Read Edge of the Wilderness Online

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 (9 page)

BOOK: Edge of the Wilderness
3.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“What is it?” Miss Jane asked, looking up from the half-knitted sock in her lap. “Is something wrong?”

“It’s nothing,” Gen said quickly, studying Simon’s most recent letter carefully.

Miss Jane’s knitting needles flew as she glanced over her glasses at Gen.

Gen shook her head. “Really. It’s nothing.”

Miss Jane nodded and got up. “Well, then, I’m retiring.” From the door she said, “Timothy and Rebecca both need new shoes. I promised them we’d trek uptown tomorrow after school. Is it all right if we take Meg and Hope with us?”

No answer.

“Miss LaCroix?”

Gen started and looked up. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I said it appears as if
nothing
is mighty distracting,” Miss Jane said.

Gen blushed. “Do you remember Cloudman having a daughter about my age?” she asked abruptly.

Miss Jane shook her head. “No. Why?”

Gen read aloud, “‘One of the women claims to be the daughter of Cloudman who she says died in battle against the troops in Minnesota. She is quite lovely and boasts finer blankets and ornaments than the other women. This has given her some power over the soldiers assigned to guard the prisoners, which would be opportunity for evil if she did not use it to benefit her fellow Dakota. Since she generously shares whatever favors she receives with the other women, I cannot fault her enjoyment of the attentions she receives. She speaks most graciously of her days at the Hazelwood Mission and remembers the new work I had just begun near her father’s camp when the outbreak began. She expresses an interest in the gospel and sits in rapt attention when I teach. It is quite encouraging to have a woman whose labors are many take time to attend to the preaching of God’s Word.’”

Miss Jane chuckled and shook her head. “You are jealous, Miss LaCroix.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Gen protested. “I’m just concerned for Simon’s reputation. A missionary serving alone has to be careful.” Gen traced down the letter until she located another passage. “Listen: ‘Our Indian princess says that her name is Light of the Moon. She seems hurt that I do not recall meeting her in her father’s camp. Tell me, my dear, do you recall Cloudman having a daughter? She would have been a bit older than you. Other than an aristocratic face the only thing I can think that you might recall is her hair, which is exceedingly long and reaches nearly to her ankles.’”

“Write the reverend and express concern for the princess,” Miss Jane advised quickly. She looked at Gen over her glasses. “And sign it as affectionately as you dare.” She smiled knowingly. “You are jealous.”

Gen blushed. “I suppose I am. A little.”

Nine

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the L
ORD
’s mercies that we are not consumed.

—Lamentations 3:21–22

“What you think you’re doin’ in my cornfield?”

Daniel Two Stars stood as still as possible, trying to keep his voice from trembling as he explained, “I’m a scout for the army. See my uniform?”

The farmer’s cold eyes showed surprise at being answered in English. He scanned Daniel’s blue jacket. “I heard about Sibley using Dakota scouts. But all those troops left for Dakota Territory. For all I know you took that jacket off a dead soldier.”

“I have a paper from General Sibley,” Daniel said evenly. He looked down toward his left. “In that pocket. Can I show you?”

“Turn around.” The farmer motioned with his rifle.

Daniel moved slowly until his back was to the farmer. He could feel sweat trickling down his back while the wiry little man stepped up and searched him, then carefully reached into his left pocket and withdrew the piece of paper.

“All right,” the farmer said. “Turn back around.” When Daniel once again faced him, the man balanced his rifle across one forearm while unfolding and reading the paper. It was dated June of 1863—just a few weeks ago. The farmer read,

The Bearer, Daniel Two Stars, is a civilized Sioux Indian who deserves the gratitude of the American people for having been prominently involved in saving the lives of white women and children during the late Indian war. He is employed as an Indian scout and assigned to Fort Ridgely for the purpose of reconnoitering the area to apprehend any Sioux Indians, be they hostile or friendly, and returning them to Fort Ridgely from whence they will be removed to the Sioux Reserve in Dakota Territory or imprisoned after due process of the law of the United States of America.

I recommend Daniel Two Stars to the kind consideration and attention of all citizens of the United States.

General H. H. Sibley United States Army

“Says here you saved white women and children,” the farmer said, squinting up from the paper.

Daniel nodded. “I did what I could.”

The farmer folded the paper and put it in the breast pocket of his red plaid shirt. He motioned again with the rifle. “You can put your hands down. Just don’t make any sudden movements.”

Daniel lowered his arms, rubbing his numb hands and waiting for the farmer to speak.

The farmer patted his pocket. “It says you’re a scout for the U.S. Army. But like I said before, Sibley took his scouts with him. So what are you doing in my cornfield?”

