Indian Summer -- June 1876
We were riding west out of the Dakotas and into Montana Territory, myself and Yancy and Sedgie, about a day ahead of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment and Colonel Custer. That was General Terry's advance guard and it was all about gold mostly, any other reason you might have heard was nonsense.
"I hear tell they got nuggets the size of your fist jest layin' there to be picked up," Sedgie was shaking his head and he was an old corporal who'd lost his thumb at Gettysburg almost thirteen years ago.
"The size o yer head, you mean!" Yancy was just a kid, signed up after reading too many penny pockets and he wanted to shoot an Indian so bad he could taste it.
I was just trying to get to Seattle where my sister and her husband had opened a general store. She'd wrote me a letter a year ago, telling me how there was good jobs there, and good money to be had for honest work. I'd done a lot of honest work, near about any sort you could think of, but my luck was always bad when it come to the good money part. That was my own damn fault though, having a weakness for orphans and widows like I did, meaning jacks and whores.
Now I found myself riding scout with a couple mummers and no guide. Buckie, our Indian scout had got himself bit by a rattlesnake three days before. Stupid drunk Indian forgot to check his boot and stuck his big toe in the damn thing's mouth. I'd been in favor of cutting the toe off, personally, but separating a redskin from his joints, even a little one like a toe, don't sit too kindly with them fellas and after ten minutes of trying to talk sense into him, it was too late.
A lot of men woulda survived a bite like that, but the old Buck didn't and so we were just riding around in circles mostly. Weren't none of us much good at scouting. Truth be told, it was getting time to move on anyway. There was a lot of bad talk and the Indians were making a lot of trouble. Yancy was itchy for Deadwood and the gold they were digging up over there, Sedgie too, and if they wanted to lick off together east, I wasn't gonna pay no mind. I was gonna keep going west, lose the blues and get to Seattle. Like I say, I'd just joined up to borrow a horse from the army as much as anything else.
We made ourselves a little camp around noon, on the high plains at the edge of a stream. There was a copse of birch not too far away, some good hickory maybe, but I didn't see none. I was from south Ohio, down by the river, and I missed hickory sometimes. Sedgie and the boy took off looking for wood and I was setting to cleaning a fox and a couple hares we'd come across that morning. Didn't ever eat fox before, but it wasn't much different than skinning a dog. The pelt might get me a couple hands at a table later anyway, so I was being neat with it. Might even get me a Frenchie too, if I got some good jacks.
"The hell..." I was muttering to myself more'n a hour later, looking at the sun falling down and feeling my belly grumble.
How hard was it to find some sticks? The boys shoulda been back. We shoulda been cooking already. I grabbed my Spenser rifle, the only damned thing I owned that was decent, and headed towards the woods. Probably them boys saw something shiny in the dirt, I figured. Probably dug half way to Chinaland by now, dumb bastards. I come upon them about a short holler into the trees, where it cleared out a bit in the middle and the ground got soft and damp. That copse surrounded a bowl in the earth, with a fresh spring in the middle and the air was cool in there, fresh tasting on the tongue too like you wouldn't expect.
"Woo-wee, that's it boy! Hold her down!" Sedgie was laughing.
"She's a feisty one, awright!" Yancy's excited voice jangled my nerves and some magpies got woken up, giving me hell for being there.
"Shit, grab her arm! Ah! Bitch clawed me!" Sedgie stopped laughing and I heard some sharp slapping, the sting of a thumbless hand on soft skin.
"Injun cunt!" Yancy yelled and I saw them now, there in that little glade.
It was all green, everywhere. The greenest goddamn place on earth, except for the cattails busting open where they grew from the spring. Made it look as if it was snowing up and down and sideways, that cotton blowing around slow with butterflies jerkin this way and that on big blue wings. Like walking into the Garden of Eden itself, I figured for a second, and the only thing spoiling it was Sedgie and Yancy, holding down an Indian squaw.
She was putting up a fight too, kicking and scratching. Her face was bloodied up some and the thin dress she was wearing, if you'd call it that, was stained and dirty, ripped too. Sedgie was trying to pry her legs apart and keep them that way, his trousers half-undone, falling around his thighs. Yancy sat awkwardly by her head, trying to hold her down by the arms and shoulders and I watched as he tried to kick her some with his right boot.
