante."
"I'm Jim Randal."
For the first time, Chante looked closely at the man that had helped them. She saw a dark haired, wide shouldered, young man with a streak of white hair over his right ear; very strange she thought. He has kind eyes but there was death in them when he faced our attackers. I think this man can be trusted, Chante said to herself.
"We will go with you Jim Randal."
Jim cut some lodge pole pines and made a travois to carry Chayton. "This will be a lot easier on the boy," he explained to Chante.
It was a little over an hour and a half when Jim stopped the horses in front of his ranch house. They got Chayton into the house and laid him on the big kitchen table. Jim had the girl put the horses in the corral; he would take care of them later.
Jim cleaned the wound again and applied some coal oil to it. He got a needle and some silk thread from a sewing kit and began to sew the wound closed.
Chante watched for a minute and asked, "What are you doing? And what is that you're putting on him?"
Jim explained that the coal oil would keep the cut from getting infected. He told her the wound will heal much faster with the stitching and probably not give Chayton any trouble once it did heal. Chayton winced each time the needle was pushed through his skin but he made no noise. When he finished the stitching, Jim again used coal oil to wash the area. He tore up a sheet and put a fresh bandage on the wound.
Chante had watched Jim as he worked on her brother and then helped him get Chayton into a bedroom; Chayton passed out again as soon as he was in bed. Jim motioned for Chante to follow him and returned to the kitchen.
"Now, let's have a look at your face," he said. Jim went out back of the house and used the hand pump to fill a wash basin with water. The water was from an underground spring and was very cold. He wet a small towel and put the cool cloth on her face.
"I'll head for your camp in the morning," Jim told Chante. I'll leave at sunup and hopefully be back before sundown. You can stay with Chayton and change his bandages if need be." Jim paused for a few seconds and added, "I just hope Iron Buffalo and his braves don't kill me when I ride into the camp," Jim told her.
Chante held up her hand saying, "Wait."
She walked down to the corral and got a blanket that was tied to the rear of her saddle. Coming back into the house she handed it to Jim. "Ride with this blanket spread over the saddle in front of you or around your shoulders when you ride into the camp. It will tell my people that you are protected by me. But keep your hands away from your weapons."
"How will this blanket keep your father and his men from attacking me?" Jim asked, not understanding why the Indians would recognize it.
"My father is Tatanka Maza, Iron Buffalo, in your language. He is chief of the Lakota Sioux. The blanket was a gift from him, to protect me. It will do the same for you and give you a chance to talk to him."
He wasn't really sure about the blanket protecting him but felt he had to take the chance. If Chayton died because a white trapper stabbed him, Iron Buffalo could go on the warpath. If that happened he would raid every white ranch and settlement in the area for revenge.
At first light Jim mounted his big black stallion Sampson and rode toward the Indian camp. He pushed the horse hard. Jim wanted to get to the Indian camp well before dark while they could see Chante's blanket. He rode for about 30 minutes at a ground eating cantor and slowed Sampson to a trot to let him rest some.
Looking to his left he saw two riders on a small hill flanking him. Turning his head he saw two more on his right. The riders closed to within a fifty yards but then maintained that distance. Jim could see that they were Indians: Lakota Sioux. And they've got me boxed in, Jim thought as he saw four riders move in behind him. He pulled his rifle and braced it on his hip as two more appeared over a rise about 50 feet in front of him. It's all well and good for Chante to say keep my hands away from my guns, but I think I'll be prepared just the same.
Jim stopped Sampson and waited to see what the Lakota braves would do. The two in the front rode closer stopping about 20 feet away. As the other riders started to close in, Jim held up Chante's blanket on his extended left arm. The older of the two facing him gave an order and the Indians stopped.
The Indian was wearing an eagle feather headdress, called a war bonnet, and his face was painted. He had two red strips on each side of his face running from his ears across and down to the corner of his mouth. Jim knew that the headdress and death mask was only worn when a battle or a major raid was planned. This has to be Iron Buffalo, Jim said to himself.
"Where did you get the blanket, white man? Did you steal it?"
Jim was surprised that the Chief spoke English. "Your daughter gave it to me Tatanka Maza," he replied.
Iron Buffalo was impressed that this man knew who he was. "Why would Chante give a treasured possession to an enemy? Where is she?" Iron Buffalo was angry. He hated white men and only the presence of the blanket and tradition kept him from killing this one.
