The Rise of a Warrior
a FrostProof808 publication
Copyright ©2015 Harvey Stanbrough
To provide the reader with more of a sample from the actual story,
most of the traditional front matter appears at the end.
The Rise of a Warrior
Around 10 a.m. on July 26, 1868, a small troop of Texas Rangers rode into a livery yard on the outskirts of Watson, Texas. The town, two days’ ride northeast of Amarillo, served a regional population of small ranches and farms. The livery yard itself was bordered by a corral, a windmill, a barn and a house.
They reined-in amidst a flurry of stamping hooves and whinnying horses. A cloud of finely powdered dust followed them into the yard. It billowed upward, then settled over everything, putting a fresh coat of dust on the sign that hung over the barn door: Billings Livery and Feed – Est. 1832.
As his men began to dismount, Corporal James Riley Connolly glanced around, then rode toward the house.
Beyond the house, a short distance across a field and a road, was the Watson General Store. In the heat of the day, very few people were on the street. A couple of boys were sitting in front of the store, leaning back against the wall in wooden chairs. Sunlight slashed the boardwalk about a foot in front of them.
When the Ranger troop rode in, seventeen year old Otis “Mac” McFadden leaned forward in his chair. He gazed across the street at the commotion in the livery yard, then tapped his friend on the shoulder with his palm. “Wes?” He pushed lightly. “Hey Wes, look. I think those are Texas Rangers.”
A year younger than Mac almost to the day, Western Z Crowley respected his friend as if he were an older brother. Still, he couldn’t resist an inclination toward sarcasm when such a perfect opportunity presented itself. Without so much as opening his eyes, he smirked and said, “Can’t put nothin’ over on you, can they, Mac? I mean, we are in Texas.”
“Well hell, I know that.” He tapped Wes on the shoulder again. “But look. That one broke loose from the others. He’s headed toward ol’ man Billings’ house. Gonna do some palaverin’ I’ll bet.”
Wes rocked his chair forward and straightened his hat on his head. He looked up at Mac. “A’right, what makes you think that?”
Mac gestured with one hand. “Just look. All the others are over close to the corral. Only one rode toward the house. Bet he’s a captain or somethin’.” He turned to his friend, his eyes wide. “Wouldn’t that be somethin’? Bein’ a captain of the Texas Rangers?”
Wes glanced in the direction Mac had pointed and nodded. “I guess, maybe.” Then he tipped his hat down over his eyes and rocked his chair back against the wall again. “Then again, I’m good right here. I have all I can handle just bein’ who I am.”
Mac looked at him and shook his head, then turned his attention back to the scene unfolding across the field.
Seemingly the only other person in town not already barricaded inside against the heat, the widow Clarendon, had just come out of the store.
Mac half-stood, glanced up at her and touched the brim of his hat.
She nodded primly and moved away down the street toward her boarding house. She lived there with her two sons, William and Jackson. They were twins and had recently turned thirteen years old.
The town of Watson didn’t get a lot of visitors except those who were only passing through. Mrs. Clarendon’s place was currently devoid of boarders. Farther along the street beyond the crossroad were a granary, a church and several houses.
On the outskirts was the McFadden family home.
The McFadden family had lived in Watson, Texas since Mac was five years old. Just before he turned six, an old man—an elderly Comanche—had entered the north end of town.
Dressed in moccasins, deerskin breeches and a deerskin vest, the elder was carrying a gourd that, when he shook it, made a sound like a rattlesnake. He paced slowly, evenly, north to south, shaking the rattle with every other step and intoning, in broken but clear English, “This is my homeland. You must leave. This is my homeland. You must leave.”
His vest was decorated with fine beadwork on either breast. Several horizontal rows of small beads alternated between turquoise, coral and mother of pearl. Around his forehead was a single strip of leather, less than an inch wide. Behind his left ear, three feathers dangled from the head band, intertwined with five or six strings of turquoise beads.
