Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
Crow Feathers was an honorable leader of the Blackfoot tribe. The fact that he had turned renegade and led his people off a tiny Indian reservation after broken promises and outright lies from the U.S. government seemed almost justified to Tom. The settlers his warriors killed and the farms and ranches they burned were a horrible retaliation of a proud and starving people pushed onto desert lands with no game, no water and no future.
“Áóoyiwa Ko'komíki'somma!” The dark eyes in Crow Feathers head missed nothing as he gazed at the white man’s wagons sitting in the middle of his destroyed village.
“He says we eat the moon,” Tom told Belinda.
“It’s just his way of saying we’re all crazy!”
Bishop Johnson, tied to a makeshift cross mounted in the back of a wagon, chose the most inopportune time to open his mouth. “Behold! The hungry sinners come unto God and are filled with righteousness!”
An angry Indian warrior raised his spear and prepared to plunge it into the Mormon leader’s chest.
“Wait!” Tom yelled using the few Siksika words he knew and a universal sign language. “These people have been poisoned and they don’t know what they are doing!”
Crow Feathers stretched out his arm and stopped He Who Jumps. He stared at Tom, noted the redness of his wrists from the ropes and then quickly turned away after glancing at Belinda. “I will listen to Rides Yellow Horse’s words before we kill our enemies.”
Tom had heard other Indian tribes address him by this name and it made him wonder where Comanche was. He climbed out of the wagon and moved closer so that all could hear him. Just before he began speaking he felt Belinda brush against his side and he placed a protective arm around the kid “Two days ago the ground shook and a large river hidden inside a mountain spilled out onto the desert. I was chasing two outlaws who camped next to the new lake and they became as if possessed by demons after drinking the water.” Tom gestured to the Mormons. Zachariah was smiling as he hung on the cross and a group of women appeared to be dancing silently around his wagon. “These people are a religious group headed to a settlement on the other side of these mountains. I warned them about the water but they would not listen.”
“All white men lie!” He Who Jumps yelled. “They sell bottles of the Devil Water from the backs of their wagons.” A murmur of agreement swept through the Indians.
“This is not the same white man’s whiskey that makes a warrior do foolish things,” Tom told them. “All who drink this water go out of their minds.”
“What of your woman?” Crow Feathers pointed to Belinda. “Did she also drink this Devil water?”
“I’m not his woman,” Belinda said then added with a whisper. “Not yet.”
“Yes,” Tom was finding it hard to explain. “She was out of her head when we were placed together but when she drank the bad water … the demon inside her fled.”
“Rides Yellow Horse lies!” He Who Jumps lunged forward but Crow Feathers pulled him back. “If demons are in the water she drank … then they are also in her!”
“Tell Woman with Rock to look in this white woman’s mouth and listen to her breath,” Crow Feathers ordered. “She will know if the demon has gone … or if it is only sleeping.”
An hour later, an ancient looking female with a face like a dried blackberry dressed in white buffalo robes and supported by two bowed elk antlers she used as crutches hobbled into the camp. She stopped a few feet in front of Tom and took something burning from a stone jar filled with glowing embers. She waved a smoking root in the air and chanted “Awkiii yi nao si ya himiii,” while staring at Belinda.
“She wants you to breath in the smoke,” Tom told Belinda.
“What is it?” The girl held tight to the back of Tom’s shirt.
“Maybe our way out of this mess.”
Belinda took a deep breath and drew the harsh smoke into her lungs. Her eyes watered and after a moment she began to gag and cough. The old woman smiled and then leaned forward and pried open Belinda’s mouth wide. She swept her eyes from side to side as she stared down the girl’s throat then she put her ear next to the open mouth and listened. Her small bright eyes appeared to dart in all directions.
“What is she doing?” Belinda gasped when the old woman finally released her.
“Looking for a Devil … and listening for snoring to see if the demon might be sleeping in your belly.” Tom told her.
The old woman hobbled away waving her arms in the air as if she had been bothered by noisy children.
“Your words are true,” Crow Feathers said. “Three moons ago we felt the land tremble as a door to the underworld was opened and this woman had a bad spirit inside her and the water has washed it away.”
He Who Jumps threw his lance on the ground and stomped away, several others followed him.
“Will you allow us to leave with our promise of restitution for the damage to your village?” Tom asked him.
