Frontier Men

an excerpt

Wyoming Territory, 1820

Red Hawk:

Red Hawk, sitting astride his horse White Star, shaded his eyes as he gazed down into the valley below him. There they were-the people he had traveled many miles to return to after so many years away. He surveyed the scattered lodges of the Shoshone, the children that scampered among them, the women who labored at some distance from the village gathering wood for the cooking fires, and the few men, mostly old, who sat in groups talking and smoking.

He knew he had come at a good time. The summer brought a season of stability to the Shoshone people. They would remain here in this valley until the leaves on the trees turned red and brown-then it would be time for them to move on to their winter home, in the shelter of the big mountains. Red Hawk gently kicked White Star's flanks, urging him down the hillside toward the Shoshone village. This was a big moment in his life; his heart and mind were filled with anticipation mixed with apprehension. How would his people receive him after all these years? Would there be any among them who remembered him? Would any of the young men remember playing childhood games with him, swimming, wrestling and dreaming one day of being a warrior? Would he remember any of them?

Only the old men raised their heads to look at him as he rode into the village, the children too intent in their games, the women too far off to notice him. He swung himself down from his horse and walked slowly over to where the old men sat, their faces showing neither welcome nor animosity as he approached. He raised his hand in greeting.

"I am Red Hawk, son of Moon Shadow and Louis Blanchard, the French trapper. Do you remember my parents?"

One of the old men shrugged as he squinted up at the tall, slender young man with raven black hair that fell about his shoulders. "What do you want with us?"

"I have come back to be with my people. Will I be welcome here?"

Another shrug, then some whispered conversation. The old one looked up again, his sharp eyes meeting the dark green gaze of the young stranger."Our chief, Many Horses, is away hunting. When he returns, he will decide if you are welcome or not. Come back tomorrow."

Red Hawk nodded, knowing it was useless to talk further. He would not be welcome in this village until their chief made it so. With an agile move he sprang upon White Star's back and trotted swiftly away. He would rest by the riverbank until the morning, and wait for Many Horses to return with his hunting party.

The journey he had made to find his people had been long and filled with danger. An Indian traveling alone was viewed with suspicion by just about everyone he had encountered on the way. Few had offered him food or shelter; their fear and dislike of the young copper-skinned stranger evident in their demeanor, especially when their women and children were present. Red Hawk could have told them they had nothing to fear from him, that he had been raised by white people in Boston, but he had guessed they would not have believed him even if they had listened. So he had avoided the white settlements as much as possible, preferring to hunt or fish for his food, using remembered skills from his childhood that he had honed and improved as he traveled.

Red Hawk had been born among these people, had lived with them until he was ten years old, learning the ways of the Shoshone, happy and content until his father had decided the boy needed to see what else life had in store. Louis Blanchard had no intentions of raising his son himself, but persuaded his sister and her husband to take him in, leaving a large sum of money for his keep. For a time, Red Hawk had endured being called by the name his father had given him- Jacques. He went to school, learned how to speak English, to follow the customs and manners of the white man, but all the while his heart yearned for the ways of his true family, the Shoshone. And so, when he deemed the time was right, before the ways and customs of the Shoshone were completely gone from his mind, he decided to leave Boston in search of his people.

He reflected at times with a wry twist to his lips that his decision had been met with little argument from his guardians. They had despaired of their young charge ever conforming to the ways of the more civilized world they inhabited. In their eyes, 'Jacques' would always be an outcast-a half-breed who could not accept the conservative life they led, who constantly yearned for the ways of a savage people they could not begin to understand.

On the day he left, his aunt had given him God's blessing, but little else. The fact that she did not add an entreaty that he return one day should he not find his people, determined Red Hawk that his days living with the 'whites' was over, forever.

When he awoke the following morning from his place by the river, he was able to see the daily life of the Shoshone as it unfolded before him. He hadn't expected a warm welcome. He knew he would be regarded with some suspicion. A half-breed, schooled in the ways of the white man was not someone to fill the hearts of Shoshone with affection. He would have to prove himself to their chief, Many Horses. If allowed to stay, Red Hawk's wooing of the people would also have to be successful if he was going to live among them.

Many Horses...the name sounded familiar. Had they been friends?

