Muleskinner Blues
Chapter 11

Copyright© 2022 by Joe J

Posted: July 17, 2011 - 03:53:47 pm

The first group of braves had traveled about a hundred yards when the second group flew off the hill behind them. I knew enough about the Indian’s ways by now to know that they were not heading towards us to engage in polite conversation. I leapt off the wagon seat down in between my mules and yanked the lynch pin that held the double tree to the wagon’s tongue, then ducked under the wheel mule and grabbed my Spenser. I kept my voice calm as I addressed Sonja.

“Get everyone over here under this wagon; we have big trouble brewing,” I said.

Sonja did not hesitate for a second as she athletically hopped off the wagon and sprinted back to round up her companions. I ran to the front of my team, grabbed Zeke’s halter and started him moving.

“Go on Zeke, get out of the way,” I hollered.

Zeke followed the direction of my pull and the rest of the team followed him as he ambled in an arc toward the last wagon. All of this activity took longer to tell about than to accomplish. The Indians had only closed half the distance towards us by the time my clients were under my wagon and my mules were out of harms way. I was grimly aware that this was the worst situation I had ever been in as I grabbed my saddle bag, shotgun and Enfield and slid under the wagon with my wide-eyed clients. I controlled my fear and took a prone position behind one of the wagon wheels.

“What do they want Jeremiah?” Sonja asked, her voice amazingly calm. “Maybe if you gave it to them they’d go away.”

I had to laugh at that, in spite of our precarious situation. I told her what I had figured out as soon as I saw the glint of sunlight reflecting off a spyglass the leader of the braves was using right before he sent the first wave forward.

“I guess I could do that, Sonja, except that you are what they want. You, Helena and Coleen are the only things of value to them that I have with me.”

Sonja gave me a startled look as the implication of what I said sunk in. Yet she still kept her composure.

“Oh,” she gasped, “so what do we do now?”

I told her to keep low and behind the wagon wheels as much as possible, and hope that I could make the proposition too costly for the Indians.

“And prayer would not hurt,” I added.

She nodded and pulled out her odd little pistol. I had forgotten all about them. I asked her there range and was disappointed to hear that it was only effective out to twenty-five to thirty feet. I shrugged and drew a bead on one of the braves advancing towards us. They were within a couple of hundred yards now and riding low over the necks of their ponies. I did not let that deter me though, and shot the horse out from under the first rider. I figure that if an Indian survived the fall, he would still be easier to deal with on foot.

I worked the lever to load another round in the Spencer and cocked the hammer again. Another shot and another horse fell, I managed to hit one rider and five horses before the seven shot Spencer was empty. I tossed the now useless rifle aside and pulled my revolver. I tried to remain calm as I lay there, even as the second line of horses and three Indians on foot swarmed toward me. I cocked the Colt and fired it rhythmically. My objective was to kill as many of the braves as I could before they overwhelmed us. I made a good accounting of the five rounds that were in my pistol, and had actually managed to eliminate the first group of braves just as the second wave galloped up.

The second wave of Indians were hanging off the far side of their mounts as they thundered by, it was an amazing feat of horsemanship that they were able to loose a volley of arrows and two rifle shots at us as they passed. I can attest that the volley was aimed because one of the arrows sunk into my left forearm and one of the bullets ricocheted off the iron wheel rim next to my head and cut a groove above my right ear. The arrow in my arm made me drop the spare cylinder I was desperately trying to install in my Colt, and the bullet that grazed me had my head buzzing, but I still managed to pick up my coach gun one-handed and thumb back one hammer. I figured that I would take one more of the Indians to hell with me, when suddenly the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stood on end, and the Indians riding by tumbled from their mounts as if they were rag dolls cast aside by bored children. Amazingly, the horses the braves were riding kept on running, unaffected by the weird little weapons my clients wielded.

I was whispering a silent prayer for our miraculous delivery, when a keening wail caused me to jerk my head around. The sudden movement made me woozy, but my lethargy cleared instantly when I saw a sobbing Coleen crawling towards Jonathan, the shaft and fetch of an arrow protruding obscenely from his right eye socket. My feeling of euphoria for the miracle of our survival was short lived as Coleen somberly pronounced Jonathan dead.