"Chante is at my lodge," Jim answered. He saw Iron Buffalo tense and saw his face turning red. "Chayton and Chante were injured," he quickly said. "I tended to Chayton and took him to my place. He would have never made the ride back to your camp."
Iron Buffalo looked closely at the young man in front of him. "How badly were my children hurt and how were they hurt?"
Jim knew that Chayton and Chante would tell their father what happened. He was worried about Iron Buffalo's actions when he learned his children had been attacked by three white trappers.
"Chayton was stabbed and Chante was hit in the face, but I think they'll be okay." Jim paused. Then he added, "Three trappers tried to steal their pelts at the trading post. I stopped them and they have been punished." Jim lied hoping that Iron Buffalo wouldn't decide to take revenge on any of the white settlers in the area.
Iron Buffalo called out an order to his men and four of them rode off at a high gallop toward the trading post. I sure hope those boys moved on, Jim thought. They're scum but I'd hate to see them scalped or tied spread eagle on an ant hill.
"Take me to Chayton," Iron Buffalo ordered.
Jim nodded and turned Sampson back toward his ranch. The Indians that had been behind him moved aside leaving a lane for him to ride through. I've got five Lakota braves and an angry war chief following me home, Jim thought. Not really the way I wanted to spend my day. He kicked Sampson into a cantor. If they want to follow me they can follow at my pace.
Chante came out of the house when she heard the horses. She stepped down from the raised front porch and greeted her father in their language.
Iron Buffalo looked upset and asked a couple of questions. She answered him and then pointed to her side indicating where Chayton had been stabbed. Then she pointed at Jim and spoke for a long time. Iron Buffalo looked at Jim and motioned Chante toward the house. She led him into the building and to the bedroom to see Chayton. The other man that had been riding with Iron Buffalo joined them.
Jim waited on the porch; the braves dismounted and stood by their horses. Shortly Iron Buffalo stepped outside with Chante and the other brave following him. The Chief was talking to his daughter. Jim didn't understand Lakota but he knew that Iron Buffalo was very angry. He motioned for two of his braves to enter the house.
Suddenly Jim realized that they were going to get Chayton. He stepped in front of the braves and turned to Iron Buffalo. "If you move him now, he'll bleed to death. Let him stay here. I'll take care of him and you can come get him in six or seven days." Jim was almost pleading with him.
Iron Buffalo stared at Jim for almost a minute. He turned to the man that went to see Chayton with him. "What do you think, Spirit Healer?"
Chante softly whispered to Jim, "Spirit Healer is the Lakota shaman."
Spirit Healer was no fool. If they took Chayton with them and he died, Spirit Healer would be blamed. His magic would have been too weak to save the boy. But if we let the boy stay here I can blame the white man if he dies, he thought. Later, even if Chayton dies on the way to our camp, I can say this white man put a curse on him.
"I have blessed your son and now he should recover from his wound. Let him stay until he is strong enough to return to our camp," Spirit Healer replied.
Iron Buffalo hesitated. Turning to Jim he said, "Take care of my son, I will return in six days." Turning to the girl he said, "Come Chante."
"I will stay with Chayton," she replied. Her father stared at her, surprised that she would disobey him.
"Randal doesn't speak Lakota," she said pointing to Jim. "And Chayton doesn't speak his language. It would be better if I stayed and nursed Chayton."
Iron Buffalo stared at his daughter for a bit and then barked orders at his men. To Jim he said, "When I return it would be a good thing if my son is well; it would be a bad thing, for you, if he is not."
The Indians mounted their horses and rode away. Jim watched them ride away. He turned to Chante, "I thought your father was going to have a fit."
"Have a fit?"
"I thought he was going to yell and force you to go with him," Jim explained.
"It is the first time I have ever disobeyed him," she replied. It was obvious that the confrontation with her father bothered her.
Jim hesitated for a few seconds and changed the subject. "Well ... that buckskin dress you're wearing has a lot of blood on it. C'mon I'll get you some of my clothes to wear and we can wash it out."
Jim had to laugh when he saw Chante in his clothes. She was wearing a pair of Jim's pants, cinched at the waist with a piece of rope. She also wore one of his shirts buttoned all the way to her throat. Jim was 6 feet 2 and broad in the shoulders and Chante was about 5 feet 6; the shirt hung on her almost like a dress.