“When all our horses have returned you, the wild yellow thief and the woman may go,” Crow Feathers said. “They follow your horse across the plains and are very hard to catch. We Siksika cannot chase them. Instead we must decide how to dispose of the demons that live in these people. When your woman was possessed by the bad spirit I dragged her from our camp on a horse so that she would not infect others. It is dangerous to kill anyone with a demon inside them for the bad spirit that leaves will seek to find a new body to move into from any that are close. Now my horse follows the yellow one.
“I’m not his woman,” Belinda said.
“I am a lawman and my job is to protect these people, Tom told them. “This bad water is something new to me.” Tom thought hard, and remembered something that might help. “These people have a book that they believe contains much magic. Perhaps something in it will make them well.”
“I have asked Ghost Bear to come to our camp for council,” Crow Feathers said. “When He Who Talks to Spirits arrives with the rising sun we will go to this lake and discover its secrets. From this time forward your blood and these people are bound together.”
The women dancing around Zachariah’s wagon were spinning faster and faster. Tom noticed that they were still stopping occasionally to drink cups filled with lake water from a barrel mounted on the side of the wagon. One of the men crowed like a rooster as he soaked a torn shirt in the water and passed it up on the end of a long stick to the Bishop hanging on the cross. Zachariah Johnson smiled broadly as he sucked the moisture into his mouth and stared upward at the clouds. “Halleluiah!” he shouted. “I can see Jesus picking cotton with God!’
“What’s happening?” Belinda was tugging on Tom’s shirt; her eyes were like a trapped fox.
“They want their horses back. It seems my horse has led them away. A great Indian medicine man from the north country has been summoned,” Tom said. “He will decide if we live or die.”
None of the Blackfeet seemed to want to get too near the infected whites. Occasionally a brave but mostly women would quickly dart into the destroyed camp grab up some needed object and flee back to a new camp they were making as if pursued by demons. They were careful not to pick up anything they thought the white people had touched. The Indians had posted guards to prevent their captives from escaping.
Tom realized the Mormons were never going to stop drinking the bad water on their own and searched through Zachariah’s wagon until he found an axe. After making sure that none of the Mormons were armed and hiding several rifles, he smashed the blade into the water barrels repeatedly until the staves broke and the water spilled onto the ground. Two young men in clean white shirts tried to stop him with their fists. Tom knocked both of them easily to the ground. “That water was delivered to us poured and stirred by the hand of God,” one boy blubbered wiping dirt from his face.
“Then he must have had a dirty finger,” Tom told them. “There is a creek over in them trees. From now on if anyone of you Saints wants to drink, you get your water from there.”
Tom was almost sorry he told them about the other water supply. Late in the afternoon some of the remaining Mormons had unhitched a balking mule from one of the wagons and with great ceremony was baptizing the repentant creature in the stream.
It was an hour after dark and Zachariah was still reciting scriptures from the Book of Mormon by memory with a voice like rolling thunder when a frustrated Tom and Belinda unlashed the wooden cross from the wagon and lowered him to the ground. “What you’ve done is sacrilege!” Two scowling women approached Tom and spat in his face. The Bishop glared at Tom and Belinda like a wounded badger caught in a trap but allowed the women to pull him into a wagon.
“Perhaps so,” A weary Tom sighed. “But I can’t sleep when it sounds like it’s going to rain!”
Ghost Bear arrived at dawn, walking slowly and without any feathers in his grey hair or other ornamentation. Nevertheless he aroused awe amongst the members of Crow Feather’s camp. The warriors all laid their weapons at his feet as a gesture of respect and submission and the women covered their faces. Only the camp’s children approached him at a run and there was laughter and squeals of delight as he spun them around and tossed them in the air. “He don’t look so ferocious,” Belinda whispered. The old man chased several of the children around the fires pretending to be a bear.
Belinda had been up for over an hour and Tom noticed she had borrowed a clean dress from one of the Mormon women and her hair was brushed back and tied with a ribbon. She no longer looked like a skinny child but a young woman. Before he thought she was maybe twelve years old now she looked more like sixteen.
“Don’t let Ghost Bear’s interaction with children fool you,” Tom told her. “This medicine man is revered as a great enemy and warrior by most of the plains tribes including the Crow, Cheyenne and the Oglala Lakota.
“Why do the Lamanites revere their enemies?”
“Indians believe that strong enemies are a kind of prestige and that fighting is a good thing … if your enemies are weak then you must be also. When an Indian wants to fight you … it is a sign that he likes you and also a sign of respect.”
