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Broken Branches Chapter 7

Posted by Jerry E Beuterbaugh Labels: ,

Chapter Seven
I do not know just how many children Angus actually fathered.  Since the owners of the girls/women kept bringing them back for another round (usually ten months after the previous one) it became fairly obvious that he was not shooting blanks.

I suppose it does not really matter.  That is, at least not in regards to the course of my journey.  For as with the others, the next segment involved observing the life of just one son, whose mother was called Starling by her owner because of her dark skin sometimes giving off a purplish sheen in a certain light.

It was on the way back to her owner’s plantation in south-central Texas that Starling’s group was attacked by a far-ranging band of marauding Comanches.  In such cases, Comanches would usually kill all of the white men and black women on the spot.  White women and children of all colors would be taken as slaves, and black men would be invited to join them in their fight against the whites.  However, Starling caught the sympathetic eye of one the warriors, and he was able to convince his leader to spare her life.

The name of the sympathetic warrior was Hildago, who had been taken as a slave when he was seven years old during a Kiowa raid on a ranch in what is now southeastern Colorado.  A couple of years later, he was taken as a slave by Comanches during a raid on the Kiowa village he was living in.  Three years after that, he was made a full member of the tribe.

Hildago was made fully responsible for Starling’s actions, and she was careful to not cause him any trouble.  The leader of the raiding party was impressed by how hard she tried to be pleasing, and he ordered the rest of the warriors to treat her with respect.

When they made it back to their village on the southern bank of the Red River (north of where Quanah, Texas now is) Starling went to work earning the respect of everyone there.  She even still went out to gather firewood long after there were no doubts about her being pregnant.

Many were disappointed for him when Hildago informed them of the truth being that Starling’s child was not his, but it was not held against her.  In fact, the village chief, Jumping Fish, called for a celebration when she gave birth to a healthy son, and yes, Angus was his father.

A heavy frost covered everything in sight the morning Starling gave birth, and her son was given the name of White Grass.  I was expecting maybe Black Bull or Buffalo.  For he was a big boy, and even though he was not nearly as dark-skinned as his mother, he was still much darker than the Comanches.  I am not a Comanche, of course.

White Grass was immediately accepted as a full member of the tribe, and he considered himself to be a Comanche in all of the ways that mattered.  Any doubts of this would have had to have been erased after he killed and took the scalps of two Kiowa warriors before he reached his tenth birthday.

The Kiowa warriors were part of an attack upon White Grass’ village while Jumping Fish and most of his warriors were off on an attack against some ranchs to the southeast.  Since it was thought that a truce with the Kiowa had been reached so that both tribes could focus their hostility upon white settlers, it was assumed that it was safe to leave the village somewhat vulnerable, but the chief of a nearby Kiowa village had no intentions of honoring the deal after suffering many losses at the hands of Jumping Fish in the past.

The Kiowa warriors soon discovered that the Comanche village was not nearly as vulnerable as it looked.  For three of them fell from the backs of their horses with arrows through their necks before they reached the north bank of the Red River.  Four more were pulled off of their horses and stabbed to death by several of the women from the village as they tried to cross the river, with Starling leading the charge

The Kiowa warriors killed and scalped by White Grass had sought to crawl into the village on their bellies and burn the teepees.  The big flaw in their plan was meeting up with White Grass on the edge of the village.

Only six Kiowa warriors remained on their horses when the renegade chief signaled for them to get out of there.  When Jumping Fish made it back from their raid, he decided against going after them.  For he was very satisfied with had happened while he was gone—both in regards to the great success of their raid and the spectacular defense of his village.  Nonetheless, he did send word to some more honorable Kiowa chiefs that the renegades should be dealt with harshly.

They were, and it did not take long in coming.  For around a month later, a Kiowa messenger arrived at the village with news that a combined force of over 200 warriors from several different villages attacked the renegade chief’s village.  The renegade chief and all of his warriors were killed, and the rest were given the choice of becoming a member of another village or die where they stood.  Most started packing their belongings immediately, but a few chose death.

The day after Jumping Fish and his warriors returned, the horses of the two Kiowa warriors White Grass had killed were found tied to a tree not far from the village.  They were given to him for showing so much courage and skill, and Jumping Fish was delighted when he saw that White Grass had adorned their halters with the scalps of their former masters.

Late one night, White Grass was shocked to hear several of the village elders sitting around a camp fire and singing about his defense of the village.  They nodded their heads in approval when they saw the expression on his face.