For the next five days, Jim and Chante took care of Chayton. Jim cooked their meals on his wood stove and Chante quickly learned to cook on it. She was fascinated by the water pump behind the house. Jim watched her pump water then she would bend over and look up the spout of the pump.
"It is much easier than carrying water from the stream," she said with a smile.
Jim was fascinated too; he was fascinated by Chante. The girl wasn't educated but she was intelligent, a quick learner, and fun to have around. He realized he enjoyed talking to her and spending time with her when they weren't tending Chayton.
The boy was healing and soon joined them sitting on the front porch of the ranch house in the evenings. The three of them would talk until Chayton tired. Chayton began to understand and speak English a little and Jim picked up some of the Lakota language. After the youngster went to bed, Jim and Chante would talk late into the night.
The evening of the fifth day, Jim was quiet. He knew that tomorrow Iron Buffalo would come for Chayton; he would also come for Chante. Jim was going to miss the young woman; he had become very fond of her. Fond of her hell, he thought. I'm falling in love with her.
It was just after midday when Iron Buffalo, Faith Healer, and four braves rode up to the ranch house. They must have traveled hard since before daybreak to have gotten here this early, Jim thought. Iron Buffalo rode close to the porch where Jim, Chante, and Chayton stood.
Iron Buffalo looked at his son; Jim could see the relief in the Chief's face. He spoke to Chayton in Lakota and the boy answered. Jim had learned enough of the language to know Iron Buffalo was asking if the boy was alright. Looking at Chante, he said nothing about the pants and shirt she wore.
The braves that had ridden in with Iron Buffalo returned from the corral with the two Indian ponies. Jim stepped off the porch. "If Chayton rides back to your camp now, his wound could open and start bleeding again. I have the poles that we used to make a travois to get him here. You can use them to make another travois for him so he doesn't have to ride."
"Please Father, let's use the travois," Chante said. "It will be better for Chayton." Iron Buffalo thought for a few seconds and nodded his head.
"It's a long way to your camp and your horses are tired," Jim said. "You're welcome to camp down by the spring or bed down in my barn for the night. You can start back to your camp in the morning."
Iron Buffalo nodded and gave his men orders. The Indians, including Chante and Chayton, made camp at the spring. The next morning just after daybreak, Jim heard horses come up to the house. He had been awake for an hour or so and went out onto the porch.
The Indians led by Iron Buffalo and Chante were waiting for him. Jim was glad to see that Chayton was on a travois. Iron Buffalo rode closer. "I owe you my son's life Jim Randal. Not many white men would have cared enough to help a Sioux boy."
"He was a boy that needed help," Jim replied. "Didn't much matter if he was an Indian or white."
Iron Buffalo tossed a carved piece of wood to Jim. "This is the totem of my lodge. It will protect you from all Sioux. While I am Chief of the Lakota you and all in your lodge will be safe from attack by all Sioux." He nodded to Jim, turned his horse, and led his band back toward their camp.
Chante waited for a moment, smiled, and said, "My thanks for my brother's life, Jim Randal." She rode to join her father.
I guess that's the end of that, Jim thought. As he stepped back inside he said out loud, "Well, I got my house
back." Jim paused and then continued, "Yep, got my house back and I'm all alone again. All damned alone."
Two months later, as Jim rode up to the trading post he thought of the last time he'd been there. That was when I met Chante he remembered. He had thought of the young Indian girl frequently since she had left. Jim couldn't seem to shake her from his thoughts.
He noticed six Indian ponies tied to the hitching rail in front of the post. Jim dismounted and just as he got to the door it opened. Chayton and five other braves came through the door. The young Indian recognized Jim and smiled.
"Jim Randal, my friend. It is good to see you," Chayton said.
"Hello Chayton. You look good," Jim replied. "Guess that knife wound healed up just fine."
Chayton nodded and they talked as friends for a few minutes. Finally Jim couldn't help himself and asked, "How is Chante?"
The smile quickly fell from Chayton's face and his bright eyes seemed to dim. "It does not go well for Chante," he answered. At Jim's questioning look he added. "It is time for her to marry but none of the young braves will speak for her."
"I can't believe that none of the young bucks want to marry her. She's a wonderful girl," Jim responded. "Why don't they want her for a wife?"
Chayton hesitated. He looked at Jim's eyes and could see the concern in them. "They say she has been dishonored because she spent several nights in your lodge." He held up his hand to stop Jim's protest. "I know that you and she did nothing wrong. My father has told the young men the same thing but they don't believe him. So none of them have offered a bride price."