As he walked, repeating his intonation, a wagon passed him. The driver slowed and turned to stare, but he didn’t stop. A horseman heading north on the road passed the old man, brushing near him but not touching him. Another passed on the other side.
Townspeople came out of homes and stores one and two at a time to gawk. The old man seemed not to notice the wagon, the horses or the other people. He continued to pace and chant.
Mac was standing in front of the general store, waiting for his father and mother to come out. As he watched the old Indian, his father put one hand on his shoulder. “That is a brave man, Otis. Brave or crazy.”
Mac had looked up at his father. “Who is he, Pappy?”
His father had paused for a moment and squeezed his shoulder. “He is a Comanche brave, son. There was a time all of this land belonged to his people.” He paused again and crouched down next to him so they were eye to eye.
“How would you feel if somebody we didn’t know walked into our house one day and sat down at our table. And when we told him to leave, he just laughed at us and refused? That is how this man feels now that all of us live in his homeland.”
Otis frowned. “Is he right, Pappy?”
His father nodded. “From his perspective, this is part of Comancheria, his homeland, and he is right.” Then he shrugged. “But from our perspective, this is Texas, the place where we live, and we are right. The Comanche were here first, but we are here now. Who is right depends on—”
There was an explosion, and the Comanche elder fell.
Women screamed as they and their men hustled to safety.
The Comanche man’s left leg was bleeding just below the hip. As he struggled to get to his feet, the echo of another explosion slapped off the storefront and red matter blew out of the back of the man’s right leg.
He went down again.
Again, he pushed himself up, the dark skin of his hands and chest and face covered with powder from the dirt street.
A crude voice came from down the street. “Stay down, damn you!”
Finally two men rode up on horseback, ranch hands from their appearance. One dismounted as his horse slid to a stop. He kicked the old brave in the side with his boot. “This is my home now, Injun. Your time is done.” He kicked him again. “Now you say it.”
The old man shook his head as he struggled to rise. “No. This is my homeland. You must—”
The man kicked him again, hard, lifting him and rolling him onto his back.
As the old Comanche gazed up at the sky, he smiled. “It is a good day to die here, in my home.”
The cowboy pulled his Remington and cocked it. “This is the white man’s homeland now, understand? Now you say it.”
The old man smiled and shook his head. Quietly, he said, “This is my homeland. You must leave... boy.”
“Boy?” The cowboy squeezed the trigger and a geyser of dirt erupted next to the Indian’s right ear. “Who has the gun, old man? Who has the cattle and the houses and the land? Say it!”
“You cannot harm me. This is my homeland. You must—”
Again the Remington exploded and the bullet slapped into the old Indian’s face just inside his left eye. He jerked and lay still.
The cowboy turned, glaring at those who were gawking fro
m the boardwalk. He pointed with his revolver, sweeping it past them as if forgetting it was in his hand. Harshly, he said, “Just doin’ what none’a you got the guts to do. You forget all this. Just forget it.”
He put his revolver in his holster, got his lariat from his saddle, then knelt and tied the brave’s feet together. He got on his horse, looped the other end of the lariat around his saddle horn, and spurred his horse. Then he pounded out of town at a gallop, dragging the old brave behind him.
The show over, the various citizens turned and began moving away toward their stores or homes. Nearly all were mumbling to each other and shaking their heads, some with shame for the cowboy, some at the foolishness of the old Comanche.
Little Otis McFadden looked up at his papa. “That man was brave,” he said. Tears were streaming down his cheeks.
Otis cried over the old Indian for two days.
Over the next few years, he realized that old Comanche hadn’t died for land. It was about resolve. Someone else had the land before Comanches had it. Someone else would have it when the white-eyes were vanquished. He never forgot the sight of that brave old Comanche, his resolve and his death, and he never forgot the lesson he learned that day.
Those who lacked the resolve to take what they wanted and defend it should not endeavor to live here in the Comanche homeland. They simply didn’t belong.
