In mid-1860 the Wyoming wilderness met an onslaught of incoming settlers seeking to exploit and tame a land long since inhabited by others. The cry of found gold had beckoned many. Others simply came to start anew. They were met by a wild land of bitter winters and wide open spaces where mountains themselves seem to be swallowed up in the vastness. If the elements weren’t enough, the clash of cultures soon became the hallmark of this land.
A newcomer to the scene, in the crook of two rolling hills, sparsely scattered with trees, Zack Daniels, just passing 30, recently trekked to this wildness to create a new home for himself and his newly wed wife. Thick with muscle, standing 6 foot, four, even he was dwarfed by the vast openness of this new land. Winter had receded, yet there was still a chill in the air. His army boots crunched on the still crisp grass having not yet thawed from the pre-sunrise glow. Risen from slumber, to stoke the fire set just in front of his makeshift lean-to, he instinctively, checked over his wagon and roan, Annabel, he let graze unfettered. She was a trusted friend and would no more wander off to leave him then his bride at the alter.
Emma, lay still in the blankets, her auburn hair splayed out from the covers, face hidden. The hand sewn patchwork blankets of dark colors were one of her contributions to their nest.
Zack stirred the fire, brining it to life with a shower of sparks rising in the low light of early dawn. Smoke scattered as he blew air into the embers, pouring out heavily from the tree limbs he had just laid upon them. His woodpile and axe still embedded in the last log of yesterday’s toil lay nearby. He embraced the smoldering pine, a cherished reminder from his eastern homeland. He smoothed out his amber beard after blowing, to ensure an ember didn’t lodge there. He had considered cutting it back at the behest of Emma, however, he felt there was something of a sign of dignity with a full beard and he liked that. Somehow, it separated him from his past.
Zack glanced back at the lean-to. He had hastily taken whatever fallen logs he could find and braced them against a boulder outcrop at the base of the foothill and made walls and roof with cut branches and an old blanket. It would do for now. Having already located the perfect foundation area for the cabin he planned to build, it beckoned “home” to him. Nestled where these two hills flowed together. A small creek from the Powder river, a short walk away, would supply them with the necessary life force, fishing and a draw for mule deer, fox, turkeys and other wildlife.
Emma stirred. The fire had grown warm and bold, he left it to nestle back under the covers with her. She nuzzled against him. There was so much to do but, he couldn’t resist the attraction. He stroked her silky hair which glowed in the fire’s reflection. The air was crisp and cool and lined his nostrils with a freshness of open space he embraced wholeheartedly. There was no army threat here. No turmoil caused by the greed of men wanting more than their god-given share and driven by a sense of dominance he wanted no part of. The war was cruel, but here there was only softness. He lay his hand gently on her spine and pulled her close to him. She embraced him and smelled the fire’s smoke on his chest. She felt warm and kind on his body. The fire glowed, respectfully excited.
Suddenly, she pushed away and looked stone cold at him, green eyes wide and alert, “Horses”, she said. Zack snapped to and felt the ground with his hand, he leaped to his feet, “Stay covered.” He tossed the blanket over her head and moved into the open to identify the threat. In the distance, horses were picking up speed trotting toward him. The dawn sky was betraying his raiders. Sioux warriors.
The lead horseman was heading strait toward Zack. Zack, barehanded, took limited coverage behind the waist high wood pile, adrenaline surging. His ax was close by.
Emma- he had to keep attention on himself. The rider’s eyes fixed intent upon his target and fired his Spencer carbine at Zack. The .52 caliber shot just missed him but split a chunk from a log, striking Zack with debris.
The warrior was almost upon him. Zack clutched at the woodpile and thrust forward. A three foot chunk of split wood collided firmly in the riders chest, hurling him at his assault speed sideways off his horse, crashing to the dirt.
Two riders flanked the eastern man. He grabbed a six foot span of log and batted the right flank man who flew to the earth. Sudden pain. His left leg searing. The left flank rider, bow in hand, passed Zack for a second turn. Zack spun, his left leg fixed, and swinging the log, clobbered the man in the head, bark splitting off as it collided.
He readied for the next assault, grabbing his axe from the wood pile with his right arm and holding the log in his left. He stared enraged at the warrior in the rear. A great Indian, over 6 feet himself, sitting high on his steed. There were a dozen more warriors on each side of him.
Blood pumped from Zack’s leg.
The great Indian stared back. Zack waited, fury paused, expecting desperate battle against insurmountable odds. His cover was sparse. Perhaps he could take cover behind a nearby boulder and draw them in one by one. May they believe he was alone? He had to try.
Just then, from out of the crook of the hills, passing in front of Zack and darting across the path of the warriors, a mule deer appeared, paused between them, looked at the Indians, then ran past. Before the men could charge, the Great Warrior raised his arm and called out. They halted jerking their horses back. He pointed at the deer, and said a few more words, of which Zack could not understand.
The men on the ground were stirring. Zack steadied his axe. Strangely, they did not continue their attack. Hearing the Great Warrior, they held up their hands and backed away as they righted themselves. Zack knew retreat. Although baffled by it, he welcomed it.
The warriors kept their distance from Zack and helped the man with bleeding head to his steed. They stiffly mounted and rode back to the clan.
The Great Warrior broke his visual with Zack and turned his horse hard and rode off, followed by a dusty cloud of warriors behind him.
Zack dropped the log. Attention flared to his leg. An arrow shaft protruded from it, blood soaking his trousers. He checked again the horizon and verified the men were indeed gone. He dropped his axe and gripped his leg.