Sagebrushby William Wayne Dicksion / Western
William Wayne Dicksion
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Copyright © 2013 William Wayne Dicksion
All rights reserved
Cover Design by Malia Wisch
Interior Layout by Laura Shinn Designs
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be copied or reproduced in any manner without express written permission of the author or publisher.
Sagebrush is a work of fiction. Cities and towns are used in a fictitious manner for purposes of this work. All characters are works of fiction and any names or characteristics similar to any person past, present or future are coincidental.
Still half asleep, Michael looked up at his parents sitting on the buckboard of their covered wagon and saw an arrow penetrate his father's chest. Then he saw his mother being dragged from the wagon by two Indians. She was fighting them with all her might. He watched as one of the Indians hit her with his stone ax. His mother fell from the wagon and disappeared from his sight and from his life forever.
Now he was alone. "Sagebrush" tells of how Michael survived the Indian attack and then endures alone in the vast and hostile land.
CHAPTER ONE – The Indian Attack
CHAPTER TWO – The Search for his Mother
CHAPTER THREE – The Search for a New Home
CHAPTER FOUR – Learning the Way
CHAPTER FIVE – Evening Star
CHAPTER SIX – The Arapaho Chief
CHAPTER SEVEN – The Search for His Enemies
CHAPTER EIGHT – The Mountain Men
CHAPTER NINE – Second Trip to the Indian Village
CHAPTER TEN – Getting the Horses
CHAPTER ELEVEN – To the Tall Blue Mountains
CHAPTER TWELVE – Getting the Lay of the Land
CHAPTER THIRTEEN – The Don Diego Ranch
CHAPTER FOURTEEN – The Señora Cordova Ranch
CHAPTER FIFTEEN – The Stolen Cattle
CHAPTER SIXTEEN – Attack on Juanita
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN – The Mine
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN – Taking Over the Management
CHAPTER NINETEEN – Return to Indian Country
CHAPTER TWENTY – The Mule Train to St. Louis
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE – Return to Evening Star
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO – Back to Santa Fe and Juanita
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Indian Attack
Wheels turning through the virgin sod of the Great Plains and the prairie grass brushing against the bottom of the wagon had lulled Michael to sleep. When he awoke, his parents were sitting on the buckboard, and he heard them talking about the vastness of the open space. The wagon bumped and jostled as the horses pulled it over clumps of grass. He lay back on his blanket and fell asleep.
Horses running and people yelling awakened him. He looked up and saw an arrow penetrate his father’s chest, and then watched his mother being dragged from the wagon by two Indians. She was fighting them with all her might until one of them struck her with his tomahawk. She fell from the fast-moving wagon and disappeared from his sight and his life forever. Robert McBain, Michael’s father, fell backward on the floor of the wagon, the arrow still protruding from his chest. His eyes were open, but he was seeing nothing. He had died instantly. He was a skilled frontiersman and an excellent marksman, but he didn’t even get a chance to fire his gun.
The attack happened so fast that the horror of what Michael had witnessed had not yet registered in his young mind. Fear, combined with the desire to go to his mother’s aid, filled his heart. The faces of two Indians fighting his mother were seared in his mind forever. One of them was a big man with a strong, muscular body, wearing only a loincloth. His stringy, black hair hung over his face and he had a long, purple scar on his right cheek. The other man had a high-beak nose, with black scowling eyes that looked out from under craggy brows. His mouth was just a thin purple slit across his face. His vicious smile showed that he enjoyed killing. Michael would never forget those faces.
The horses pulling their wagon were running frantically, and the wagon was bouncing over the heavy clumps of grass, making it impossible for Michael to stand. In panic, the horses ran across a small gully, flipping the wagon over on its back, pinning Michael and his dead father beneath it. When the wagon flipped over, the frightened horses broke free from their hitch and ran off, dragging their harness. The Indians wanted those horses and continued in full pursuit yelling and whooping.
When Michael regained consciousness, he had a large lump on his head and felt sick. He had no way of knowing how long he had been unconscious, but he remembered that the attack had occurred in the late afternoon, and it was morning now. He listened. It was quiet. His father lay dead only a few feet away. At first, Michael was too stunned to cry, but he didn’t know what else to do. He had seen his mother and father killed. He was only twelve years old and completely alone.
