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Authors: Stephanie Grace Whitson

Tags: #historical fiction, #Dakota war commemoration, #Dakota war of 1862, #Dakota Moon Series, #Dakota Moons Book 2, #Dakota Sioux, #southwestern Minnesota, #Christy-award finalist, #faith, #Genevieve LaCroix, #Daniel Two Stars, #Simon Dane, #Edge of the Wilderness, #Stephanie Grace Whitson

Edge of the Wilderness

BOOK: Edge of the Wilderness
7.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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E
DGE OF THE
W
ILDERNESS

Dakota Moons, Book 2

S
TEPHANIE
G
RACE
W
HITSON

Published by eChristian, Inc.
Escondido, California

For Robert Thomas Whitson, 1946–2001

. . . above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money . . . one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity . . . and not a new convert . . . and he must have a good reputation with those outside the church.

—1 Timothy 3:1–7 (
NASB
)

This is my beloved, and this is my friend.

—Song of Songs 5:16

Prologue

My soul is weary of my life.

—Job 10:1

M
ANKATO
, M
INNESOTA
, F
EBRUARY
1863

He had bent his back against the winter wind and slumped over his pony’s neck, trusting the animal to take him to safety in the midst of a blizzard. He had huddled in a muddy niche high above an iced-over creek while sleet pelted the countryside. But never, in his almost twenty winters of life, could Daniel Two Stars remember cold like this. It seeped through his blanket, penetrated his skin, and left him stiff like the ancient man he had begun to hope he would never live long enough to become. The only good thing in it was that when he was awake, the cold numbed even his thoughts. The effort to survive kept him from roaming through the past collecting bitter memories.

The man shackled to him was his friend. Both in body and mind he was the strongest man Daniel Two Stars had ever known. But since the beginning of the new year the whites called 1863, even Robert Lawrence, formerly known as the merciless warrior Little Buffalo, had given up encouraging those around him. He had become like the rest of the prisoners, crowding around pathetic fires every morning until their day’s supply of wood was gone, shivering through the afternoons and evenings. The only relief came when the guards passed out bug-ridden bread and gruel made with half-rotten meat declared unfit for soldiers. But the half-starved Dakota shoved it into their mouths with trembling fingers, hoping it would stay down, not really surprised if it didn’t.

They were in prison because of something begun by a half-dozen braves six moons ago. An argument over a few stolen eggs ended in war, with hundreds of Dakota taking vengeance against the whites encroaching on their traditional way of life. No one knew how many had died, but everyone knew stories of atrocities. No one cared if all the stories were true or not. Everyone in power wanted the Indians gone from Minnesota. Many wanted them all dead.

Daniel Two Stars was among the dozens of Dakota men who had refused to fight. A recent convert to Christianity, he did what he could to protect his family and his missionary friends. He managed to avoid disaster—until he made the mistake of trusting the army. Leaving the girl he loved and the children she cared for safe at Fort Ridgely, Daniel had returned north to the Dakota camp planning to interpret for his Dakota friends who did not speak English and the army commission conducting trials. What he did not know was that the army of the Great Father in Washington had redefined justice. Those in power had decided that every Indian was guilty—unless proven innocent.

The irony of his rescue still made Daniel smile a little. While everyone expressed their outrage at the way captive women had been treated, one of those captive women—a spinster missionary—strode up and defended him. “Captain,” Miss Jane Williams had said, putting her hand on Daniel’s shoulder, “if you harm this man I will shoot you myself!”

Thanks to Miss Jane’s testimony, Daniel was declared innocent of any crimes. Again, he stayed to help his friends. But then the missionaries all left to untangle their own devastated lives. Daniel Two Stars’s identity was confused with another man named Rising Star. Based on eyewitness reports about Rising Star’s crimes, Daniel was forced into prison along with the guilty. Initially he protested. “I know Rising Star. I saw him ride out of camp with Little Crow and the rest of his warriors. He is gone from here.” He gave up protesting when an irate soldier named Brady Jensen nearly broke his jaw with the butt of his rifle.

