"It was Injuns that done It!"
The words sent icy shivers down Buck's spine. More Indian trouble. And he'd get the blame, some how.
Buck, Lou and Kid had heard the commotion from Thomkin's store. The man had ridden wildly into town and to the Marshall's office, yelling at the top of his lungs.
"They killed my son, my wife, and my hired hands. My daughter's missing! Marshall you gotta do something! They killed my family!" The man broke down, sobbing. "Marshall, I think they took Elizabeth!"
"Easy Cooper. Come on in the office. I need to get the whole story."
Marshall Sam Cain led the distraught man into the office. The crowd that had gathered around them milled about in the street. Many cast angry glances at Buck, who had paused while loading the wagon. Lou stood next to him, a package in hand, watching the crowd as Kid walked out of the store.
"What's all the commotion?" Kid asked, placing a 20 lb bag of flour in the back of the buckboard.
"Seems Cooper's place got raided by Indians," Lou answered. "His family was killed and his daughter's missing. He thinks the Indians took her."
"What would they do to her Buck?"
"Depends," he said, placing the last box into the bed of the wagon.
"Who took her." Buck turned and mounted his horse as Kid climbed onto the seat of the buckboard.
"We'd best be getting back. Emma's expecting us." Buck finished as he turned his horse to head out of town.
"Yep, might be going just in time." Kid slapped the reins against the horse's rump, casting one last glance at the crowd, as Lou mounted her horse to follow. Behind them they heard angry voices, some getting louder.
"Should just shoot em all!"
"...ain't no good Indians..."
"Lets' just go after em and..."
Lou glanced over her shoulder as she rode on. Buck was on the other side of the wagon, back rigid, tense. As she turned back to the road, one of the crowd threw a large rock, hitting Buck in the right shoulder. Lou heard little more than a sharp intake of breath from him, saw his shoulder dip just a trace under the assault, then he pulled the shoulder back into place and road on.
Lou looked over her shoulder again but failed to see who had thrown the rock. She slowed her horse and casually moved to the other side of the wagon, falling into line behind Buck. They made their way out of town.
Sam finally had Cooper seated in his office. Barnett was by the door, supposedly to keep the crowd out, but several of the citizens had pushed their way into the room.
Sam had gotten the story from Cooper that he had come into town on business. When he got home he found his barn burned to the ground, his stock missing, and his wife, son and hired hands murdered. All had been scalped. He had looked all over for his thirteen year old daughter, but there had been no sign of her.
Sam pulled his hand over his face, then looked at the men gathered in his office.
"Reverend, would you look after Cooper? Barnett, look after things here at the office. I'm going out there to have a look around."
"They're going to need a Christian burial, Marshall!" the reverend implored.
"I know. But I need to look around first. Give me about three hours, then send out the mortician."
Sam went to the gun cabinet and removed a rifle and box of shells.
"Marshall, you shouldn't go out there by yourself. Shouldn't you form a posse?" Thomkins said.
"I won't be. But I'm not taking any of you hot heads with me. You'd just stir up more trouble." Sam walked out the door and into the crowd. He ignored the inquiries and criticisms and mounted his horse, reeling it around and headed toward Emma's ranch.
"What happened?" Emma asked as she walked up to the buckboard.
Kid re-counted what had occurred at the Cooper ranch and ended it with "The townsfolk were pretty riled up. Someone threw a rock at Buck, caught him in the shoulder. I'm not sure but I think it might have done some damage."
Emma headed to the bunkhouse as Kid and Lou unloaded the buckboard and unhitched the horses. Buck had ridden directly to the bunkhouse, flipping the reins of his horse over the porch rail, and gone inside. Cody followed Emma and retrieved the horse, leading it back to the corral.
Buck had removed his coat and vest and was in the process of unbuttoning his shirt when Emma entered. "Here, let me help," she said and helped him ease out of the shirt. There were blood spots on the shirt over his right shoulder blade.
"I'm all right." he said quietly, trying to avoid the woman's attentions. Never much of a talker, he always grew more quiet when being fussed over.
"Well, this blood on your shirt tells me otherwise. Now sit down and let me look." Emma tugged on his arm, pulling him to a bench at the table where she had extra light to see by.
"Well, it doesn't look too bad. Let me get it cleaned up." She grabbed a basin and cloth from the counter and the pitcher of water off the table.
She dampened the cloth and began dabbing at the blood, moving Buck's long black hair out of the way. The boy sat straight, staring ahead of him, his mind obviously elsewhere, his eyes unreadable. They both looked up as the door opened and Teaspoon entered.
