Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Chapter VI: Sheriff Charley Brown

The next morning Charley was busy saddling his horse when Shawn Kirpatrick's troops clattered up the street to Mason's Livery.

Shawn looked disgusted as he dismounted. "See my army? I was to get two squads; instead I was lucky to find twelve horses fit to ride. Not hard to find men though, everyone wanted to get in on the excitement of chasing Indians."

A quick glance told Charley that Shawn had only eleven mounted men in addition to himself. Behind the men an army ambulance was just drawing to a stop. On the seat Charley recognized the commissary sergeant of Company I, and Doctor Flint's medical assistant from the fort.

"If they've all got rifles it should be enough firepower." Charley was smiling as he tugged the girth strap snug.

"We've got the same old Springfield 45-70's, and sixty rounds of ammo per man." Shawn looked at Charley critically, "Thought you'd be taking a buckboard along instead of your horse."

"Seeing as how you are all riding astride on those McClellan saddles, I didn't want to create hard feelings. I see you've brought an ambulance with all the necessities of life, including a cook. As long as you've got Sergeant Langlar along, we'll eat well. The army can feed me too!"

"If you can stand our rations!" Shawn laughed.

"If worst comes to worst, we'll pick off some geese, maybe even a deer." Charley suggested.

"What do you want me to do? How do we go about this maneuver."

"You and I can lead off, but when we get out to Indian country we'll have to play it smart. No need to post flankers until we get near them. If they see your men, they'll scatter. We'll have to force them into a meeting with us."

"We'll work something out." Shawn answered. "You know Sergeant Hoffman, I suppose."

Charley grinned at the career sergeant. "Sure! Pete, aren't you ashamed of yourself, chasing Indians at your age! Thought you got it out of your system when we were after Apaches a few years back."

The grim-faced Hoffman smiled wryly, "Just following orders Charley, doing same's I did for you back then."

According to Charley's reckoning they made only about 45 miles that day. It had been cold in the morning but overly warm by midday. As Charley thought, Hot enough to broil brains at noon, and cold enough for frostbite when the sun goes down tonight! The ambulance had been a hindrance, forcing them to a slower pace than Charley had hoped.

That evening it became apparent that some of the men suffered thigh chafing and blistering. Bitching among the men indicated the problem was that they were infantrymen, unaccustomed to the hard leathered McClellan saddles. One man grinned at Charley wryly, "My butt feels like the saddle is eating it alive, but it doesn't seem to bother my horse."

"See the aid man for some grease," Charley advised.

In addition to his cooking abilities, Sergeant Langlar had thoughtfully brought along extra blankets in the ambulance. He admonished the men, "I want them back each morning before breakfast, shook out clean, and folded."

Rolled in their blankets after dark, Charley queried Shawn. "How come you didn't use the mules at the fort? Aren't most of them broke to ride?"

Shawn brooded over a last smoke. "Sure, but the captain is going to unload them on the unwary public. He got his orders from the Inspector General. The general said we're infantry and don't need all those animals. Personally, I think it's because he doesn't like mules."

Charley speculated, "They're twice as smart as a horse, but some are mighty razor-backed. Some are cussedly mean too, kick like hell! Guess it's due to the way they were broke in. By golly, when we get back I've a mind to look them over -- might buy a matched team.

"It'll take two more days to get out there at the speed we're traveling. We'll stop short of Jed Pitman's place on Wednesday. You and I can check with him and scout out the Indians around St. Paul Butte. They must have a camp, or are staying near some settler's cabin. More than likely we'll have to get behind them in a squeeze play to force a confrontation. Wherever they're located, I hope they'll have the team and wagon hid nearby."

Long before daylight Shawn had his men up and fed. At first light they struck out on their second day of travel. An old cavalry tactic was frequently used, the men occasionally dismounting, walking their horses to avoid stiffness and to ease the strain on their mounts.

This prairie country was rolling, turning to large pothole areas with thousands of geese resting on their migration flight south. Other large flocks moved about, circling, looking for food -- deep honking persisting the entire day.

It was early on Wednesday afternoon when Charley announced, "Jed lives just over that hill. Best we camp in a low spot; we don't want to be seen."

Their camp was made in a wooded draw near a creek. The side hill on each side of the ravine had good stands of grass, albeit of mighty poor quality for the horses, to Charley's thinking.

Kirkpatrick called the men together. "We're only a few miles from the Indians. No fires until after dark and then only in deep dug holes in the ground. I don't want any flames or smoke spotted. Also, I want absolute quiet, no roaming away from the camp."

