WARNING: Events in this part of Broken Arrow may disturb some readers and they may want to skip the ending of the chapter
This story is a continuation of my series, The Sweetwater Saga . You may want to read the preceding stories before reading this one. Sweetwater, Rolling Thunder, and Fireweed can be found on my page here at the Academy or on my website – mickeyminner.com
Ned Harlow stepped out of the hotel and started walking back to the log cabin he was using for housing and an office. The distance from the hotel to the cabin wasn't much longer than two hundred feet and he had covered half of it when he spotted Ginsy also walking toward the cabin leading two horses.
“Figured ya'd be wantin' to ride out to the place,” Ginsy said when Harlow arrived at the cabin.
“I do,” Harlow responded taking control of the reins for one of the horses. When Ginsy turned to mount the other, he stopped the old scout. “I need you to stick to town. Lieutenant Gage and his men should arrive sometime today and, with Nick not back from Sweetwater, one of us needs to be here to meet them. While you wait, you can clear the area behind the cabin for them to set their camp. And gather up some firewood; they'll need a few days worth.”
“I signed on to scout,” Ginzy countered.
“You signed on to do as the Army required. If you don't like your duties, I'm prepared to pay you your due and find someone else.”
Ginzy frowned. “Ain't no reason to get yer back up,” he muttered. “I be needin' some help. Guess I'll send yer soldier boys after the wood.”
Harlow looked toward the hotel where a few men were sitting on the porch talking. “Hire a couple of those men,” he told Ginzy, “they don't look to have much to do.”
“They'll want to know how much ya be payin'.”
“Two bits for the day… a full day.”
“Two bits ain't much.”
Harlow smiled. “Since it appears they are earning nothing at the moment, I'm sure two bits will be welcomed,” he said as he mounted his horse and turned him toward the river leaving Ginzy alone to determine how to approach the men with the offer.
Dannie pulled her team to a stop when they reached the final crossing of Bear Creek. She loosened her hold on the reins to allow the horses to lower their heads and drink the cold mountain water. While the horse drank, she stood up in the driver's box to stretch out her leg and back muscles. She looked up the road.
After crossing the creek, the wagon road would leave the gully floor and begin the climb up to the town of Garnet. The next few hours would test Dannie's skills as she would have to maneuver her team and heavy wagon up the steep grade and around several hairpin turns that allowed little room for miscalculations.
Dannie sat back down and bent down to pick up the canteen she kept under the seat. She took a long drink before replacing the canteen's cork stopper and setting it back in place. She tightened her hold on the reins. “Git up there,” she called to the team and slapped the reins on their rumps. “Ain't goin' climb this hill by standin' here.”
The horses reluctantly lifted their heads and strained against their harnesses. The wagon bounced through the rocky bed of the creek and back onto the rutted road. Almost immediately, both driver and horses felt the road's grade increase.
“That was delicious,” Marie told Jennifer as she watched her daughter-in-law remove the dirty breakfast plates from the table.
Jennifer smiled. “I think you were just hungry.”
“I was,” Marie agreed. “I always wished Jesse would have shown an interest in learning to cook.”
Jennifer laughed as she carried the dishes to the sink and placed them in the hot, soapy water. “You're lucky she didn't… she probably would have burned the house down.”
“Marie chuckled. “You might be right.” She scooted her chair back from the table. “Here, let me help.”
“No,” Jennifer said placing a hand on Marie's shoulder. “You sit right there. I can take care of these dirty dishes.”
“I feel like I should be doing something,” Marie protested.
“You are,” Jennifer said gathering up empty platters and used silverware. “You're getting back your strength.”
Marie sighed. “Getting old isn't very pleasant,” she said softly.”
Carrying a book, KC walked into the kitchen from the sitting room. With Charley trailing behind her, she padded right to where her grandmother sat. “Gramma, you read to us?” she asked placing the book into her grandmother's lap.
“That's an excellent idea,” Jennifer said relieved that her daughter's question had prevented her from having to respond to Marie's comment. “KC, you and Charley help your Grandmother into the sitting room. You can all sit on the couch while she reads to you.”