After the trials concluded, the Dakota were divided into two groups. Hundreds of women and children and old men were sent, upriver to Fort Snelling. Guilty of nothing, they were still sentenced to life inside a stockade until the powerful could decide what to do with them. Three hundred “guilty” Dakota men were driven like cattle through the streets of New Ulm, a town twice attacked by Little Crow and his hostile warriors during the uprising. White people came out to meet them, raising clenched fists in the air as they screamed for vengeance. Daniel kept his eyes on the road, trying not to hear the words as the throng raged, “Exterminate them!” “Savages!” “Murderers!” He was nearly knocked unconscious when a woman screaming, “They killed my family, they killed my family!” hurled a brick at him.

And yet, as hopeless as things seemed, Daniel found reason to hope. When he was hit by the brick, the man who helped him up was Robert Lawrence—Robert, who had been wounded at the very beginning of the outbreak, whom Daniel had rescued from one of the burning agency buildings and sent north along with his family to Standing Buffalo’s peaceful people. Daniel had wondered if his friend had survived or died of the gaping wound in his belly. Robert Lawrence was a true Christian and a leader among the peaceful Dakota. His sudden reappearance in Daniel’s life buoyed both men’s hopes.

And so, when they finally arrived at Mankato and were crowded into a hastily built prison just west of the city, Daniel joined Robert in praying for deliverance. They were among 303 men sentenced to die by the military court. But the Great Father in Washington had mercy. He delayed the impending execution and demanded evidence to review the cases. Throughout the fall of 1862 Daniel and his fellow prisoners waited while President Lincoln reviewed each case. When he was finished, the Great Emancipator reduced the number to be executed to forty. Daniel and Robert prayed for patience. They prayed for endurance. They prayed for their missionaries to come back to them.

On December 4 of 1862, four months after the uprising, a mob from Mankato threatened to overrun the camp and take justice into their own hands. The prisoners were moved out of tents to a more secure setting inside a low log building positioned on a huge vacant lot that sat between two houses in town. Unable to stand upright along the walls, the men huddled around fires or crouched shivering against the walls under the constant vigilance of three or sometimes four soldiers stationed through the middle of the building. Sickened by the smell of rotten food, unwashed bodies, and illness, the men began to lose heart.

The week before Christmas Daniel and Robert said little. A gallows was being constructed within eyesight of the prison. The pounding of hammers and nails and the scent of fresh-sawn wood filled the air. The forty condemned men were taken away to spend time with missionaries from various denominations. Daniel heard the guards say all but two accepted Christian baptism.

“All I can say,” Brady Jensen said when another soldier told him, “is if I see one of them strolling down them golden streets, there’s going to be murder in heaven.”

On the day of the executions, Daniel and Robert stood shoulder to shoulder, peering through a crevice in the log walls at the gallows. When the military drums pounded out the impending order to cut the rope holding the trapdoors shut beneath the men’s feet, Daniel looked away. He leaned his forehead against the rough log wall, wishing he could not hear the crash as those floors dropped away, the odd sigh that went up from the crowd of onlookers. Inside the prison it was deathly quiet for a long while.

Finally Daniel whispered hoarsely, “Do you think they really believed in Jesus? Or were they just agreeing that the white man’s God was more powerful than theirs?”

Robert sighed and shook his head. He looked at his young friend. “We will know when we get to that next place and see who is there.”

They learned how to accommodate the shackles that joined them together at the ankles so they could slide down the log wall of the prison building and sit without causing cramps in their legs. They did so now. Feeling suddenly cold, both men pulled their worn blankets over their heads. Clouds of moisture rose from the opening in his blanket when Daniel asked, “Now that they have had their revenge, do you think they will let the rest of us go?”

Robert grunted. “We can only pray so, my friend.”

Daniel closed his eyes to squeeze back the tears that welled up. He fought the lump rising in his throat. Robert was beginning to doubt. So was he. He was beginning to think they would never be free again.

He wasn’t ready. She was walking toward him down the path, and he almost panicked. He shouldn’t be here. Not now. Not yet. He glanced down at the greasy spots dribbling down the front of his shirt, the filth splashed across his thighs. He brushed his hand through his matted black hair. It had grown long these past few months. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been near enough water to think about washing it. He looked horrible. He smelled worse. He had to get away. She must not see him like this. But he couldn’t move.