Charley approached Shawn. "Let's you and I ride over to Pitman's. Maybe he's had some contact with the Indians since last week. He might have some idea of where they're located." He began walking toward his horse.

Shawn called, "Sergeant Santly! Take over! I'm going with the sheriff. I'll be back at dark. Post a guard and graze the horses nearby until near dusk. Then bring them in close, hobbled and tied, under separate guard. Sergeant Hoffman, I want you to come along with us."

The three took a roundabout route to Pitman's to avoid being sky lined. Approaching Pitman's cabin Jed was seen sawing wood with a bucksaw. Charley noted the rifle leaning against the woodpile. He approved. Old Jed is being cautious.

"Hey Jed!" He shouted to give advance warning.

They saw the old trapper hastily drop the saw and reach for his rifle. Shading his eyes as he turned toward them, he looked long moments. Finally recognizing Charley, he waved them in.

"Back again! See you've got some army with you."

"Yup, and more hidden back a half-mile or so. Jed, this is Lieutenant Shawn Kirkpatrick, a genuine Irisher. And this is his platoon sergeant, Hoffman."

"Was an Irishman," said Shawn smiling, "I'm a Yankee now."

Jed craned his neck to look up at the tall Shawn, and then thrust out his hand. "Welcome to the hills. Does Rosie still run that cathouse in Pembina?"

Charley burst out laughing at Shawn's embarrassment.

Shawn looked puzzled, wondering if his leg was being pulled. Still grinning, Charley explained. "Jed asked me that question too, but I didn't answer him. He's just a horny old woodsman and trapper, knows Rosie from the old days."

"Damn right I knowed her!" Jed was grinning. "She was a wild one when she was young. 'Course I was too . . . at the time. Not much use anymore, but I still remember the good times. I was always broke, but I never starved."

Charley was anxious to get down to business. "Jed, where are those Indians bedded down? I don't want them scattering. If that happens we'll never recover the goods."

"Don't know for sure, but probably at Campbell's place. It's about 5 miles to the northwest. He's a crotchety old Scotsman, a Hudson Bay man, probably still trades with them. He's none too friendly, should have had his arse kicked back across the border long ago."

"Can we get close enough to see his cabin?"

"Sure, it's in a sheltered draw -- hills on both sides. I'll take you out there. Just give me time to saddle up." He questioned, "Ain't going to do nothing tonight are you?"

"No, I just want to make our plans for the morrow."

As Jed saddled his pony, Charley subtly made suggestions to Shawn and the sergeant, being careful not to let Shawn get the impression he was usurping his authority. Although he knew Shawn had little experience dealing with local Indians, he wanted Shawn to have the prestige of making the final decisions.

"Shawn, we should look for a way to get behind them. We can move your men out before daylight and get them in place if it's agreeable with you, Hoffman can take some men around to the northwest. The rest of us can come in from the opposite side. They may have dogs with them, but the wind is out of the northwest now. They shouldn't be a problem tonight if we stay downwind. There usually isn't any wind in the early morning, so if Hoffman makes a wide swing, the dogs won't catch scent of his men until it's too late.”

"Sounds good to me, Charley. But I'm not taking any chances on losing men. If the Indians want a fight, we'll give it to them." He studied Charley's face. "Don't feel guilty about giving me advice -- I'm new at this!"

The sun was beginning to set when they tied their horses well back from Campbell's cabin and proceeded on foot. Creeping cautiously on hands and knees along a side hill covered with long prairie grass they peered down at the cabin below. They counted twenty-four horses in the corral and two tethered near three tepees located north of the cabin.

"Scruffy looking ponies, aren't they?" Hoffman said.

Jed turned to look at him. "Son, they may not look like much, but they'll eat anything. The Indians don't put up hay for the winter. When the snow flies those scruffy looking critters are turned loose to eat brush and tree bark. They survive too!"

A well-worn trail meandered north from the cabin, bending around a hill. Jed offered softly, "They won't fight. They've got women and kids with them, even some dogs. They ain't breeds either, them look to be all full-blood Sioux. That trail behind the cabin's the one that leads to Canada. The border is just a few hundred yards north."

Shawn spoke up, "Hoffman, you skirt that hill in the early morning and block that trail north. I'll give you four men. The rest of us can come in from this side." He turned to Charley, "I don't see the wagon."

"Must have it stashed in the woods somewhere," Jed said. "When we get them penned, they'll dig it up if they have it.”

Dropping Jed off at his cabin they returned to the troop bivouac area. As it was nearly dark, Shawn shouted, "Don't shoot boys, we're coming in!"