"What's a bride price?"
"When a brave wishes to marry a woman, he offers her father something of value. Usually a horse or a weapon," Chayton explained. His face showed his anger. "The only offer my father or Chante received was to be a..."
Jim didn't know the words that Chayton said. "What is that?"
He thought for a little and answered, "It means bed warmer. She would have all the duties of a wife but would not be married."
Jim felt an anger that he'd never had before. It's a damn shame that a fine young woman like Chante is being treated like that, he thought. He stood for a minute thinking about what Chayton had told him and decided to do something.
"Are y'all still camped on the other side of Red Mountain?" Chayton nodded. Jim talked for a few more minutes and said goodbye. He mounted Sampson and returned to his ranch without going into the trading post.
It was two days later around noon when Jim rode into Iron Buffalo's camp. He had the totem that he'd been given by the Chief on a rawhide thong around his neck and he wore Chante's blanket over his shoulder. He was also leading two horses; a big strong buckskin and an Appaloosa. Across the buckskin's back, threaded together on a long rope, were over 30 cured pelts and furs. There was quite an up roar as he rode up to Iron Buffalo's teepee.
Chante and her father come out of the lodge to see what was causing all the noise. If Iron Buffalo was surprised to see Jim, he hid it well. But Chante's surprise showed on her face. Jim nodded and smiled at Chante. She looked tired and sad but returned his smile. He returned his attention to her father.
Jim took a deep breath before speaking. This could go bad real quick, he thought. "Iron Buffalo I have come to ask for Chante as my wife. These two horses are offered as the bride price."
Even Iron Buffalo couldn't hide his surprise this time. Chante's eyes got big and Jim could see her face get red. Out of the corner of his eye, Jim saw Chayton standing beside the teepee with a big smile on his face. The Chief nodded and replied, "Come, we will talk of this."
Jim dismounted and followed Iron Buffalo, Chante, and Chayton into the teepee. Inside Iron Buffalo motioned for Jim to sit on one side of the fire pit; he and his children sat on the other side. "How did you learn of our custom?"
"A squirrel in the forest told me. It also told me that Chante was sad and unhappy," Jim answered. "I believe that I can take away her sadness and make her happy."
Iron Buffalo looked hard at the smiling Chayton. "That squirrel sometimes talks too much." Chayton nodded but didn't lose the smile. Turning to Chante he asked, "Is this what you wish daughter?"
Chante had her head down looking at the ground. When her father spoke to her she raised her head and looked into Jim's eyes. "Yes father, it would be a good thing," she replied.
Iron Buffalo sat looking at his daughter and the white man that had spoken for her. "Let us look at the horses you are offering," he said as he stood and left the teepee. He walked around the horses, running his hands over their legs and chest. "Fine horses," he said. He inspected the furs and asked, "Are these also part of the bride price?"
"No sir, those are the furs that Chante and Chayton had with them the day we meet at the trading post. In the uproar what with Chayton getting cut up, we took them with us to my lodge. We were all so happy that he survived and when you took him back to your camp they got left at my place. Just thought I'd return them."
Iron Buffalo took his daughter's hand and placed it in Jim's. "I accept the bride price. You will join me in the sweat lodge tonight and be married tomorrow. Then you can take your bride to your lodge."
That evening in the sweat lodge it was explained that the ritual would get rid of any bad spirits in Jim's body. The next morning, Spirit Healer performed the marriage ceremony. Jim wasn't paying that much attention to anyone other than Chante but he got a feeling that the medicine man wasn't very happy.
Jim and Chante left after the ceremony to return to the ranch.
It's been a good year Jim thought as he rode back to his ranch house from one of the high meadows where he had cattle grazing. I've got a beautiful wife and now a son to begin our family. Chante had given birth to a fine healthy boy just two weeks previously. She usually made these scouting trips with him but had stayed at home with the baby this time. It was a lot easier when it was just her and I, Jim thought. He smiled when he thought of the reason she had stayed at the house.
Iron Buffalo had visited the ranch about a month after their marriage. I guess he wanted to make sure his daughter was okay, Jim said to himself. At that first visit Iron Buffalo had seen the joy in Chante's eyes and her happiness every time she looked at her new husband. He made several more visits during the year. It did him good to see his daughter so happy after she had been so sad.
