The Deserters

by Ron Lewis

Tags: Historical, Western,

Desc: Historical Western Story: Michelle's grit is tested in a deadly encounter with a trio of hardened, murderous, confederate deserters

License Notes

This eBook license is for your personal enjoyment only. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction and not intended to be historically accurate but merely a representation of times. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental and unintentional. Historical characters use is strictly for dramatic purposes. This story contains some violence.

The three horses travelled along at a fast walk moving at about 10 miles per hour. Leaving Kansas City, Meeker and Michelle headed toward Denver City. Eventually passing the workers laying track westward, they were more than a year from reaching Denver City. The tracks might make it as far as Penny Kansas by snowfall. Then again if they were really lucky they might get as far west as Fort Dodge by winter.

The first two days of the trek west were monotonous, the trip accomplished without much in the way of verbal communication. Meeker rode his horse; offering little conversation to Michelle other than a few simple directions or requests. He fought not only with the guilt that gnawed at him over killing the gunman, but why the man had tried to kill him in the first place. Joseph Nathan Meeker never got used to killing anyone. It tugged at him hard that he had no idea why the man would hate him enough to try to kill him.

Michelle, being good at reading people, left Meeker to his thoughts. Offering a few comments on occasion but not pushing conversation on the man. She contented herself with leading the packhorse, an eight year old gelding called Smokey that seemed to have a few misplaced, romantic notions regarding Mary Todd. There was also the added weight and chafing of the brace of heavy pistols now strapped across her hips. At that particular moment, they seemed more of a nuisance than a novelty, or even necessary. At noon of the third day, Meeker's mood changed. He looked over at Michelle and thanked her for her quiet understanding.

"Most women," he said, smiling at her as he pulled his horse to a standstill, "want a man to talk this sort of issue out. They would be pestering a fellow to tell them his feelings." His eyes grew sad for a moment, "My wife was the world's worst for wanting to talk about stuff that upset me. She would poke and prod at me in English, Sioux, Crow and sign language until I would just explode at her." He almost stopped there but continued as he nudged Star into a slow walk. "Then I would finally talk about whatever was bothering me until she was satisfied and I could go back to enjoying the peace and quiet."

"I know very well why you have been so withdrawn lately and I do sympathize. However, you do know that old Indian is following us don't you? The one that watched me ride Mary Todd the other day?" Meeker again pulled his horse to a stop. Staring at the young woman intently; a broad smiled crossed his weathered face.

"My goodness Shell, I've been meaning to mention that to you for more than two days now. You knew it all along! Woman you're a wonderment do you know that?" Again, he lightly tapped his horse with the heels of his boots and they continued their westward journey. "He doesn't want to spook us so he is catching up to us slowly."

The gap between our duo and the lone rider slowly closed as the days wore on. At about Mid-afternoon on the 6th day Meeker pulled his horse to a stop. Dismounting he tethered him to the solitary tree in the area. Michelle followed his lead. "We will give old Buffalo Head a chance to catch up with us." Meeker pointed toward a herd of buffalo; "go get us some fuel for a fire," He was looking around the grassy plain; "there is not going to be any wood here; too far from the river. Get some dry buffalo chips, they burn good and hot."

"So do we trust the old man?" Michelle persisted; not entirely sure what they were doing was the right thing.

"That old man is an educated Cherokee Indian. Some fancy university in New England taught him Vet Medicine. He's no cutthroat." Michelle shrugged as she grabbed an empty flour sack from the packhorse and headed out to gather the fuel. Approaching the big woolies, she noticed they paid her no attention at all. These dumb beasts would be easy pickings for any hunter she mused. Soon her sack was full and she headed back toward camp. Seeing Meeker and the Indian talking, she walked into camp wondering what this feller's story was.

Turning away from the Indian, Meeker continued to talk to Buffalo Head and motioned for Michelle to come on in and join them. Michelle couldn't help but notice they were an odd-looking couple, Meeker tall and thin but muscular. He was dressed in buckskins and a rather flamboyant wide brimmed hat with a large feather sticking up from the band. The Indian a short rather round man, dressed in a blue pinstripe suite and blower bowler hat, looking ready for Sunday-go-to-Meeting. Both men had one thing in common, long white hair, though Meeker was perhaps 20 years younger than the Indian was. Whatever they were talking about, they continued until Michelle was close enough that Meeker did not need to yell at her.