He would never go into the woods again with his father or hear his mother reading to him. It was more than he could bear.
Michael cried until his body had nothing else to give. The silence was so complete that it was overwhelming. The heat was building up inside the overturned wagon. He was hungry and thirsty, but the water barrel, which had been tied to the side of the wagon, lay in splinters. The wagon had fallen astride the small gully leaving just enough space for Michael to squeeze through. He wiggled out, stood up, and looked around, hoping the Indians were gone. A vast plain of grass and rolling hills extended to the horizon in every direction, with an occasional tree in the low lying spots. In the distance, a line of trees ran through the middle of a small valley.
There must be water there—maybe I can get a drink.
He began walking, but the grass was so thick that it tangled around his legs forcing him to stumble. The day was hot. He was thirsty, hungry, and frightened. It took a long time to reach the center of the valley, but he had guessed right, a stream was flowing down the center of the valley, and giant trees grew on both sides, with their branches hanging out over the water. The stream was only a few feet wide, but it had deep pools. Where it ran across sand and gravel, sunlight glistened in the rippling water. The water was cool, and he drank until he couldn’t drink anymore, but he noticed fish in the water.
If I could catch those fish, I would have something to eat. But I how can I catch them and build a fire to cook them on?
Wild plums grew on low-hanging branches. He tasted one; it was delicious. He picked and ate plums until he was sick. He looked around, and saw food in abundance. A place with this much food was bound to have animals. He didn’t know the names of all of the different kinds of animals, but he knew there were wolves, bears, and mountain lions. He had no idea what else might be out there. The land was an endless sea of grass. Incessant wind created waves in the long, thin blades causing them to move like grasping fingers gathering the wind.
A herd of buffalo grazed in the distance; their shaggy humps stood out against the steel-gray sky. They snorted as they grazed. He didn’t know if they would harm him, and he wasn’t going near them to find out. He had to do something, but he didn’t know what to do, and he had no one to ask, so again he began to cry. Then he realized that crying would do him no good—his mother and father were both dead, and he had no idea what happened to the people in the other wagons. He didn’t know how far the wagon train had traveled when the Indians attacked, but he knew that they had started from St. Louis more than two months ago, and their destination was Santa Fe, New Mexico . . . . Originally, there had been nine wagons in the train. The people who had signed up for the train had been reluctant to make the journey, because a train of only nine wagons was too small to be traveling through hostile territory.
They had been following the Santa Fe Trail, which followed the Arkansas River. Michael remembered the men saying that when they reached the headwaters of the Arkansas, the trail would then take them through Raton Pass, and then down the west slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to Santa Fe. Michael also remembered hearing the men discussing a shortcut that was supposed to be an easier route.
The man telling of the shortcut said, “We could cross the Sangre de Cristo Mountains farther south and, by going that way, we wouldn’t have to go through the pass at Raton.”
The shorter trail was called the Cimarron Trail. The man telling the story said, “I’ve been told that the Cimarron River runs dry at times, but this is springtime, and there’s been plenty of rain.”
One of the other men said, “There are also stories of others who took that route having to fight off raiding Indians, but so far, all of the Indians we’ve met along the Santa Fe Trail have been friendly, and I think that the Indians along the Cimarron Trail will be friendly, also.”
Michael’s father and two other families decided to take the shortcut and get to Santa Fe early. The people in the six remaining wagons were unhappy about them splitting up the train. They felt that a smaller number of wagons made them more vulnerable to Indian attacks, and the new trail was just too risky. The three wagons that broke away had been following the Cimarron Trail for about two weeks when they came to the Cimarron River. It was flowing out of the northwest, and the direction they wanted to go was west. They looked again at their crude maps and noticed another river only a few days farther south that was bigger, and it flowed from the west with its headwaters beginning just northeast of the town of Santa Fe.
One of the other men said, “Why don’t we follow that river, since it goes right to our destination? It’s bigger, and it probably has better water.”