On each of the visits the Chief had Spirit Healer with him. Jim had become if not friends at least friendlier with Iron Buffalo. He wasn't having the same luck with the shaman. That man just don't like me, Jim thought. It's his loss, not mine.
One of the reasons Jim and Iron Buffalo were on much friendlier terms was that Jim thought it was important that young John learn and take part in his Lakota heritage. Jim asked his father in law if he would help teach John about the Lakota; their ways, traditions, and history. For the first time he saw Iron Buffalo's self control waiver; the Chief had tears in his eyes as he nodded to Jim.
Jim rode up to the ranch house and Chante came out to greet him carrying their son. His heart filled with love looking at his family. Damn good start, he thought. He dismounted, hugged Chante, and made the noises that all parents do to his son, John Maza; they'd named the boy after Jim's and Chante's fathers. The boy would have to go through the ritual of becoming a man to earn a true Lakota name.
A week later Jim was on another scouting trip, checking on the condition of the grazing in the valley. It would soon be time to move the cattle down from the meadows in the high country. He rode out of a grove of cottonwoods lining one of the many creeks on his property and saw Spirit Healer. The medicine man was sitting on a horse apparently waiting for Jim.
Spirit Healer disliked Jim Randal for several reasons; First, because he was a white man and a sworn enemy. But the main reason was that Iron Buffalo had become less warlike since his daughter had married Jim. The Chief still disliked, even hated, most whites but Spirit Healer knew that Iron Buffalo's relationship with Jim had caused him to be more tolerant. This cannot continue, Spirit Healer said to himself. This white man must be dealt with.
Jim nodded at Spirit Healer and rode to meet him. It was unusual for the shaman to visit without Iron Buffalo. "Hello, Spirit Healer. Where's Iron Buffalo?"
"He asked me to come lead you in a great ceremony," the shaman replied. At Jim's questioning look he added, "Iron Buffalo wants to adopt you as a Lakota."
Nodding his head, Jim smiled. "That's a nice thing for him to do. How do we do it? You mentioned a ceremony?"
"Yes. I will take you to a sacred cavern in the mountains. It is there that you will take part in the adoption ceremony. Do you agree?" Jim nodded again and Spirit Healer continued, "Meet me at the trail at the foot of the mountain at the rear of your lodge tomorrow morning at sunrise."
"Okay, I mean, yes Spirit Healer. I will meet you there," Jim agreed.
"Do not tell anyone, even Chante, of this ceremony. It should be kept to yourself until you complete the adoption," Spirit Healer ordered.
Jim nodded again and turned Sampson back toward the ranch house. Not real comfortable keepin Chante out of this, he thought. But I guess it's for a good reason, at least this one time.
The next morning Jim told Chante he was headed back to another part of the high country and he should be back by sundown. He kissed her and John goodbye and rode to meet Spirit Healer. Meeting at the foot of the rock butte Jim and the medicine man rode up the trail until they had to dismount and continue on foot.
After about a half hour's climb they came around the base of a tall rock wall and Jim saw the entrance to the cave. He followed Spirit Healer; they went several hundred feet into the cavern finally stopping at a small side room off the main pathway.
"This is where we will hold the ceremony," Spirit Healer said. "You must take off your boots so you can feel the earth become one with the spirit of the Lakota."
Jim took off his boots and waited as the shaman prepared for the ceremony. I feel silly standin here in my bare feet, Jim thought. But if this is what it takes to get closer to Chante's father then that's what I'll do.
Spirit Healer started a small fire and took a long stemmed pipe out of the buckskin bag he'd brought with him. He packed the bowl with tobacco from a small pouch and said, "You must smoke the Spirit pipe. Face the four winds and take a puff each time. As you do that I will put special herbs on the fire to help you join with the spirits of the Lakota."
Jim lit the pipe and took a draw. Wow, that's some kind of tobacco, he thought. Spirit Healer turned him in one direction and motioned for him to puff on the pipe. Jim puffed once and blew out the smoke. He repeated the action three more times, each time turning in a different direction.
As he followed Spirit Healer's directions, Jim became light headed. There's more than just tobacco in that pipe, he thought. Jim staggered around for a few seconds and fell to his knees. Dimly he saw Spirit Healer smiling as he added more herbs to the fire.
As he fell to his side the last thing Jim remembered was thinking, Damn it's getting cold in here.