Chapter Fifteen: Ruthie Taken
As the Ranger caravan plodded slowly back to Jacksboro, they saw a plume of black smoke in the near distance.
“Smoke signals?” one ranger asked.
“No. It’s a house burning, “ Ramon said. “The Garrisons have a place along the Brazos. My guess is that it’s theirs. Captain, we should make sure they are safe.”
“Let’s go there and check on them. Maybe they’re just burning brush. We need water anyway.”
“They ain’t burning brush this time of year, fool!” Micah said. “The Garrison’s are related to Erin.”
As the unit changed directions, using the smoke of the burning Garrison house as a mark, Ramon said, “There will be no one alive when we get there.”
“Why’s that?” Captain Howard asked.
“We call the Brazos the deadline for good reason. ”
“Let’s hope you are wrong.”
When the Rangers reached the Garrison farm, they found three charred bodies in the smoking cabin—a man, his wife, and one teenage boy.
“Anyone missing?” Captain Howard asked.
“They have a daughter too, Ruthie. She’s a little older than the brother.”
“Where is she? Is she hiding nearby?”
“I am sure they took her captive,” Ramon said.
“Aw, hell,” one Ranger said. “Always a step behind the damn Indians and a dollar short.”
“We need to go and fetch her back,” Micah said.
“We can’t pursue them with these wounded. We need to get them to a doctor before infection sets in and we lose one,” one of the walking Rangers said.
“I think someone should go and get her before she comes to harm,” Micah said.
“Well, why don’t you just hop on your horse and skedaddle after them.”
“Maybe I can get you a horse while I’m at it. Or maybe Jacob will loan you his and you can ride with me.
“He ain’t about to take my horse,” Jacob said. “He done traded his off to the Comanches.”
Ramon knelt and studied the ground. “This is not the same war party. There’s only three sets of footprints and the prints are wrong for Comanches—their feet aren’t as stubby as a Comanche’s would be. They put the girl on a horse, and it looks like they took a couple of the Garrison horses. They left early last evening. I think they’re headed toward the Red River. Means they’re probably Kiowa who came down the corridor.”
“Any volunteers want to go after them?” Captain Howard asked.
“Ramon and I will go,” Micah said. “Ain’t quite got Indian killing out of my system yet.”
“Ramon?” the captain asked.
“Yes, I will go. This boy is as crazy as his father was. I must stay with him.”
“I can kill the lot of them by myself once I find them. I only wanted you along so I wouldn’t lose their trail, Ramon.”
Captain Howard gathered a few haversacks from the men. “You can take whatever rations we have left. We can limp on back to Jacksboro. After I get these wounded men in and replenish our supplies, we’ll catch up with you.”
“We’ll likely be back by then,” Micah said.
“Stop at the Red River. We don’t have authority to follow them into Indian
Micah spat. “No one’s going to care where these Indians die.”
“Do you want to take the Tonkawas?” Captain Howard asked.
Micah, said, “Naw, I don’t reckon we’ll be eating any of these Kiowas anyways.”
Micah and Ramon followed the tracks and soon they were going directly north. Further on, they found an empty jug, one of them had thrown to the ground, then a torn blue calico dress.
“I reckon they’re drunk,” Micah said.
Ramon said, “If they found whiskey, they are. It’s either going to make them careless or real mean.”
“Why’d they throw down her dress?” Micah asked.
“They stripped her to humiliate her. It is what they do to female captives.” Ramon dismounted and studied the tracks. “One keeps doubling back. I think they know they’re being followed. We will need to kill him first if we can. He is their eyes and probably the leader. We’ll see if they pick up pace or head to harder ground. If they do, that’s a sign they know we’re coming up behind them.” He removed his felt hat and ran his hand through his black hair while he contemplated the terrain. “If they’re as drunk as I think, I’d guess they’ll lay up on the other side of the Red. We need to make up some time so we can catch them when they lay up.”