"Buffalo Head here has a proposition for us." Michelle walked closer as Meeker continued to talk to her. "He would like to throw in with us, thinks there's safety in numbers. I think that will be just fine, don't you?" Shell nodded her head as she closed the last few feet between them. "Michelle this is Buffalo Head, Buffalo Head this is Michelle Tanner..." Buffalo Head cut in on him

"Hair of Flame, good to see you again;" he extended his hand to her. She grasped his and firmly gripped it as they shook hands. He gave her a slow grin.

"Good to meet you Mr. Buffalo Head..."

"He's Doctor Buffalo Head, Michelle."

"No, just call me Buffalo Head. I have dinner for us," turning he went to his horse and held three cottontail rabbits by their legs. Holding the rabbits high in the air for the pair to see, "don't worry they taste like chicken."

Michelle busied herself building a fire while Buffalo Head went to cleaning the rabbits and preparing them to cook. Meeker rode off south with the empty canteens to find the river and fill them with water. He tried to fill them every day; knowing there would be times when they would not be able to find water.

Michelle and the Indian talked as he began to cook the food over the fire. Telling her, he was an old man now having graduated from Harvard more than 38 years before. His face grew sadder looking as he continued to talk, "After I graduated I got married and my wife had a child. Then there was the Trail of Tears. Happiness died for many moons." Changing the subject he talked on until his mood lightened. "What about you Miss Tanner?"

Michelle told him of her father; her Journey west and joining up with Meeker. She even told the old Indian about Meeker's determination to kill the man who murdered his wife and child.

"Hate is never a good thing. It feasts on your soul; eating you up. Vengeance never satisfies, never heals the wrong done to you. Justice is a different thing but justice is difficult to find. Best to forgive, I will tell him so without telling him so." Michelle looked confused by the old man's words. "I have a story."

Soon Meeker returned with full canteens. A big broad grin on his face as he dismounted as if he knew a joke no one else knew. Tethering Star; he unsaddled him and eventually he sat next to Buffalo Head; poking the older man in the ribs.

"Penny ain't ten miles from here. If it wasn't for Michelle we could go down and see the badger for a bit."

"See the badger?" Shell looked at him confused; sipping on her coffee.

"He means; visit us some whores. Probably good thing you are with us, "Hair of Flame", lest "Sleeps with Bears" and I go into Penny with our pockets full and just get into much trouble." The old Indian laughed loud and hearty. "Besides that, I don't think Penny allows Indians in the saloon."

"Money is money; why would your money be different than my money?" Meeker asked him with honest curiosity.

"If only all white men were like you, "Sleeps with Bears'!" Meeker knew damn well that most whites would not allow Buffalo Head in to eat, drink or sleep in their business. He did not understand it but he knew such bigotry existed. Still Meeker had not gone to see the badger for a long time. Since before, he was married. It had just been a poor attempt at a joke.

"If you 'Gentlemen' want to go and 'See the badger'; then let's all go down to Penny. It don't bother me one whit if you want to do that. I can play me some poker there." Michelle said pouring a bit more coffee.

"I was only funnin' Shell," Meeker took the pot from her and retrieved his cup filling it with the dark fluid. Replacing the pot, he settled back next to Buffalo Head. "Maybe Doc here wants to go make some sport but I can't do that to her memory," meaning his wife.

"Not me, still have the want to but the equipment don't agree no more." The Indian smiled nodding his head; he continued to grin; pleased with his witticism.

"Well this conversation is sure getting embarrassing," Michelle said. "How long till them vittles is done?"

"About 5 minutes I guess. Why you embarrassed, "Hair of Flame"? I'm the one with the defective parts," still poking fun at her; hoping she did not take offense.

"Alright, you keep prodding and poking your fun at me. I don't have any interest in your kind of equipment anyway."

"Figures," the two men spoke almost in unison.

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Story tagged with:
Historical / Western /