Grinning, KC held one of her hands up. “Come on, Gramma. We helps you.”
Charley followed his sister's example and held up one of his hands. “Gramma, come.”
Marie smiled at the children. “Who could say no to such a nice request,” she told them then stood up. Tucking the book under her arm, she took hold of their upraised hands and let them guide her to the sitting room.
Smiling, Jennifer watched Marie and the children walk out of the kitchen before she returned to the sink and dirty dishes.
Dowling turned the knob on the door, pushed the door open, and stepped inside the sheriff's office.
The single room contained a stove located in a back corner next to a doorway that separated the prisoner cells from the main office. A desk was positioned near the back of the office, close enough to the stove to benefit from its heat in the colder months. A single chair was placed behind the desk while two chairs had been placed in front of it. In the corner opposite the stove was tall cabinet, its shelves overflowing with papers haphazardly piled on its shelves. The front of the office was free of furniture.
Not seeing anyone inside the office, Dowling turned to leave.
“You friend or foe?”
Dowling looked to the doorway at the back of the office where the question seemed to have emanated. “Just looking to ask a few questions,” he called back to the disembodied voice.
“Guess that could make you either one.”
“Guess it could,” Dowling agreed as a man walked through the doorway.
“Sorry, I was sweeping out the cells.”
Dowling noticed the man did not wear a pistol as was the habit of most frontier sheriffs. “Are you the sheriff?”
“That's what this shiny badge says,” the man said pointing at the piece of tin on his shirt. “Frank Wilson. And you are?” he asked leaning his broom against the wall.
“I was about to walk over to the Slipper for breakfast,” Wilson told his visitor. “You want to join me or are your questions of a private nature.”
“Just came from the Slipper,” Dowling said then sat in one of the chairs in front of the sheriff's desk. “And, yes, I'd rather talk in private.”
Wilson frowned when his stomach grumbled. “All right,” he said walking to the stove and the pot of coffee he had made earlier. He turned back to Dowling. “Want a cup?”
“No, thanks.” Dowling studied the sheriff.
Wilson was average height but had muscular arms and shoulders usually seen on a man who did physical labor and not sit in an office.
“If you don't mind me saying, you don't look much like a lawman.”
Wilson filled a cup with steaming coffee then carried it to his desk and sat down. “Guess we can't all be tall and handsome like Earp and Hickok,” he said then took a swallow of coffee. “But, then, I haven't made a living out of killin' people.”
“I, ah…” Dowling stammered, flustered by the unexpected response.
“Since you're wondering, I needed a job and the town needed a sheriff,” Wilson explained. “Now, what about your questions…”
“As you may have heard,” Dowling began, relieved to be back on familiar ground, “the Army is building a fort at Hellgate.” Wilson nodded. “I was sent here to set the location and get the fort built.”
Wilson leaned back in his chair to eye the man keeping him from his breakfast. “If you're Army, why aren't you in uniform?” he asked, thinking Dowling looked as much an Army man as he looked like a sheriff.
“I work for the Army; I'm not part of it.”
Wilson took another drink of coffee. “If you're putting the fort at Hellgate, what's your business in Sweetwater?”
“Part of what I do is to determine the threat from savages in the area.”
Wilson smiled wryly. “What makes you think we have one?”
“General Sherman thinks you do.”
“Don't recall Sherman ever being this far west… he decide that sitting in his office in Washington?”
“Sheriff Wilson, I do not have any intention of second guessing General Sherman,” Dowling snapped. “What's wrong with the people of Sweetwater? Seems you'd be thankful to have the Army come to protect you.”
Unbothered by Dowling's flash of anger, Wilson stood and walked over to the stove. He opened the stove's door to check on the fire burning inside. Only after he had closed and latched the door did he turn to look at the Army representative. “Mr. Dowling, folks around here have been taking care of themselves for many years without the Army's help. And as for trouble with Indians, we don't have any. Fact is, many around here consider them to be friends… not enemies. So I think you'd do better to focus your attentions to Hellgate and points north.”
“Are you warning me to keep the Army away from Sweetwater?”