“Have you heard of other wagons taking that route?” a second man asked.
“No, but I’ve heard of mountain men taking that route, and they said it has good water all the way, with easy terrain for wagons.”
“We could save about two weeks by not taking that big loop to the north following the Cimarron River.”
“Well, let’s give it a try,” the second man said. “Perhaps we’ll blaze a new trail.”
The three wagons turned south to intercept the new river and were en route when the Indian attack occurred. The attack happened so suddenly that they were caught off guard. There were so many Indians and so few people that they didn’t have a chance. It was all over in a matter of minutes.
Michael continued climbing the hill wondering what had happened to the other two wagons. A mother and father, with a boy and a girl, were in the second wagon. The third wagon carried two men and one woman. Michael hadn’t seen the fighting, but it had sounded like a large group of Indians, so the other people in the train were probably dead, also.
It didn’t matter, because he had no way to find them, and they would have no way of knowing he was still alive. He probably wouldn’t be alive if the wagon had not hid him when it overturned.
He had to hurry. The sun was already halfway down, and he had to get back. There might be something left in the wagon that he could use, and he had to think about where he was going to sleep tonight. He dreaded going back. His father was still lying under the wagon; and he would have to drag him out into the open and bury him. Then, he would have to look for his mother. He didn’t know how he could bear looking at his dead mother, but it had to be done.
He hadn’t thought to mark his trail while walking into the valley, so he was having difficulty finding his way back. Everywhere he looked, tall grass waved in the wind. Animals and birds scurried away as he passed. The land was alive!
Trees in the low spots had crows, blue jays, and meadowlarks sitting in their branches. In the sky above, red-tailed hawks circled in long winding spirals, watching for rodents. He jumped when a large bull snake crawled through the grass right at his feet. His father told him that bull snakes were harmless.
They may be harmless, but it sure gives you a start when a snake that big crawls right by your feet!
Life was everywhere—in the air, on the ground, and in the water. Climbing through the tall grass was tiring. Michael wanted to sit down and rest, but he couldn’t because there were snakes, scorpions, spiders, and no telling what else in that grass. He found a gully that made the walking easier and followed it. Just before reaching the top of the hill, he found the wagon. Its wheels were sticking up in the air, reminding him of a tortoise lying on its back unable to right itself.
The opening through which he had crawled wasn’t large enough to drag his father through, but he had to get him out from under the wagon somehow. A board had broken from the side of the wagon, and Michael tried to dig with it, but it didn’t work very well. His father was a big man, tall, and heavy through the shoulders. Moving him was difficult, but Michael was finally able to drag him to a suitable place to bury and had to remove the grass to get to the dirt.
He couldn’t dig with the board, so he crawled back under the wagon to find a better tool. His father’s pistol and rifle were still lying where they had fallen, but he couldn’t dig with a gun, so he kept looking. Michael’s father hadn’t known how long it would take to accomplish his mission; therefore, he came prepared to stay a long time. When the wagon overturned, it scattered pots, pans, clothes, and dishes, breaking most of the dishes onto what had been the canvas top of the wagon.
Michael found his father’s toolbox, and in it he found a pick, an ax, and a shovel! He also found a box of fishhooks and a roll of twine. The food locker contained hardtack and beef jerky. He was hungry, but he didn’t have time to eat. He would have to wait until after he had buried his father. He wanted to give his father a proper burial, so that the animals couldn’t dig him up but as the hole got deeper, the digging became more and more difficult. He had to climb into the hole to throw the dirt out. By the time he got the grave dug, the sun was setting. He wrapped his father’s head in one of his shirts, and tried to lay him in the grave but he was so heavy he had to roll him in. He felt that he should do more than just bury him, but he didn’t know what else to do. He loved his father; they had camped together many times and explored the mountains of Virginia. He sat with tears running down his face, remembering those wonderful times.