While he knelt on the river bank to splash his face and chest with the cool water, some of the children watched him from the other side of the river. He smiled and waved at them. A child's curiosity knew no bounds, he thought. Regardless of the danger he might present to them, they would no doubt disregard their mothers' warnings and come closer to stare at the stranger who had camped near their village. It seemed to Red Hawk that one or two had almost decided to jump into the river and swim across, when a shout went up from somewhere among the cluster of wigwams that comprised the Shoshone village.

"Our chief returns. Many Horses brings us bounty from the hunt!" A chant of welcome reverberated in the air as the women welcomed their chief and his hunting party home. Red Hawk stood, craning his neck to catch sight of the chief. There was no mistaking him. Tall and powerfully built, Many Horses rode his mount with self assurance and the proud knowledge that the welcome from his people was sincere and heartfelt. Red Hawk watched with a sense of longing mixed with apprehension. It had now become more important than ever that he be accepted here by the chief of the Shoshone. This one man held Red Hawk's destiny in his hands.

The children, their interest in Red Hawk now eclipsed by the arrival of their chief, ran up the riverbank towards the village, waving their arms in greeting and shrilling at the tops of their voices. Red Hawk smiled, gathered his horse's reins and led it across the river, hoping that the chief of the Shoshone would be in a benevolent mood after his rousing welcome. Red Hawk's arrival in the village went almost unnoticed, due to the commotion surrounding the hunting party and Many Horses.

It was the chief's dark, observant eyes that espied the stranger in his village. He turned to one of the older men at his side and said something in the man's ear. The old man nodded and beckoned Red Hawk forward.

"Our chief, Many Horses, asks who you are, and what is your business here?" the old man said in an over loud, almost accusatory tone.

He couldn't ask me that himself? Red Hawk bit back the retort that had almost sprung to his lips. It wouldn't do to intimidate the chief this early on in their encounter, so he nodded and smiled at Many Horses. "My name is Red Hawk. I was born a Shoshone twenty-two summers ago to Moon Shadow and the French trapper Louis Blanchard. When I was ten, my father took me to live with the whites in Boston, but my heart has always been with my people, the Shoshones. I ask Many Horses if I may now return and live among my people again."

Many Horses was a handsome man, tall, wide shouldered with a slender, hard torso. He eyed Red Hawk up and down for a moment or two without speaking, taking in the young man's earnest expression and polite manners.

"I remember you." Many Horses finally spoke, his voice low and husky. "You say you are still Shoshone, but you have lived with the whites for many years. The life of the white man is soft and easy. Not so the life of the Shoshone. Here you would have to hunt for your food, build your own wigwam, be prepared to fight our enemies-sometimes the whites. Will you be able to set aside the life you have become accustomed to, and take on the hardships of this new life?"

"It is what I have dreamed of ever since my father took me from the Shoshones," Red Hawk replied, meeting Many Horses' dark eyes. "To hunt and fight with my people again would bring me great joy."

"Hungh," Many Horses grunted. "We will talk more of this while the women prepare the welcome feast. Come with me." The chief strode off, Red Hawk at his heels, leading his horse through the village to where Many Horse's wigwam was located. The people, now more interested in the preparation of the food for the upcoming feast, had already lost interest in the stranger. Their chief would decide if he stayed or was sent away. Either way, they would be satisfied with his decision.

Red Hawk was suddenly aware that another man had joined them in their walk through the village-a tall young man who smiled encouragingly at Red Hawk and clapped him on the shoulder.

"I am called Fighting Bear," he said, then added proudly, "Many Horses is my brother."

"A good brother to have," Red Hawk remarked, returning the young warrior's warm smile. "It must give you good standing among the young women."

Fighting Bear shrugged expressively. "If I wanted their approval, I suppose it would, but I am not ready to marry yet. I am more interested in what my brother, and the other warriors think of me." He gave Red Hawk a quizzical glance. "You lived with the whites?"

"I was raised by them after my father took me from the Shoshone."

"I think I remember you. Many Horses should. He would have been fifteen summers when you left...already a warrior and hunter."

"He said he remembers me," Red Hawk said, pitching his voice low so as not be overheard by the chief. "But I can tell he is not impressed by my years with the whites." He stopped talking as Many Horses shouted out a greeting to an old woman emerging from a large wigwam.