“No. I'm just telling you like it is. And, now,” Wilson said walking past his desk to the front of the office, “if you are done asking questions, I'm going over to get my breakfast.” He pulled the door open the stood waiting for Dowling to follow.
After a few moments, Dowling finally pushed himself up from the chair. “One day, you may regret your words,” he said when he joined the sheriff at the door.
“Let's hope that day never comes,” Wilson responded pulling the door shut behind the men. “Good day to you,” he added before setting off down the boardwalk in the direction of the Silver Slipper.
Frowning, Dowling stood in front of the sheriff's office for several minutes before he stepped off the boardwalk and headed for the stables.
“What are you lookin' fer?” Stanley asked when his daughter again turned to study the mountains west of the Sweetwater valley. After breakfast, they had mounted horses and rode out to check on Jesse's herd of cattle. “You worried ‘bout that Injun?”
Jesse turned in her saddle to look at her father. “Yes… and his name is Walks on the Wind.”
“Can't understand you bein' friends with an Injun.”
Jesse sighed. She had tried to explain her friendship with Walks and his family to her father many times. “Poppa, Indians aren't any different than you and me. And if it wasn't for Walks letting me join his hunting party, I probably wouldn't have survived those years after I left Bozeman.”
“Ya know what General Sheridan said—”
“Sheridan was a fool,” Jesse snarled. “And so is Sherman if the rumors are true about a fort at Hellgate.”
“Jesse, don' ya think Sherman might have a better knowin' than you ‘bout the Injuns?”
“No. Poppa, you've met Walks. You've seen them come to the ranch and trade for cattle. KC and Charley both wear moccasins that Walks made for them. Why can't you change how you talk about them?”
“Injun's an Injun, Jesse. They never taken kindly to us coming onto their lands. You trust my words, daughter, turn yer back on an Injun and he'll take yer scalp.”
“Oh, Poppa,” Jesse moaned. “They're not like that.”
Stanley shook his head but didn't comment further, knowing he didn't want to push his daughter too far on her loyalty to the area's original occupants. “I'm going to ride down and make sure none of the calves got themselves caught up in that bog,” he told Jesse.
“All right. I'm going to ride over to check on the water tank we built in the high meadow, I want to make sure it hasn't been pulled apart again by some bear. I'll see you back at the house.” After her father rode away, Jesse twisted in the saddle to look at the mountains, her brow creasing in concern.
Puck looked up from the hide he was cleaning to see Cole ride back into camp. He stood when his cousin dropped off the lathered horse. “Where you been?” he asked grabbing the horse's bridle. “Dammit, Cole, you ‘bout ran this one to death.”
“Shut up,” Cole snarled pulling his rifle free of its scabbard. “Ugh,” he groaned.
“What?” Puck cried out when Cole doubled over in pain. Releasing the horse, he moved quickly to his cousin's side.
Cole grunted. “Pull this damn thing out of me,” he ordered through clinched teeth.
When Cole forced himself back upright, Puck saw the blood stain on his shirt and an arrow's fletching sticking out from it. “Aw, dammit, Cole, what the hell did you get yourself into?”
“Just pull it out!”
“I can't pull it out,” Puck screamed back. “The arrow head will rip you apart.”
“You dumb fool,” Cole hissed. “It went clean through. Break it off and pull it out the back.”
Puck moved to look at Cole's back where another bloodstain colored his shirt. He moved back to stand in front of his cousin. “All right. Hold still,” he told Cole taking hold of the arrow below the fletching and snapping the end of the arrow off. He grabbed the larger man when his knees buckled from the pain.
“I'm alright,” Cole barked. “Pull it out.”
“You want to lay down first?”
Puck let go of Cole then positioned himself behind him. Wrapping on hand around the bloody arrowhead, he braced his other hand on Cole's back. Then with a yank, he pulled the arrow free.
Cole's eyes rolled back and he crumbled to the ground.
“Aw, dammit, Cole,” Puck whispered spotting the new ornamentation hanging from his cousin's belt. “What the hell have you done?”
Dannie's wagon was pulled to the side of the road, her team shifting impatiently as she held them in place. “Hold on there,” she yelled at the horses then turned her attention to the driver of the wagon that had caused her to clear the road. “Can't ya git any control on them horses?” she yelled at the man struggling to control his team and to keep his wagon from overtaking the horses on the steep down grade.