It turns out that Coleen was the little party’s doctor. She was a fine one too, with a satchel full of marvelous equipment and potions that had me fixed up and feeling as if I were slightly inebriated in only a few minutes. She pricked me with a pin that had a glass vial attached to it, cut the arrowhead out of my arm with a small blade and sewed me up with stitches that were as perfect as the ones that ma’s new Singer sewing machine made. Coleen even patched up three of the five Indians who were still alive. She expertly set two broken arms and removed one of my bullets from the shoulder of another. I put the two uninjured men to work digging graves for their brothers. The three women took Jonathan’s body and held a private burial for him. I offered to make a marker for his grave but they were firm about leaving it unmarked.

“There is no need to draw attention to the fact that he was here,” Sonja said. “Instead, we’ll hold a memorial for him when we return home.”

We tied our Indian prisoners to the wheels of the wagons and took turns standing guard over them throughout the night. The women insisted on feeding them and treating them humanely, even after the savage attack. The women were sad and subdued, but adamant about continuing the trip up to Evil Spirit Mountain. They did not put up their fancy tent for the night. Instead, we all slept around the fire. Two of us were awake at all times. Helena was my watch partner and the two of us talked quite a bit as we tended the fire and kept an eye on our prisoners. Helena was very distraught over Jonathan’s death. She told me that he was the first person she’d ever seen die from violence.

I ended up holding Helena most of the night as she cried on my shoulder. I did some thinking while Helena leaned against me, her body occasionally wracked with sobs. I thought how strange it was that a woman her age had never been exposed to death. Then I started thinking about myself. Had I become callus towards visits by the Grim Reaper? Not yet, I finally decided, and never if I could help it. I was determined to keep my humanity and not truckle to the devil. Once I decided that, lord help me if my thoughts did not turn unbidden to the woman I held cradled in my good arm. Despite all that had happened on this miserable day, I was sitting next to one heck of a desirable woman.

Helena drew away when I shifted around, and looked at me in concern. Her brown eyes looked absolutely huge in the flickering firelight. “Am I hurting your arm, Jeremiah?” she asked.

I mumbled a negative reply as I blushed a scarlet brighter than our campfire. I guess that would have been the end of it if Helena had not looked down at my left hand where it rested on my other thigh. Between her hand and mine, rose a teepee that would have done a Shoshone Chief proud. Helena’s eyebrows arched up, her mouth dropped opened in surprise and she let out a small “eek”. I moved both my hands over my shame and tried to apologize. She shushed me with a finger over my lips,

“It’s okay, Jeremiah. I was just surprised because it is the first spontaneous erection I’ve ever seen. I completely forgot that was still possible here. Actually, I am most flattered.”

I was too mortified to let her know I had no idea what she was babbling about.

The following morning, we set the Indians free as soon as we broke camp. I felt no remorse for leaving the Indians without horses or weapons, as I knew they would find a way to survive. I was hoping that my strange California clients and I could do the same. The women were somber and subdued, but they were determined to continue with whatever it was they had planned up on Evil Spirit. I had serious doubts about the whole enterprise by now, but Georgia Jeb did not quit a job he hired on to do. So I kept my doubts to myself as I clucked old Zeke into action.

Coleen had insisted on riding with me when we moved out so she could keep an eye on my wounds. I told her I was as fit as a fiddle, thanks to her doctoring, but she would brook no argument from me. As we plodded along, I thought about my conversation with Helena the evening before. I figured Coleen could give me some unvarnished information about it, her being a doctor and all.

“Uh, Miss Coleen, I hate to be indelicate, but I have some questions about your men and women folks...”

As I blushed furiously, Coleen gave a bubbly laugh and told me that Helena had made her and Sonja privy to our conversation.

“I think that’s a conversation best saved for a later date,” she said with a most girlish giggle.

We arrived at the base of Evil Spirit Mountain at two in the afternoon. We set up camp and I tended my mules, while the women prepared for the next day. I watched with interest as they pulled the shiny trunks from the wagon and started checking their equipment. Most of the items I caught sight of appeared to be gussied up standard prospector’s equipment. I recognized shovels, pick axes and rock hammers, even though the items were made of some dull looking metal and had folding handles. One item I did not recognize was another of those small shiny metal boxes that Helena dug out of one of the trunks. The box had a couple of gauges on it, not unlike the pressure gauges on the boiler of Captain Pritchett’s riverboat. Helena pressed a lever on the box and it began emitting a sound that reminded me of a chicken clucking. She swung the box around to point it at the mountain and the clucking grew louder and faster.

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