"Many Horses' wife is with child," Fighting Bear told him. "She will deliver any day now, and for that the whole village will give thanks. It has been difficult for her."

"Is she in danger?"

"The old woman, Strange Eyes, says she must rest until after the child is born."

Many Horses signaled for Red Hawk and Fighting Bear to wait, then he disappeared inside the wigwam. Red Hawk could see how the old woman got her name. As she stared at him, he could not fail to notice that one of her eyes was brown, the other a pale gold. The effect was startling, and a little eerie.

"She knows magic," Fighting Bear muttered so close to Red Hawk's ear his lips touched the lobe. Red Hawk shivered involuntarily from the contact, but the effect was not unpleasant. If Fighting Bear noticed Red Hawk's reaction he did not comment on it, but took Red Hawk's arm and led him away from the wigwam .

"He will visit with her for some time I think. We can go to the lodge I share with my mother. You can leave your horse there. Are you hungry? My mother will prepare something for you."

"You are kind," Red Hawk murmured, beginning to wonder if the glint in Fighting Bear's dark eyes held more than just a friendly warmth. Not that he'd mind. The brother of Many Horses was comely, and Red Hawk had been without male companionship for many months. At times, his body ached for release, and the intimate closeness of the young warrior's body aroused Red Hawk. Perhaps after he had spoken with Many Horses, and if the chief allowed him to stay, Fighting Bear might prove to be more than just a friend.

"Ho, my mother," Fighting Bear called out as they approached another of the dozens of wigwams that comprised the Shoshone village. "I have brought a friend. His name is Red Hawk."

The ample-bosomed woman greeted them with a smile that creased her nut brown face. "Red Hawk, you have grown into a fine looking man," she said.

"You remember me?"

"I remember you. Moon Shadow's boy-and that rascal Blanchard, was your father-but you can't be blamed for that." She laughed, showing gaps in her teeth. "You will not remember my name-it's Silver Bird. Sit with my son and me for a while and tell us of where you've been. Tether your horse over there." She waved vaguely towards where another horse, presumably her son's, stood grazing on some dry grass.

"Sit," Fighting Bear said, taking the reins from Red Hawk's fingers, gently brushing them with his own. "I'll tether your horse." Red Hawk watched him as he led White Star away, admiring the young warrior's lithe, smoothly muscled body. He had not been mistaken about Fighting Bear's interest in him, and his heart quickened with anticipation of what that might lead to.

"Come sit," Fighting Bear's mother said, dragging his attention from her son. "Are you hungry?"

"A little..."

"Here is some flat bread. There will be a feast tonight now that Many Horses has brought us meat. You will come with Fighting Bear and me."

"Many Horses has not yet allowed me to stay," Red Hawk said through a mouthful of bread.

"He'll allow it-I'll see to it. Moon Shadow was a friend of mine, and even though I had no love for your father, you cannot be blamed for his shortcomings." She looked up as Fighting Bear joined them, sitting close to Red Hawk. "He must come to the feast," she told her son. Her eyes twinkled as she added, "After, there will be dancing. You two might find yourselves wives."

Red Hawk and Fighting Bear exchanged smiles. "First, your son Many Horses must say I am welcome."

Silver Bird sighed. "I told you he will. Do you doubt my word?"

"No, of course not," Red Hawk replied hastily, while Fighting Bear chuckled beside him. "It's just that he is preoccupied with the birth of his child, and..."

Silver Bird made a gesture of dismissal. "The child is not yet ready to enter this world. He will come when he is ready, not before."

"My mother has little patience for Strange Eyes' medicine," Fighting Bear murmured.

"Hungh!" Silver Bird spat. "That woman thinks she knows better than all of us-and she has never had a child. Why Many Horses and Little Dove listen to her instead of his mother and his aunts, I will never understand."

Red Hawk sensed there was a deal of tension involved in this story, and could only hope that the Shoshone chief would not be in a bad mood when making his decision on whether or not he could stay with his people-or be forced to leave. He accepted another chunk of the flat bread from Fighting Bear, and wondered what the next few days held for him. So far, only the promise in Fighting Bear's eyes gave him the hope that at least one person was willing to welcome him into the fold.