“Shaddup,” the driver screamed snapping his bullwhip over the lead horses' heads.
“Damn fool,” Dannie muttered when the horses, startled by the crack of the whip, began to rear up against their harnesses. She quickly tied her reins around the hook at the front of the driver's box then jumped over the side of the wagon and landed with a thud in the dirt next to it. Without stopping to think of the danger she was putting herself in, she ran toward the frightened team.
It took some effort to grab hold of the lead horses' bridles but Dannie finally managed it. “Hold on there, girls,” she told the horses, keeping her voice calm while she tried to settle their nerves. “Ya crack that whip again,” she snarled at the driver who was raising it above his head to do just that. “And I'll wrap it around yer head and shove the handle down yer throat,” she threatened before returning her attention to the horses. “Come on, now,” she said soothingly while backing down the grade, her hands still keeping a tight grip on the bridles. “Keep yer foot on the brake,” she ordered the driver as she led the horses past her own team and then her wagon. She continued to walk them down the road until she reached a relatively level stretch where a road to a mine branched off from the main wagon road.
“Whipping horses ain't a way to control ‘em,” she told the driver after she released the now settled horses and walked back alongside of them to the wagon.
“I'll use it if'n I see fit,” the driver snapped.
Breathing heavily, Dannie pushed back her hat and used her sleeve to wipe the sweat off her brow. “Ya been doin' this much?” she asked looking up at the ungrateful man.
“What business is that to you?”
“It's my business when ya almost run my team off the road, you damn fool,” Dannie grumbled resetting her hat squarely on her head.
“Didn't ask fer yer help,” the driver snarled lifting his bullwhip and cracking it over his team's head. “Don't be ‘xpectin' me ta thank ya.”
Dannie jumped out of the wagon's way as it jerked into motion. “Ya best sell that outfit in Bear Town,” she called after the driver, “fer ya take it over the side.”
Another crack of the whip was her only answer.
When the dust settled, Dannie walked back to her wagon and climbed up to the seat. She picked up the canteen and emptied it down her throat, trying to wash away the dust and dryness. Dropping the canteen, she untied the reins with shaky hands. The horses needed little more than the release of the brake to start back up the road. She waited until they were moving at a comfortable pace before she reached up to take off her hat and fan her face with it. “Damn fool thing ta do,” she muttered. “Best I not tell Leevie ‘bout this.”
Sitting astride his horse standing in the center of what would be the open square in the middle of the fort, Harlow scanned the surrounding land. In his mind's eye, he visualized the layout of the buildings.
The fort would be constructed on the north bank of the river that flowed out of the Sweetwater Valley and joined Clark's River below the fort. And, unlike military citadels of the east, the post would not be surrounded by stockade walls as most western forts were open and unfortified. The soldiers stationed at the post would have to patrol the area continuously and raise a warning if danger threatened the fort.
Like the fort, the square would be open on the southern side nearest the river while the northern side would be lined with cabins for the commanding officer and for the ranking captains and lieutenants. The square's east and west sides would be where the barracks for each of the four companies to be assigned to the fort would be located. A large building would be constructed to the east of the officer's cabins to serve as a warehouse for the quartermaster to store food and supplies for the troops. Behind the quartermaster storehouse would be stables and corrals. Near the river and east of the other buildings, a stone structure would be erected to safely store munitions.
Once those structures had been erected, secondary buildings would be added. Behind each barracks would be built a hut for a company laundress to wash uniforms, other clothing, and bedding. A second storehouse would be constructed next to the quartermaster's to house subsistence stores where the soldiers could buy supplies and goods not provided to them by the military. Also to be added would be a kitchen and dining hall, bakery, hospital, guard stations, and quarters for married officers.
Satisfied with the plan he had drawn out the night before, Harlow dismounted. He reached into his saddlebag and removed a hatchet, large ball of string, and several sticks cut into twelve inch lengths with one end sharpened to a point. With a determined look, he set off to outline the location of each building.
To Be Continued...
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