"You all right Buck?" the older gentleman asked, sitting at the bench opposite Buck, one eyebrow cocked upward, the other eye slightly closing.
"Fine," the young man replied.
"Not much more than a few cuts and scratches. He's gonna have a large bruise though." She walked over to Buck's bunk and took an extra shirt off the peg there. She handed it to him and he shrugged into it as she picked up the one he had just removed.
"I'll wash this up for you before the blood has time to set in," she said heading for the door. Emma threw a meaningful look at Teaspoon.
She stopped with her hand on the door and smiled at him.
Before Teaspoon could have his "meaningful" talk with Buck, Sam rode into the yard. He rode up to the bunkhouse porch as Teaspoon walked out the door. The other riders gathered around and Buck stepped into the doorway, leaning against the frame.
"Afternoon, Teaspoon, boys."
"Sam. Heard about the Cooper place. Do you know who done it?"
"That's what I'm here about. I was wondering if you and the boys could ride out there with me. Buck might be able to tell me who was involved and where they went."
Teaspoon looked over his shoulder at Buck, who nodded slightly and turned to get his coat and hat.
"Saddle up boys."
"Ten? What tribe?"
"Kiowa," came Buck's reluctant answer. He turned , walking around the perimeter of the clearing.
"Kiowa," Teaspoon muttered under his breath, "Damn."
"Teaspoon, I need one of your riders to head to Fort Kearney. I'd best call in the army to go after the girl."
"No!" Buck said sharply, hurrying back to the cluster of men.
"Buck, I know how you must feel, but I've got to try to get that girl back."
"I'll get her back. There's been enough bloodshed."
"I don't think Cooper will be satisfied unless the men that did this are brought to justice." Sam motioned at the bodies of Cooper's wife and son.
"The Kiowa were exacting justice!" Buck snapped as he threw a burlap sack at Sam. The Marshall dumped the contents on the ground, looked at it, then looked up at the sky, sickened.
"Damn it," he muttered as the other riders clustered around to get a look at the sack's contents, now laying at Sam's feet. Lou moved off to the bushes and threw up, Kid turned his head away and swore under his breath, finally turning and walking away, Ike right behind him. Jimmy stood and kicked at the dirt, then turned and walked away also. Cody muttered to himself then joined the others.
Buck stared at Sam, his jaw set, the gruesome contents on the ground between them. Three heads lay there, all Indian children. The flesh partially decayed, the balance turning dry and leathery, blood dried in the hair.
"They were taking justice. Now, what will you do with Cooper? Will there be justice in your courts?" Buck demanded. He turned on his heels, swinging his leg up and over his horse's back.
"I'll get the girl, if she's still alive." He reeled his horse around and rode off, following the trail left by the departing war party.
Let it not be Red Bear's warriors he said to himself. Let one of those children not be Lily Blossom, Red Bear's daughter, his niece.
Teaspoon and the other riders mounted their horses and silently followed him, leaving Sam standing in the clearing.
"You shouldn't be here. I'm better off by myself."
"We'll stay out of the way, but we're coming with you," Teaspoon replied.
"You could all get killed."
"We'll hold back, but we're gonna be there in case you need us."
"Suit yourself." Buck stopped his horse, checking tracks, then moved on. He hadn't said much since they left the Cooper's. The other riders had followed his example.
Buck was trying to cover as much ground as possible before dark, knowing that time was important for the girl's sake. But he was also trying to be careful not to miss any sign the warriors might have left behind.
It finally grew too dark to track, so Buck reluctantly agreed to setting up camp. He cautioned the riders against using a fire, so they settled for cold rations. After eating sparingly, Buck slipped into the darkness. The other riders settled down to sleep, Jimmy and Ike taking the first watch.
Teaspoon didn't sleep well. He heard Buck slip back into camp and crawl into his blankets.
"They're camped just over that rise," Buck told them as he removed his hat, vest and shirt, slipping the vest back on over his bare chest. The bruise on his shoulder was a deep purple with the edges turning a sickly green.
"I go in alone," he finished.
"All right, but we're taking up position around the camp, in case you need help," Teaspoon answered. They all stood in the early morning mist, waiting.
"They've set up sentries." Buck motioned for Teaspoon to follow him as he crawled up the hill, then pointed out their locations.
"Be careful, Buck."
"I will. If anything happens get out of here fast." He walked past Ike, touching him briefly on the shoulder, then mounted his horse and rode down into the Indian camp.
On to Chapters 3-4