The Comanches belonged. The Texas Rangers belonged.
More than anything, Otis wanted to belong, and he wasn’t Comanche.
That left him only one option.
Tired as he was, as Corporal Connolly rode toward the house at the livery, he sat ramrod straight in the saddle. The circle of his badge, cut from a fine Mexican silver coin, glinted dully against his tan shirt. His boots, trousers and vest were brown, and his gunbelt was a latigo tan. Everything was covered with the same layer of dust, including his rig, except where it contacted his horse. There it was bordered with a thin line of red mud.
Beneath his wide-brimmed silver-grey hat were deep-brown eyes, a nose that someone had set off to one side, and a moustache that dropped over the corners of his mouth. He also had a four-day growth of whiskers, as did all his men, to mark the time they’d been chasing the renegade Comanche war chief, Iron Bear.
As he neared the house, he yelled, “Hello inside the house!”
The face and shoulders of a man appeared on the other side of the screen door through the dusty haze. The man hesitated for a moment, then withdrew, then pushed open the screen door and took a tentative step outside. He retained his grip on the screen door.
The Ranger reined-in, then nudged his horse to turn sideways to the porch. He twisted in the saddle and touched the brim of his hat. “Howdy sir. I’m Corporal Connolly with the Texas Rangers.”
Still holding the screen door open, the man glanced at the corporal and nodded, then redirected his attention to the activity near the corral.
Some of the men were dusting themselves off with their hats and wiping their necks with their bandannas.
A few were crouched in front of the watering trough, filling their canteens.
One was standing at the corral, his chest against the fence. His arms were folded on the top rail, his right foot propped up on the bottom one.
The man released the screen door and moved to the edge of the porch, still eyeing the men and horses. His wide-brimmed light-grey hat had seen better days. A permanent sweat stain extended above and below his hat band, which was formed from the skin of a diamondback rattler. It had been a big one, and thirteen buttons lay along the brim of the hat next to the crown on the left side. The brim itself drooped unevenly all the way around as if it had given up. The man was wearing a pair of light brown pants over sweat-stained long johns and scuffed brown work boots. Wide tan suspenders, also streaked with sweat stains, reached up over his shoulders.
As he continued to watch the goings on near the corral, he gestured with his chin. “Those your men out there?” He glanced up at Corporal Connolly and frowned. “They know what private property is, do they?”
The Ranger nodded. “Yes sir, they are, and they do. And are you by any chance Mr. Billings of Billings Livery and Feed?”
“Oh, sorry. Sorry. Ayuh, that’s me.” He wiped his hand on his pants, then proffered it. “Mitchell Billings. You can call me Mitch, young man. Good t’meet you.” He leaned back and hooked his thumbs in his suspenders. “Y’know, I never met a Ranger before. What brings you to Watson?”
The corporal nodded. “Good to meet you too, Mr. Billings.” He gestured toward the corral. “My men and me, we’re almost a week out of Amarillo. We’re on the trail of some renegade Comanch’, but our horses are almost gone. Now we’re plannin’ to catch ‘em by nightfall and put ‘em to rights, but we’ll need to requisition some of your fresh mounts.”
The man nodded. “Ayuh, ayuh. Well, I’m glad you stopped here to ask before you continued on. You might be on a bad trail. Ain’t been no Comanches come through here, or any other Indians either.”
The corporal shook his head. “No sir, you wouldn’t have seen them, and you’re lucky. It’s a bad bunch we’re after. We figure they passed about five miles north of here a couple hours ago, headed almost due east and bearing north. They’re takin’ a more circuitous route. We’re plannin’ to intercept ‘em about twenty miles northeast of here.”
Beneath him, his horse shifted as if it were impatient.
“Now, thing is, Mr. Billings, we’ll be requirin’ those mounts. Maybe only for a couple days, but it could be a little longer. And not to be rude, sir, but we ain’t got a lot of time. What I mean, we need to saddle up and be on our way.”