By 7:00 the following morning Hoffman's men were judged to be in place. In the growing light Charley and Shawn, with the remaining troops, approached the Indian camp. Shawn had his men formed into a wide skirmish line. Instant pandemonium broke out among the Indians when the soldiers were seen, the braves making a rush to Campbell's corral for their mounts. At that moment Hoffman and his four men came into view from behind the hill. They were on foot and spread out to block the trail north. The Indians froze in place, realizing they were trapped. Their women and children disappeared within seconds, darting into the tepees; the warriors grouped together with looks of frustration on their faces. Although they outnumbered their attackers nearly two to one, they realized the futility of fighting the soldiers.

Approaching the Indians, Shawn demanded loudly, "Who is chief here?"

Charley said grimly, "I think it's that brave man hiding behind the others over by the corral." He shouted, "Hey you!" He beckoned with his hand, "Come over here!"

Both he and Shawn detected the dour looks cast at the Indian leader by his companions. It was apparent he had lost their respect.

Charley nudged his horse near the man. "Maybe I should take all your horses now. You were so strong before. I want that team and wagon, and I want it now!"

The chief, in an attempt to regain his pride, sneered, "Maybe we fight you."

Charley laughed, "And when you all die, what will happen to your women and children?"

Shawn closed with Charley, addressing the Indian. "If you don't give us the team and wagon with all the goods immediately, I will take you all to jail. If you bring me the team, wagon and goods I will let you all go, but you must never come across from the Grandmother's land again. Where is this trader called Campbell?"

The Indian hesitated, then pointed to the north.

"Tell him not to come back. He won't have a cabin when he returns. I'm going to destroy it."

Charley was tickled, realizing that Shawn knew what he was doing. This lieutenant was no namby-pamby! Charley knew he would have made the same decision himself, but he also knew he lacked that authority.

A heated conversation took place among the Indians. Two youths, hardly more than boys, mounted the pair of horses tied near the tepees. One spoke to Shawn brokenly, "We get wagon." They rode up the trail to the north, slowing cautiously while passing between Hoffman's men who watched them with caution. The women and children began emerging from the tepees, evidently not fearing the soldiers any longer. A brave spoke to them and they began taking down the tepees, and arranging travois for the move. A long hour later the two young bucks were back with the wagon, one was driving the team, the other leading his companion's horse.

Charley dismounted to briefly check the wagon. It was obvious the goods had been examined, bundles of blankets were in disarray. He had no way to determine what had been pilfered; he had forgotten to bring the manifest. But from the quantity of goods remaining, he suspected that a few of the blankets were missing.

"Guess most of it's here, Shawn. We'd better stick around long enough to see these bow-and-arrows get back to Canada."

Shawn nodded, then pointed north, ordering loudly, "Go back to the Grandmother's land. Don't come back. If you do, you'll go to prison. The people living in these hills don't want you coming here; you stay away, or go to jail.

He turned to Hoffman. "Sergeant, take your detail and escort them back across the border into Canada. Mr. Pitman says it's only a short distance. Santly, you touch a match to the cabin and its contents. The rest of you men tear down that pole corral and everything of value. Toss it all on the fire. I want everything destroyed, nothing left.

He turned to Charley. "Probably that Campbell is the man responsible for this trouble. He's been squatting here illegally. The English traders go too far. They've sold guns to nearly every Indian in Canada, and to many on this side of the line too!"

While Hoffman escorted the Indians to the border, Santly sent three men to retrieve horses previously used by Hoffman. By the time his men returned with the animals the cabin was well ablaze. Approaching Lieutenant Kirpatrick, Santly said, "Sir, that cabin was filled with trade goods, it was like a store. He wiped his forehead grimly, "Jeeze, I hated to burn all that good stuff, 'specially the spirits!"

Kirkpatrick was unmoved, but chuckled, "Yes, but he's out of business now, and out of our hair. He won't come back!"

When Hoffman and his men returned, the entire group moved back to Pitman's yard. Shawn sent Santly back to bring his ambulance to Jed's yard, saying, "We're going to eat before leaving. We should be back at the fort by Saturday night if we push hard."

Charley went to his horse and opened his saddlebags. Unrolling a burlap bag, he lifted out two quart bottles. Handing one to Shawn and the other to Hoffman, he smiled, "Forgive me if I break regulations. Two quarts among sixteen men won't go very far, but we've earned a reward. We got off easy, not a man scratched. Think of what happened to that damned fool, Custer!"

Shawn grinned and pulled the cork on a bottle. Looking around at his men, he said, "I won't mention this in my report, so don't you men spill the beans."