Chapter Sixteen: Takes White Horses
Takes White Horses, the Kiowa leading the war party, stopped his horse and looked back on their trail, searching for the presence he felt. His eyes followed the trail of their horses’ hoof prints until the sign faded. They had left an obvious trail for the man or men following. In his heart he could hear the hoof-beats of another rider’s horse. Who was this hunter, this hunter of men? Why is he following? Is he alone?
He touched the amulet around his neck and quirted his horse forward. He understood such men. He felt it had to be someone whose destiny was connected to the woman. While the others had already taken her, he could not—could not because she wore the face of death. But whose? Her own? His? The two drunken ones riding with him? All of them?
He knew that the hunter on their trail would wear the ghost face too. He knew instinctively that he would be the kind of man who even in the spirit world remains a hunter and returns to the world when it is dark as a malevolent or vengeful spirit. Such men never rest. Not in this world, nor in the next. He thought about abandoning the two with him and riding west, to leave the woman with the two and leave them all to their fate. He cursed himself for letting them take the bottles of the white man’s fool-water. They had already drunk two jugs, and there was no sign of the empty bottles. Evidently they had cast them aside on their trail, just as certainly their own bodies would be discarded if this hunter finds them. He slowed and watched them as they leered at the girl. They were already talking of stopping and taking her again. They would not understand his insight into the hunter following them. Even as they rode, they tormented and abused the girl, laughing at her cries. Both were too drunk to listen to him. They would not be able to travel the whole night as they should if they wanted to reach the Arbuckles and the safety of the tribe, but if they did not stop soon, the two would be falling off their horses. They would have to stop and he would have to watch as these two warriors spent their strength on the girl and more liquor.
Again frustration ate into him. He had planned to take a long journey to Mexico, to kill, plunder, and return home a rich man, but after the message from the holder of the taime, the warriors he had wanted refused to go with him. The Kiowa priest with the taime had warned him to not come on this trip. He said a ghost-man would search for him. This ghost was not yet in the spirit world, when sinews no longer knit flesh and bones together, but his soul was already in the ghost world. Though Takes Whites’ Horses feared the spirit-man following them, he also hated him for being proof of the taime’s words. Takes Whites Horses had sought guidance by chewing seni, peyote, and danced for six days before leaving, sharing the favors of the women, making a vow to go on a raid. He had cut the flesh on his own breast to demonstrate to the others his courage and toughness. His hand touched the scar the cut had left.
Looking at the two with him, he regretted allowing his pride get the best of him. There would have been no shame in postponing his path of war until a more fortuitous time. These two were willing to go with him under his leadership, but he could plainly see they lacked the judgment and discipline warriors need. Tonight, he had suggested they raid other ranches, but they both wanted to return to the tribe with the girl and the three scalps and two horses and guns they had taken from the one ranch.
The girl wobbled on the horse like she was falling asleep. He struck her bare back with his quirt. He sharply warned her to not fall from her horse.
“Frederick, can we stop?” she said. The girl looked blankly at him.
Takes Horses looked at her.
He lashed her back again and repeated himself in Spanish. “No dormir.”
One of the other riders laughed. “The girl is crazy now, Takes Whites Horses.”
“I’m going to tell Erin you hit me again.” She laughed, leaned down and wrapped her arms around the horse’s neck. “Can’t we stop and make a fire? I’m cold.”
Takes Horses realized he had made a mistake in bringing her this far. Her mind had already cracked. Texan women were beautiful, but they were fragile and weak. They lacked the toughness and will of Kiowa women, and even that of the Mexicans. She had not been treated that roughly. Not in comparison with some. This woman would not even make a fit slave. He thought of dumping her to the ground and letting those following have her. They would likely give up their pursuit. He decided to carry her on and give her to the camp upon his return as a trophy. The Kiowa women could use her as they willed, to revenge themselves upon the whites for the members of the tribe lost to their diseases and guns. The other members of the band had no doubt reached the camp in the Wichita Mountains with the other booty, and the camp would be preparing a celebration for his return.
He guided the war party toward the harder ground. We will see, he thought, if the spirit-man can read small sign. He resolved to wait outside the camp tonight for the spirit-man hunting them. In the dark, where spirits meet and fight. The taime was wrong. Takes White Horses feared no ghost man, and his hate for the white man was greater than his fear that the taime’s words were truth. The war party had scalps, a captive, and two horses laden with goods they had taken from the white family. It had been a good raid. Tonight they would cross the river the white Texans would not cross.
* * *
With his rifle scope, Micah made out the Indians as they crossed the Red River. The naked Garrison girl sat on a horse led by one of the warriors, her hands tied in front of her. “Well, there they are. The girl is naked. Looks like she’s had a hard time of it. What do you want to do, Ramon? I can pick off the one in front if you want.” Micah was half-afraid Chavez would tell him to shoot the girl.
“No. They’ll kill the girl if we try to do anything now. Let’s go to the edge of the Red, make sure they see us, and turn around. The moon is full tonight. We’ll circle back and get them later.”
They paused at the edge of the banks of the Red River. When they turned their horses around, the Kiowas began to whoop and taunt them.