Crow Feathers tried to gift Ghost Bears with his ceremonial lance but the old man ignored him, instead he approached Tom and Belinda frowning. “That metal thistle stuck on your dirty shirt makes people angry … and they wish to kill you,” he spoke an almost perfect, but spiteful English as he waved a withered hand like a claw in front of Tom’s face. “Your woman looks like dried grass. She would be better off with a crippled dog … than a rabbit who cannot feed her.”
“Your shabby and stinking clothes are sage brush that hides a wolf raised by skunks,” Tom told him. Belinda gasped and stepped away from the sheriff, not sure she wanted to be close to him.
Ghost Bears looked furious for a few moments and the camp was deathly silent then suddenly he laughed. ‘I sometimes go many winters without any insults,’ he said. “It is good to share a camp with one whose tongue is not afraid of being cut off.”
“Only a man who believes the insults are true gets mad when he hears them,” Tom told him.
Belinda had been holding her breath and now she released it with relief. “Why didn’t you tell me this Ghost chief was your friend … for a minute there I thought we were in trouble!”
“Sheriff Thomas Lang is a great leader among the white man,” Ghost Bears said. “Therefore I think he is a man for a leader like me to kill. These other white people have a sickness. I think it is not good to touch them. I am old; it has been many winters since a scalp has hung above my lodge. This day we shall go look at the waters that have come from the spirit world under the land.” Ghost Bears smiled broadly. “Then we will have a feast and a fire dance to chase the water spirits back into the ground. Perhaps the Sheriff and his woman will join us.”
“For the last time I’m not his woman!” Belinda shouted.
The entire camp including the captive Mormons with their wagons and horses forming a protective circle around their Bishop, followed Ghost Bear as he slowly walked to the new lake. Tom thought some of the craziness was leaving most of the religious settlers after they’d stopped drinking the bad water; he just hoped they could all stay alive long enough for things to get back to normal.
“Don’t worry,” Belinda whispered to Tom as they followed. “He’s just an old man. How tough can he be? Whatever weapon the Lamanite chief chooses I’m sure you can totally beat him!”
“You don’t understand the Blackfoot tribes or their ways,” Tom sighed. “The fire dance to honor the new lake that he talked about has only three participants … you, me, and a large ring of burning sticks.”
Belinda gasped. “They plan to burn us?”
“Unless we can totally defeat the fire by draining the lake or dancing our way out of it,” Tom told her with a grin.
“This demon water has no mouth,” Ghost Bear said when he had walked all the way around the new lake once. He noticed the fresh graves and smiled at Tom. “It will die of thirst as long as the sun continues to rise each day.”
“What of those who drink the poison before it dries up?” Tom asked.
“The only bones I see are of your enemies,” Ghost Bear said. “Animals are not as easily fooled as white men. We will camp here and wait. I feel the wind whispering to the trees. Another sign soon comes this way from the spirit world.”
Ghost Bear was right about the feast. A group of warriors left followed by their squaws and a few hours later returned with meat from three buffalo. Even the Mormon women helped, baking bread and picking wild berries for pies. The craziness of the last two days was being replaced with smiles and hospitality. Although Bishop Johnson sat in the ruins of his wagon, muttering and casting dark looks at the Indian’s wise man.
“It has been many moons since my stomach has been this big,” Ghost Bear said smiling and standing up as he patted his middle. “The lake is afraid of the day and the sun. Perhaps the Siksika will find another way to chase it away … without a fire dance!” He walked through the congenial whites and the Indians smiling at everyone.
“Does this mean what I think it does?” Belinda stopped crying for the first time in hours. Tom noticed her sliding closer to him and it made him feel uncomfortable. He had enough trouble just dealing with the Indians and the Mormons.
“I think so,” Tom told her. “The lake looks like it has dropped a foot just since yesterday.”
Suddenly a shot rang out. Tom saw Ghost Bear fall to the ground knocking over a table laden with food. Several women screamed. A second later, Bishop Johnson jerked the apparently gut-shot old Indian from the ground holding a rifle to his head. A hundred Blackfoot warriors rushed forward and then stopped in barely contained fury as Zachariah cocked the gun and placed his finger on the trigger. “This lake is from heaven,” the Mormon leader thundered taking a long drink from a canteen that had been hidden under his coat. Moisture dripped off his long ragged beard. “We will not allow God’s precious gift to be cast aside by a bunch of filthy Lamanites!”
“Where did he get that damn rifle?” Belinda moaned.
“From Hell I suppose,” Tom said. “Bishop Johnson seems to have a key to the back door.”
TO BE CONTINUED …