The man frowned. “Requirin’, eh?” He rubbed one palm over his stubbled cheeks and down over his chin, then nodded. “I see.”
“Yes sir, there’s a fee. I’ll give you a paper an’ you’ll get four bits a day for each horse for the time we have ‘em. Pay comes outta Austin. Takes a couple weeks after we’re done.”
The man looked past him in the direction of the corral again. The other Rangers were already busy selecting and saddling mounts. “An’ what if something happens, one of my horses don’t make it back?”
The corporal nodded. “Governor’ll pay for that too, a fair price. Also he’ll pay you to feed and water ours while we’re gone.” He moved his right hand in a horizontal slash. “That’s the whole deal.”
“All right... I guess. Well, I mean, a‘course I’m glad to help, you men bein’ Rangers an’ all. Anything to get those Comanches to stop raidin’ around, I guess.”
He glanced in the direction of the corral, then back up at the corporal. “‘Course like I say, we ain’t never seen ‘em come through here.” He paused, removed his hat and scratched his head. “Aw, you know what I mean... they ain’t never hit me an’ mine yet, so it’s a little hard for me to—”
“Yes sir, I understand.” Corporal Connolly dismounted. His reins loose in his left hand, he said, “You ever seen a place after the Comanches hit it, Mr. Billings?”
The man put his hat back on. “Well, no, I can’t rightly say I have, but—”
“‘Scuse me, sir.” Ranger Courtney Lee Edwards, the man who had been looking over the horses in the corral, walked up. He looked at Corporal Connolly. “Sorry to interrupt, Jim, but we’re just about ready. Want me to cut one out for you?”
Courtney Edwards had been friends with Jim Connolly since they’d fought together during the war. When that ended, Jim had joined the Texas Rangers. Edwards had chosen to try ranching and dry farming in the panhandle of Texas.
That had been tw
elve years ago.
Usually Court took the wagon into Uaka by himself for supplies every other week. But on a particularly clear, crisp spring day, the whole family had turned a necessary trip for supplies into a day out. They would get the supplies, and then stop for a picnic in a grove of cottonwoods near a narrow river on their way home. It was his wife’s favorite spot.
Court was inside, chatting with the owner of the store while the latter gathered Court’s supplies, when someone yelled, “Comanches!”
Gunfire started almost immediately.
Court ran out of the store, his Remington revolver in his hand. The wagon was gone and the men on the street were firing in one direction. Court turned, cocked his Remington and fired. One of the fleeing Comanches slumped over his horse’s neck. A second round from someone else dropped him. Court cocked and fired again and another Comanche fell off his horse.
Men were still firing down the street but the Indians were too distant for accuracy with a revolver. Court turned and looked for his wagon. It was about ten yards down the street in the opposite direction. The horses must have pulled it there against the brake.
Then he saw a bit of Mary’s dress and remembered she and Buck were with him this time. The electric sensation of fear rippled over him as he raced toward his wagon. He yelled, “Mary? Mary?”
She was there, but slumped to the left, lying face-down across the seat of the wagon. She wasn’t moving even in response to him calling her name. He recognized death when he saw it. The war had taught him that much. Still, he didn’t want to accept it. Not in this case.
More quietly he said, “Mary?” And where was Buck?
He tried to look past her but the angle was all wrong. Finally he put his trembling hand on her shoulder and pulled her onto her left side. For an instant he thought she was heavier than usual.
Then he saw why. The shaft of an arrow had pinned her left arm to her son, and her son to her chest. They were both dead.
For a long moment, he stared.
How could this happen? He was gone for less than a minute and it had been a beautiful day. If only she had stayed home as usual. If only she had come into the store with him.
Then he remembered, and he shook his head. When she’d mentioned at the house that she wanted to get some fabric, he had told her they should wait a month or so until their small crop sold. With no reason to come into the store, she’d opted to wait in the wagon in the fresh morning air.