"Heh shit! Lookie here, boy! This ain't no squaw!" Sedgie laughed and he was sitting on her left leg and holding her right and grabbing at the Indian's privates it looked like.
"The hell is that?" Yancy asked
I moved so I could see Sedgie was holding a little brown cock and some balls in his big white fist, yanking hard enough so the Indian didn't have no choice but to lift her hips off the ground, hitching a breath sharp enough so I could hear it. That was the first sound I'd heard her make too, other than some grunts and groans maybe.
"Got us a little girly brave here," Sedgie said, turning his head and spitting on the ground.
"Goddamn, Sedgie!" Yancy laughed. "What we gonna do bout that?"
"What the good book says, boy," Sedgie grinned. "Got your knife handy?"
"Gonna cut 'em off?" Yancy asked, moving so he could get his knees over the squaw's arms and hold her still that way.
"If thine eye offends ye, pluck it out." Sedgie yanked those privates some more and this time the squaw gave a sharp yelp of pain. "I'm gonna do some pluckin..."
"And then we'll do some fuckin!" Yancy agreed and he was reaching for the knife at his belt when I shot Sedgie through his left side.
The old man looked at me kinda surprised, his tongue sticking out between his crooked teeth and then he fell over with a dull groan. I worked my rifle and got another cartridge in the breach, getting it locked and cocked before Yancy could get his senses and unhitch the pistol in his belt. I walked towards him slow and that squaw wasn't moving, just breathing hard and looking at me from the grass where she lay.
"You ain't gotta shoot me," Yancy swallowed hard.
"Yeah, I do," I sighed and I pulled the trigger.
I looked after the squaw and she was scrambling then, getting out from under the two men. Yancy got it clean and he was dead, but Sedgie was gonna take awhile and that was too bad for him. Got it through the liver, I believe. I didn't pay much mind to him though and I looked at the squaw as she got to her feet, her skin all red from excitement more than anything in her blood. Big brown eyes like a buffalo and she wiped her bloody mouth with the back of her hand, blinking at me and then running off quick as a deer.
After gathering up some wood, I strapped my Spenser over my back and left that place. It was too bad it got ruint, I thought, but ain't that how it goes? I couldn't rightly explain why I'd killed those two men, but sometimes maybe a fella just has enough and if I could let someone get cut up and raped to death, I could probably shoot somebody too. Wasn't much difference, except who it was and if I had to pick between Sedgie and that squaw, well, I'd made my choice. Yancy was just ... Bad luck, I reckon. I'd played enough jacks and whores to know you can't do a damn about that.
That fox cooked up nice in a stew and I spitted the hares over the fire, eating my fill and carrying the mess gear down to the stream for a washing. I hadn't had a good wash myself in more than awhile, and so I got a little cake of soap for myself and set about in that cold water for a spell. It was cold, being just June and all, winter was still running out of the mountains, but it was a good bath anyway and I got clean for the first time in my life maybe. Felt like it.
I was about done and rinsing out my long-johns when I saw that squaw hiding in the tall grass. She was looking at me, keeping her head down, but I saw her and I looked over at my gear, washed and set to dry, and my rifle was there. I looked at that too and the Indian followed my gaze. She wasn't but a dozen feet away and when she saw my Spenser she stood up so I'd look at her instead.
She shook her head slowly and I narrowed my eyes and then nodded. I wasn't gonna shoot her.
I was naked as a blue jay come September and I pulled my johns up, feeling heavy as they fell down around me like an old man's skin. I started gathering the rest of my stuff too, moving slow, keeping one eye on the Indian cause you never know what the hell they're up to, even the tame ones. She surprised me, coming forward like she did, and she picked up my tin plate and my cup, my fork too and the pot, looking at some of it and smiling through her bruised lips, the bottom one cut up.
"Speak English?" I asked her and she just looked at me as I shouldered my gun. "You understand what I'm sayin'?"
She shook her head and said something in her own jabber so I laughed and shrugged and that made her smile. She followed me and I moved slow anyways. I didn't know what the hell she was doing out there and mostly I was hoping she'd got lost or something, but the fact is you don't usually find one Indian less there's about a dozen more close by. But sometimes you do and if there was more they'd have come round already after all the ruckus earlier.
"Eat. Food." I pointed at the hares. I'd spitted them up and turned them over the fire, but after fox stew and biscuits I wasn't hungry for rabbit. I made little gestures at her, like I was spooning food into my mouth and pointed again.