Ambush

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AMBUSH

The next cattle drive the People saw was with five hundred head and eight men, with a leader out in front and a cook bringing up the rear driving a supply wagon. They, like the band of the preceding year, were coming off the range and making for Lake Sammamish, where the cattle could be taken by boat to Seattle.

From a vista high above them, Malekwa asked young Shy Bear if these were the whites the People were commanded to accommodate, but Shy Bear answered no.

So when about half of their herd was across the ford, Malekwa sent some of his hunters down from the gorge rim to raise general calumny with whoops and hollers and a few well-placed arrows. Meanwhile, he found a good position to take out one of the animals. He was curious to find out what they tasted like.

Unfortunately, four of the white skins were already across the ford as well, and they fought back fiercely with small fire sticks they could hold in one hand even while their horse was at a full gallop. Two good hunters from among the People were killed. Chief Malekwa pulled his men back to the safety of the hills, and from there he continued to watch the scene below.

Finally seven of the men and most of the cattle were across the river. The leader of the party of whites was a Mr. Paul Morrison. He remained on the near side of the river with only about thirty cows. Morrison yelled, Boys, take what you got and try to make it to town. I'm gonna take this bunch to Fort Shiprock and see if we can get some help with our red skin problem.

So the party of white skins split up. The main herd went up the far river bank. Malekwa did not get to take a shot with his Golden Gift but he saw that a few cattle were straggling behind the main herd with arrows in their flesh. The seven cowboys saw them but wrote them off and remained with the bulk of the herd. Malekwa sent his hunters after the three or four cattle that were falling behind.

At the ford they encountered a train of sixteen wagons, with forty more white skins moving west, and Malekwa marveled that so many people were converging in this place at once. This party, which Chief Malekwa smelled before he saw (even over the funk of the herd of cows) was the die-hards of the Five Corners Free Congregation, fleeing a nearby state after it had entered the Union with a constitution forbidding first cousins from getting married. Chief Malekwa thought it was getting so crowded it wasn't a respectable wilderness anymore.

He could also see Morrison and his little herd getting smaller and smaller as they moved south and west towards Fort Shiprock, which was actually fairly close by.

At Fort Shiprock Captain John Smalley woke up from his midmorning nap and ducked outside to see what was making that infernal racket. And that horrible smell. When Paul Morrison saw him he took off his hat and said, Twenty-eight free range cows for the United States Army Cavalry, sir, compliments of their owner, yours truly, Paul Morrison.

This was indeed the way things were done out here, palms greased with money and goods in return for other favors.

Well, the Cavalry is much obliged, Mr. Morrison, came the reply. I'm Captain John Smalley. And if there's ever a favor we could do for you in return, please don't hesitate to ask.

There is the trifling matter of the red skins up there at the Black River ford. Sneaky bastards ambushed us when we were halfway across.

Captain Smalley took his pipe out in his hand. His handlebar mustache danced as he asked, Northern Raiders?

Morrison shook his head. Wrong markings. I figure these are locals.

The Captain put his pipe back in his mouth. That can't be right. The local Indians are real peaceful.

These Indians didn't look like the kind to give up, Captain. We had to shoot two or three of them. They're probably harassing the rest of my herd right now on the north bank. If you hurry you can catch them before sunset.

Captain Smalley agreed with a sigh, and he gave the appropriate orders to gear up the Fort for action. A bugle call was soon heard.

Shortly thereafter about forty mounted soldiers were seen by the wagon train folk crossing the little tributaries and lime-silt islets of the ford, accompanied by Morrison. They seemed to want something, so Pastor Lange identified himself as the master of the wagon train with a tip of his hat. He said, What can I do you for?

Did you people come down the river? asked Smalley.

Yes sir, we aim to stop here for a spell.

Did you happen to see any Indians?

Yes sir, a short while ago, about the same numbers as your own fine company. Rode across the river here at a goodly pace. They didn't bother us none.

I do appreciate the news, the Captain said. Now he had confirmation of Morrison's complaint, but he still had a hard time believing it was the local natives. He spurred his horse and led the men in pursuit.

They found a small group of the People's hunters rendering a fallen cow down for steaks. Smalley recognized the battle dress of Chief Malekwa and steered a course for his little group. Presently he and his men formed a circle around the Chief and a handful of his hunters. Smalley told another officer, Lieutenant Lambert Wells, to take the rest of the unit toward Amnesty to engage the rest of the Indians, and hand-picked four soldiers to stay behind with him.

As the lieutenant rode off with his thirty-four men, Smalley and Morrison moved closer to Chief Malekwa while the four soldiers supporting the Captain orbited them all at a stately trot.

God damn it Chief, you know better than to start acting like the Northern Raiders.

What are you going to do to him? Morrison asked.

Take him into custody for cattle rustling. The rest of these red fellows here were just following orders. They got families to feed. I'm going to let them go so they can pick themselves a new chief. Will that satisfy you, Mr. Morrison?

It will.

Malekwa followed the gist of what Smalley wanted to do to him, and he decided not to go peacefully. He had the Golden Gift in his hand and he pointed it right at Smalley. The purple shaft leaped out with its hideous sucking sound and sliced the head of Smalley's horse clean off. And then Smalley himself was rendered in two. That black line remained there, drinking in light and air, while five more horses and men ran right into it, including Paul Morrison.

After that Malekwa used the Golden Gift to get rid of the bodies of the men and the horses he had slain, but he knew he had a real problem now. The killing range of the Golden Gift was not much further than a real spear. Against a whole troop of whites armed with firesticks, he would be helpless. They would kill him, and his warriors, and no doubt all of the women and children and old men in the camp of the People as well in retribution for killing the white chief. Then the army of the whites would have the Golden Gift. Malekwa needed to think fast.

The bulk of the cavalry from Fort Shiprock scattered Malekwa's hunters away from the herd in ones and twos. The cows and their cowboys were safe. Chief Malekwa and five of his hunters returned to the river ford, where they found the encampment of Pastor Mark Lange. Now Malekwa had some quick thinking to do.

Even if he gathered all his other hunters together in time, they never were a match for the white soldiers. If he fled up river the soldiers would merely follow him and the slaughter would extend to the women and children. It had happened to other groups of natives before. So Malekwa made a difficult decision and laid the Golden Gift at the feet of Rev. Lange.

Help us, he begged.

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