How, he wondered, had she managed to find him? Did she know that just the sight of her made him catch his breath? He thought the white antelope-skin dress she wore had been ruined in a fire long ago. She must have found a way to repair it. The fringe down the sides and around the hem of the simple dress swayed when she walked, brushing against her soft skin. He knew the feel of that skin. Just thinking about it made his whole body grow taut with emotion. She hadn’t braided her hair. Did she know how he loved it when she let it hang down her back that way, a gleaming, flowing stream of dark silk?

She couldn’t see him. Not like this. Not when he looked and smelled like some wild animal. He couldn’t let her see him until he could take her in his arms and tell her that the time they’d been apart meant nothing . . . that, just as he had told her on the day he said good-bye, her blue eyes had followed him everywhere, given him hope to live another day.

Why was it so difficult to move? He needed to get away—to get ready—but it was too late. She saw him. He grabbed a hank of matted hair and tried to push it behind his shoulders in a vain attempt to look more acceptable. She stood still for a moment, and then those eyes—those blue eyes that had been with him since the only time he had kissed her long ago—blinked and widened with recognition. The full mouth parted in a smile so beautiful it made him ache with longing. Her eyes filled with tears and she ran to him, threw herself at him, oblivious to all the things that had made him want to run away.

He wanted to bury his face in the river of her dark hair and whisper what he had learned in all the months they had been apart. But something was wrong. He clenched his jaws in an effort to make his arms wrap themselves around her. But he could not move. The words he had practiced for months died before reaching his lips. He heard something—something odd. His head filled with words, pounding against his temples, wanting to get out. The pressure inside his head was infuriating. She was murmuring words of love, touching his face, her gentle fingers stroking his hairline.

Something cold pressed against the place Blue Eyes had just touched.

Two Stars woke to the sound of someone cocking a pistol very near his head. He could feel the cold end of the barrel pressing against his temple. He opened his eyes. He was lying on his back staring up at the sod-covered roof of the prison building.

“Someone wants to talk to you,” the soldier grunted. He waved his gun at Robert Lawrence. “And you. Let’s go.” Two Stars sat up, blinking stupidly as a shaft of bright light streamed in through the doorway. Next to him Robert Lawrence sat up. They looked at each other, frowning.

From where they sat, Daniel and Robert could see the soldier waiting at the door. He wore knee-high brown leather boots with metal tacked over the toes. Dirty blond hair, spilled out of his felt hat and over the collar of his blue jacket.
Private Brady Jensen.
He had been one of the guards assigned to the Dakota prison since its creation, and he made no attempt to hide his feelings about Indians. Jensen used his steel-toed boots to stomp rats and to kick Dakota prisoners out of his way with equal relish. Waking a slumbering Dakota warrior by pressing a gun barrel to his temple would give Jensen a new anecdote for the mess hall tonight. Daniel was glad he hadn’t shown any sign of fear. He hadn’t really been afraid for a long time now. He almost wished Jensen would have pulled the trigger and sent him back to the dream where he could hold Blue Eyes in an eternal embrace.

Fresh snow had added a layer of pristine white atop the frozen sludge surrounding the prison building. Two Stars and Robert struggled for a few feet before adopting the strange hobbling gait that enabled them to follow Jensen through the snow in spite of the irons holding their ankles together. Each man bent down and scooped up a handful of snow. After taking a mouthful, Daniel swiped his face with the rest of it in an attempt to shake off the last vestiges of his dream about Blue Eyes. Snow was filling his moccasins, numbing his ankles and feet.

To the men’s surprise, Jensen was leading them to the gate. Two Stars had not spoken English in weeks, and he made little effort now to understand what was being said when Jensen talked to the guard at the gate. Whatever was happening probably meant nothing good for either he or Robert. He glanced behind him at the fenced compound, squinting his eyes and trying to imagine winter camp. The wind shifted and blew the smell of the place at him. He looked down and saw the snow blow away from the faces of two more bodies stacked next to the gate. Any imaginings about winter camp disappeared.

BOOK: Edge of the Wilderness
7.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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