The legend of White Grass continued to grow in a number of ways over the years.  While out on a buffalo hunt with several of the younger warriors from the village when he was around fifteen, he saved Fat Rat, who was the youngest son of Jumping Fish, from being gorged by a huge bull by slamming his horse into its side as it was bearing down on Fat Rat, who had been thrown off his horse.  This distracted the bull long enough for Fat Rat to run to safety, and when the bull charged White Grass, he drove his spear clear through its chest and into the ground between the its hind-legs.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I was certainly impressed.  So was Jumping Fish, and after Hildago was killed four years later while leading a raid against some ranchs on the Oklahoma side of the Red River, Jumping Fish proclaimed that White Grass would be thereon recognized as being a full member of his immediate family, along with taking in Starling and the children she had with Hildago to care for as his own.

Making White Grass a full member of the family was not taken very well by two of the chief’s sons.  For Lazy Mouse and Red Snake were younger than White Grass, and they feared losing their places in the line of succession.

No, Indian tribes generally did not recognize royal bloodlines like other cultures.  Nonetheless, well respected sons of chiefs usually had the inside track on becoming chiefs themselves when there was an opening.  So, with White Grass being so highly regarded in the village and beyond, Lazy Mouse and Red Snake believed that they had plenty to worry about.

The truth was that White Grass had no aspirations of ever becoming a chief, and they actually knew it.  For Red Snake had overheard him saying so to one of the elders after the old man had told White Grass that the village would surely have a bright future to look forward to if he was there to take charge when the time came, but they did not want to leave anything to chance.

Lazy Mouse and Red Snake started looking for an opportunity to eliminate their perceived competition without placing them at risk of retribution, and a couple of months later, one presented itself.  For the chief of another Comanche village arrived to ask for help with a raid on a large ranch in the Texas panhandle.  When he assured Jumping Fish that there would be enough cattle to keep his village in meat for several winters, Jumping Fish sent fifty of his best warriors (including White Grass, Lazy Mouse and Red Snake) to join the other chief on the raid.

Oh, but the raid did not go well.  No, it did not go well at all.  For the rancher was well prepared to keep his cattle right where he wanted them to be.  Hey, he even had a wagon-mounted Union Gatling gun he had procured while commanding a Confederate cavalry unit during one of the last battles of the Civil War, and over half of the raiding party were literally shot to pieces less than thirty minutes after they started their attack.

Chaos erupted in the Comanche ranks, and Red Snake took advantage of this to shoot White Grass in the back.  White Grass turned around in time to see him smiling broadly at Lazy Mouse before they made their escape, and since he had never had his back turned to where the ranch-hands were shooting from, he was fairly sure that it was one of them who had actually shot him.

White Grass was gravely wounded, but he still had his wits about him.  When he saw the ranch-hands finishing off warriors who had been playing dead, he managed to crawl into a dry riverbed and cover himself in some sand that had accumulated at the base of one bank.

White Grass eventually lost consciousness from the loss of blood out of the wound in his back, and the crashing of a nearby lightning strike brought him back to his senses.  He did not know how long he had been buried in the sand, but he was sure of needing to get out of that dry riverbed as soon as he could.  For lightning meant that there was probably rain in the area, and a dry riverbed is no place to be when a flash flood occurs.

He did not make it out of the dry riverbed before what started as a tiny trickle of water became a raging river in a matter of seconds.  He was, however, able to secure a firm hold on the exposed root of a cottonwood that looked like it had been the target of a lightning strike some years back.

White Grass held on for a lot longer than I thought possible.  For a week had passed since Red Snake had shot him in the back, and he had to have been awfully weak.

At where the riverbed made a sharp right turn, the cottonwood kept going straight.  White Grass was deposited in a heap on solid ground around thirty feet away, and that is where he remained for eight and a half days.

Five Comancheros found White Grass drifting in and out of consciousness.  He had been swept over twenty-five miles away from where he had been shot and less than a mile from their camp in Palo Dura Canyon.

Comancheros were a loosely-organized collection of traders and raiders, and they were generally a colorful bunch—to say the least.  For it was not at all unusual to see sitting around one of their campfires fierce Mexican Nationalists bent on restoring the borders of Mexico to where they stood fifty (some odd) years before, plain old Mexican banditos, American outlaws, Comanches, Kiowas and an occasional Mescalero Apache.

One would certainly want a Mescalero on their side in a fight, but they tended to follow the beat of their own war drum too much to be counted on to stay with a plan of attack.  So, they were allowed to come and go as they pleased.  For the Comancheros already had enough enemies without counting the Mescalero Apache among them.