“What are they saying, Ramon?”
“I don’t know. I speak Comanche, but not Kiowa. Their tongue is a lot like Apache, but I am certain that they insult us.”
They rode until they were sure they were out of sight, then they circled around and crossed the river downstream from where Ramon thought they would be camped. Micah picketed the horses in a thicket of blackjack oaks, and dumped all the grain they had left on the ground so the horses could forage. They crept slowly along the banks of the river until they were close enough to hear the girl’s cries and the slaps and rutting that occasioned her grief. Another Kiowa was puking from the liquor, and in the moonlight Micah could see him on his hands and knees. Micah started to move forward.
Ramon touched his arm and whispered, “I only hear two, where’s the third one? He could be already passed out, or he could be watching for us. Keep your eyes open and listen.”
They eased closer until they could make out the shadow forms of two of the Kiowas. Micah could see the white skin of the young girl on the ground. Her moans were delirious and incoherent. Micah counted the horses. Five. Three small Indian ponies and two from the Garrison place. That meant the third Indian was still with the group somewhere. It troubled him that he could not detect him. He hoped they would find him drunk asleep on the ground.
Ramon leaned and whispered into his ear, “You stay here. Watch for the third one.”
Ramon walked into their fireless camp, a revolver in each hand, a Nagas-like demon who had come to claim souls and bathe in bloody moonlight. One Kiowa was still kneeling and retching, the other was on the girl. He shot the puking Kiowa twice in the face, and Micah heard skin and blood splatter the girl and the other Kiowa. The other rose shakily to his feet and stumbled toward his weapons, but Ramon shot him three times in the back before he could reach them. Ramon holstered the empty pistol and swapped his second one to his right hand as he backed into the shadow of a hickory. “Micah, where is the third one?”
A shadow streaked past Micah, striking him on his shoulder with a war club. The shadow whooped and ran on. Micah fell to the ground. He felt the muscles of his arm convulse and tighten. The shadow had reached the horses. With his left hand Micah raised his shotgun and fired each barrel, but he knew as soon as he had fired that he had missed, and the whooping Kiowa mounted a horse and rode off into the darkness.
Ramon knelt over the girl. He raised her and wrapped her in one of the Kiowa’s blankets. “Come, niña. We must go home. Can you ride?”
The girl didn’t answer, but pointed at one of the dead Kiowas.
“I know, niña. I know.”
Micah walked over to them. “Sorry, Ramon, I missed him. He clubbed me afore I could see him.”
“Well, two of them are dead anyway. Are you alright? Nothing broken?”
“My arm will be stove up a while, but I’m alright. How’s the girl?”
“She will be fine, I think.” Ramon broke open his pistol and loaded another cylinder. “Let’s gather up the horses and girl and get away from here. The Indian horses have halters, and the Garrison horses still have their bridles in their mouths. One of them has a lariat we can use to tie the horses together.”
“What about the other Kiowa?”
“He’s long gone. If he goes back to his camp, he’ll make up some story to explain himself. My guess is that he will try to hook up with another band somewhere, bragging about he made coup on some armed white man in the dark.”
When they reached their own horses, Ramon used their lariats to connect the halters of the captured and recovered horses. “Are we going to take the girl into Jacksboro?”
“No. I think most of her family moved to Forth Worth when the Indian raids started, but she has a cousin who lives along the Trinity, right outside of Jacksboro. She married Frederick O’Connor. Not long after you left, Frederick went up to Kansas and signed on with the Yankee Cavalry where his brother was. He hasn’t returned yet. Maybe you or one of your friends killed him.”
“If he was a Yankee, and I pointed my gun at him, I killed him. But he ain’t dead. I saw him in Camp Ford. He was a prisoner. ”
Ramon pulled a shirt from his saddlebag and pitched it to Micah. “You better put this on her if she’ll put it on.”
He held the shirt out to Ruthie. “Okay, Ruthie, you want to put this on?”
She shrunk away and tightened up into a ball. “No. No. No.”
“I ain’t gonna hurt you, girl. Put on the damn shirt. She ain’t making no sense, Ramon. She don’t want to put on the shirt, and I don’t feel right sitting looking at her like this.”
“She’s probably lost her mind over what she’s been through. Calm her as you would a horse.”
“I ain’t never been good with horses like you were. Now you hold still, crazy girl.” Micah took one of her arms and inserted it into the sleeve of the shirt. He did the same with the other, then poked her head through the opening. Grasping her by the wrists, he lifted her arms so that Ramon’s huge shirt slipped down her body. The shirt seemed to have a calming influence on her.
Micah hoisted her up to Ramon. “She’s too crazy for me to ride with, and I don’t think she can ride on her own. You tote her on your horse till we’re sure she will be all right. I’ll try to herd these no-good Kiowa horses along.”
The sun rose just as they crossed the Red River. Ruthie rode between Chavez and Micah. She stopped her horse. Micah drew alongside side of her. “What’s wrong, Ruthie?”
“I got blood on my face.” She laughed. “You do too. Injun blood. See?”
Micah looked down into the water at his own bloody reflection.