He remained kneeling, crying, and praying, until the sun was just a red ball slowly moving below the horizon. The fading light colored the high, thin clouds, and the final rays of sunlight glowed across an empty sky. A vast plain lay before him. It was hundreds of miles to the nearest settlement. Thousands of Indians, many of them hostile, stood between him and the settlements. Confused and bewildered, he looked around. He didn’t even know which way to go. His only hope was to survive long enough that perhaps another wagon train might travel through, and he could join them. He was beginning to understand the hopelessness of his situation. He had to put it out of his mind and concentrate on doing what he had to do to survive.
He filled the grave with dirt and knelt, as his mother had taught him to do when he was saying his prayers, and asked God to take care of his father and mother, and to let them be together in heaven. Then he asked God to help him. He was stranded, and he needed help.
He crawled back under the wagon and ate some of the beef jerky. He was thirsty, but it was too far to the creek, he wouldn’t be able to get back before dark.
With night coming on, it was getting cold. He found a couple of blankets to roll in, used his extra clothes for a pillow, and then lay down and tried to sleep. The day had been silent, but the night was filled with sounds. In the distance, coyotes were howling, wolves yelping, and down by the creek night birds were calling. If his parents were with him, those sounds would have been pleasant, but being alone made the sounds terrifying and lonely. Mentally and physically exhausted, he fell asleep.
Later in the night, he was awakened by an animal moving around outside. He had no way of knowing what kind of animal it was, or why it would be prowling around the wagon. He wedged a box into the opening hoping to prevent whatever was out there from getting in. He sat with his feet holding the box in place until the sound went away, and then he went back to sleep.
Morning light shining through the cracks of the wagon awakened him. He was hungry and desperately thirsty. It was a long walk to the creek, but he had no choice—he had to have water. His father’s canteen lay nearby. He took it with him to bring water back; it was too far to keep going back and forth every time he needed a drink.
He followed the gully and had gone only a short way when he noticed that the grass was wet. There was no standing water, but it was very wet. He turned around and walked back, looking for the source of the water. After a short walk, he saw water coming from a draw! He followed the draw and saw water seeping from between two layers of rock.
It was just a trickle, but after digging a hole at the base of the rock, a small pool formed. The hole was taking a long time to fill, and he couldn’t wait. He had to have water! He knelt and drank like an animal. The water was dirty, but it was nice and cold. The pool wasn’t deep enough to fill the canteen, so he made it deeper. Enlarging the hole muddied the water even more, so he had to wait for the dirt to settle. The second drink was better, no dirt this time. As soon as there was enough water in the pool, he filled the canteen.
Now, he had to have something to eat.
After returning to the wagon, he found the barrel of salt pork that had been tied to the wagon. Plenty of pork was buried in the salt, and by cooking the pork, he would have oil for cooking other stuff. He had camped with his father many times and had learned survival methods. He had meat, seasoning, and water. He found flour and meal in one of the other containers. He had watched his mother cook, but he had never really paid attention to what she was doing. Now, he wished he had.
Before he could cook, he had to make a fire. But how could he make a fire when he had no wood, no flint, and no tinder? His father taught him many things, but he had never taught him how to make a fire without a flint stone.
Thinking of his father brought tears to his eyes, which he quickly brushed away . . . . It would do no good to cry. He had to get a fire built, but where are the tools for making a fire? Where would Father have kept them? They weren’t in his toolbox, and they weren’t in the food locker. Maybe he had them in his pockets.
Oh, no, I can’t dig Father up to find out if he has them in his pockets.
Then he remembered the secret compartment, hidden under the floorboards. After searching for a while, he found the compartment and removed the covering. Because the wagon was upside down, the contents fell on the inside of the canvas top of the wagon.
The compartment contained his mother’s books, a metal container of papers, and a big leather pouch filled with gold coins! He didn’t have time to read the papers or count the coins—he’d do that later. He needed a fire, so he continued looking for the flint stone. In another pouch, he found the stone and striker. The compartment also held an ornate knife in a leather scabbard. The knife was beautiful; the blade was about ten inches long, with a four-inch grip inlaid with silver. As Michael held it, he remembered his father liked to collect knives, and this one was his prized possession. The blade was made of the finest steel, and it shimmered in the light.
He remembered his father saying, “Who knows, Michael, maybe a pirate owned this knife. Imagine the stories it could tell.”