Delirious with fever from his grievous wound, White Grass did not know what was real or imagined most of the time.  There was one time when he did not want to know.  For he opened his eyes to see a wild-eyed Mexican woman riding him like he was a bucking bronc in a rodeo event.

White Grass later learned that she was the camp cook, Juanita, who had cut out the bullet in his back.  He was grateful, but not enough to give her another ride.

It took a full three months, but White Grass was finally healthy enough to go on the warpath again.  Although he wanted to first pay a little visit to his old village and see how Lazy Mouse and Red Snake were doing, he understood that he owed the Comancheros his life.

So, he rode out with them on a raid.  The target was a ranch with a lot of high quality horses to the east of Tascosa, Texas.

As with the Comanche raid on the ex-Confederate colonel, the Comanchero raid was a disaster.  No, there was not a Gatling gun in place this time, but the rancher did have a bunch of hands who could shot the eye out of a running jackrabbit from 100 yards away.

White Grass managed to kill three of the ranch-hands before he was hit.  He was not hit all that badly, but when he saw that he was the only one on his side still mounted, he headed his horse toward the safety of Palo Duro Canyon.

White Grass met up with the leader of the Comancheros a couple of miles down the way, and they rode together in grim silence.  The Comanchero leader was much more badly wounded than White Grass.  So, their going was slow.  It was just getting dark when the silence was broken.

The Comanchero leader let out a blood-curdling scream when a heavy bullet tore through his left side.  Several seconds later, White Grass heard the report of the rifle.

The Comanchero leader was dead before he hit the ground, and White Grass figured that he would be next if he did not find some cover quick.  For there was surely a great marksman with a .50-caliber Sharps up on a high ridge to the east.

There was, and he was not alone.  For a posse out of Tascosa had been out looking for the Comancheros on the day of the attack, and they had picked up the trail of White Grass and the Comanchero leader.

Content with picking off the escaping Comancheros from a great distance, one of the members of the posse had set up on a high ridge that gave him a clear view of the way they would head to make it back to the canyon.  He had shot the Comanchero leader just after he and White Grass came out from behind a small stand of mesquite, which is where White Grass dove back behind for cover.

Minutes passed into hours as White Grass listened intently for any sound that might indicate where his pursuers were.  He heard nothing but some coyotes howling in the distance.

With there being a very bright full moon out that night, White Grass figured that he dare not try to make a break for it on foot.  He thought about digging another hole to hide in, but the ground was very hard.  Besides, the disturbed dirt would have been a dead give-away for anyone with a keen eye.

It was just as the dawn was breaking when I saw White Grass’ shoulders slump slightly.  Then a determined look came upon his face, and he stood up to face an older Indian dressed like a white man standing less than ten feet behind him.

The older Indian nodded at White Grass, and he nodded back.  The older Indian was holding a Remington Army in his right hand down by his right thigh.

White Grass had dropped his rifle when he was shot, but he still had an old Colt Dragoon in his waistband.  Without taking his eyes off of the older Indian, he gingerly pulled the pistol out of his waistband and held it in his right hand down by his right thigh.

I was holding my breath in anticipation of what was surely coming next, and I did not let it out until they both fired at each other at the same time.  I was really impressed with how quick the older Indian was, and my eyes filled with tears as both men fell to the ground dead, with a bullet in their respective hearts.

No, I am really not making up any of this for dramatic effect.  For the death of White Grass really was just like a scene in a really good Hollywood western.

However, I do feel compelled to admit to feeling plumb stupid over it taking far longer than it should have for me to realize that I had also just witnessed the death of the man I believed was my great-great grandfather.  For the older Indian was Oronatha, and all of the pieces to the puzzle had been clearly visible long before I saw them!

Adding all the more to the drama of the scene was Fat Rat standing less than fifty feet to the side with his rifle still up to his shoulder several minutes after White Grass and Oronatha fell dead.  Tears were streaming down his face.  When I first saw him there, I did not understand why he had not shot Oronatha, but I later realized that he had recognized that Oronatha could have easily shot White Grass in the back before he knew he was there.  Instead, Oronatha chose to give him a warrior’s death, which had also cost him his own life, and that is something to hold in high esteem.

How Fat Rat came to be there was on account of him not wanting to believe that White Grass was really dead until he saw his body after hearing what his brothers had told their father about what had happened on the disastrous Comanche raid.  Not that he had any suspicions before, but when Fat Rat overheard Lazy Mouse later talking to Red Snake about now having their family back to the way it should be, dark thoughts started to creep in.

Fat Rat told his father that he was going out on a spirit quest before he took off on his horse, and he did not consider it a lie.  For he really was going to hunt for some answers that could ease the turmoil building in his soul.

He started his quest by following the route taken by the Comanche raiders, and when he came upon the site of the slaughter, he found that the ranch-hands had buried all of the dead bodies in a common grave.  Fat Rat spent well over a week digging up and reburying each body while under the careful watch of several ranch-hands, who made no move to come closer than around a half of a mile away when it was recognized that he was not there to cause any trouble for the ranch.

Satisfied that White Grass’ body was not in the common grave, Fat Rat started looking for where he might be, and a few hours after White Grass had left to go on the raid with the Comancheros, Fat Rat came upon Juanita gathering some firewood near their camp.

Juanita was quite startled to see a Comanche warrior sitting on his horse around thirty yards away.  However, Fat Rat quickly put her at ease when he raised his hands to show that he meant her no harm.  She asked him (in his own language) if he was lost, and Fat Rat told her that he was looking for White Grass.

Juanita told Fat Rat about the raid, and he took off toward the targeted ranch.  He was about a mile away when he saw the Tascosa posse heading south in a hurry.  He decided to follow them in the hope that they were after White Grass and he would be able to help him get away.

While shadowing the posse from a fair distance, Fat Rat saw where White Grass took cover, and he rode as close as he dared without giving away his position.  He proceeded the rest of the way on foot, but Oronatha beat him to the mesquite stand.

As if there was not already enough drama to insure an Oscar, another truly amazing thing happened.  For Fat Rat ignored the posse bearing down on him, and they made no move for their guns as he bent down to pick up White Grass’ lifeless body.

The posse just sat on their horses and continued to watch as Fat Rat carried the body of White Grass to his horse and tied it across its back.  When he was done, Fat Rat rode off without ever acknowledging their presence.

As soon as Fat Rat was out of sight, one of the members of the posse demanded (quite loudly) an explanation to why the sheriff had motioned to them to not shoot, nor even just take the Comanche into custody.  The sheriff explained that he had seen what had happened between White Grass and Oronatha, as well as seeing Fat Rat showing Oronatha great respect, which he figured earned him some respect.

Most of the members of the posse looked like they agreed with the sheriff’s decision, but a few made it obvious that they most definitely did not.  The sheriff just gave them a disappointed look and headed his horse toward Tascosa.

Fat Rat went to tell Juanita what had happened to her companions before he headed home.  When he made it back to the Comanchero camp, he offered to take Juanita along if she did not have a better place to go.  She accepted his offer, and they were soon off with the body of White Grass tied across the back of a third horse.

An anguished wail rose up as Fat Rat carried the body of White Grass through the village and layed it at the feet of Jumping Fish.  Fat Rat looked to see how Lazy Mouse and Red Snake would react, and he was not surprised to see them standing there stone-faced.  For Juanita had told him that White Grass had asked them several times about which one had shot him in the back while still in the grip of a high fever.

Lazy Mouse and Red Snake did not stick around to hear Fat Rat tell their father about what he had learned, and Jumping Fish was too overcome with grief to notice.  Five of the village elders did notice, and they stopped them from riding out of the village.  Lazy Mouse and Red Snake insisted that they were just going to keep a watch out for Kiowa raiders while so many were so distraught over the death of White Grass, but the elders refused to let them leave.

A few minutes later, Jumping Fish walked up to where the elders and his two sons were standing.  He had held his head down the entire way.  In fact, he was almost in a semi-bow as he walked, and he did not bother to straighten up before telling Lazy Mouse and Red Snake to leave the village and never come back.  When Lazy Mouse asked him what was going on, he snapped his head up and gave both of his sons a look that chilled me to the bone.

After Lazy Mouse and Red Snake were gone, Jumping Fish called for an assembly of the entire village, and then he told everyone what Fat Rat and Juanita had told him about what had happened to White Grass.  None of the villagers said a word, but all of them were nodding their heads in agreement with the banishment of Lazy Mouse and Red Snake.

The next morning, Juanita was invited to stay as a full member of the village, and she readily accepted.  She and Starling became very close friends, and Starling was holding her hand when she gave birth to White Grass’ son, who Juanita named Tomas after her grandfather in Mexico.

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  1. Shadow

    ...still reading.....

  1. Jerry E Beuterbaugh

    Thanks for stopping by, my dear Shadow!!! I am really glad it has not caused your head to explode yet. (LOL?)