“Since Little Crow died there have been rumors hostiles might try to cross back into Minnesota.”

The farmer took his hat off and swiped his forehead with his shirt sleeve. “I know all about that. What’s that got to do with you?” He settled his hat back on his head.

“They decided to divide the scouts up into camps. They left three of us at Fort Ridgely to help protect the settlers coming back. Someone rode in yesterday and said they found a campsite down here. They said an Indian child was buried in the old way, high in a notch of a tree. Captain Willets sent us to check it out.”

“Us?”
The farmer looked around warily.

Daniel jerked his chin up, indicating the cornfield behind him. “My friend Robert Lawrence is in there hoping you don’t kill me.”

“Come on out of there, Robert Lawrence,” the farmer called loudly. He took two steps backward and waited. At the opposite end of the cornfield a few stalks of corn moved. The farmer repeated, “Come on. I see where you are. I won’t shoot.”

When Robert finally appeared, the farmer motioned him to stand beside Daniel.

“How come your uniforms don’t match?”

“They give us old uniforms,” Robert said. “Whatever they have.”

“I heard about that Indian campfire,” he said. “It’s on my neighbor’s place. Down by the creek that runs through his south field.” He shuddered. “Small child wrapped in a buffalo robe high up off the ground. It ain’t Christian.” The farmer nodded at Robert. “You got one of those papers that tells what a fine citizen you are?”

Robert nodded.

“Let’s see it.”

The farmer looked over Robert’s paper carefully and added it to his pocket. “You two walk down here from Fort Ridgely?” he asked abruptly.

Robert answered, “We left our horses tethered to a bush just over that ridge. They aren’t very well broke. We didn’t want to trample down any of your crop.”

At the farmer’s look of surprise, Robert shrugged, “We were farmers before the trouble last fall.” He added, “I wouldn’t have wanted anyone riding half-wild horses through my cornfield. Not until after harvest, anyway.”

“You find any trace of hostiles on my place?”

Robert nodded. “They passed by here maybe two days ago. Probably a small group of women. Maybe a young boy with them. That would explain how they got the dead one up so high in the tree. We’ll follow them and take them to the fort.”

The farmer frowned. “How can you be sure it was women?”

“Warriors ride stallions,” Daniel said. “All this group had with them was one half-lame mare.” When the farmer still looked doubtful, Daniel went on to explain how he could tell the sex of the horse he was tracking.

The farmer shook his head. “Well, I’ll be.” He studied the ground for a minute before clearing his throat and asking, “If that was a stallion and you’d found yourself a hostile Indian, what’d you do then?”

“Take him back to Fort Ridgely.”

“What if he didn’t want to go?”

“Then we shoot.”

“You’d do that?” the farmer asked. “You’d shoot one of your own?”

“A warrior planning to murder families is not one of my own.”

The farmer studied Daniel and Robert carefully, taking in the ill-fitting uniforms, the high-crowned felt hats, the long dark braids trailing down the men’s shoulders. “You two hungry?” he asked abruptly.

Daniel started to say no when his stomach growled. He grinned sheepishly.

“Get your horses and come on up to the house,” the farmer said. “My missus just made a raspberry pie.”

The men hesitated.

The farmer waved at them. “Come on. My Marjorie ain’t some fool woman that faints at the sight of an Indian.” He curled up one side of his lip in a crooked smile. “My granddad was friends of Chief Paducah on the homestead in Kentucky. Indians never did us any harm, and we done what we could to make life easier for them.” He turned to go, and it was then that Daniel and Robert noticed the man limped. “Johnny Reb burned us out so we come here.” He turned back. “I never learned to be afraid of Indians. Hope it don’t get me killed.” He limped away.

Robert and Daniel retrieved their horses, then followed the farmer to his cabin. When they reached the farmyard, they found him bent over a bucket of cold water splashing his face and washing his hands. At their approach, he stood up. He ran his fingers through his brown hair, wiped them on the seat of his pants, and extended his hand. “Jeb Grant.” When a plain, dark-haired woman appeared in the doorway to the cabin, he turned to introduce her. “My wife, Marjorie.”

Marjorie blushed furiously when Daniel and Robert introduced themselves. “You men just set yourselves down there in the yard,” she said, waving toward a rough-hewn bench alongside the house. “I’ll be right out with that pie.” She disappeared inside the cabin.

Jeb reached into his pocket and handed their papers to the two men. “Guess you better keep these,” he said.

Marjorie emerged from the cabin with the pie in one hand and plates in the other. Resting the pie on the edge of the Grants’ new well, she dished up one-fourth of the pie to each of the men. Just as Daniel took the last bite of pie, she lumbered to the cabin and returned with a loaf of bread in an old sack. “You men take this, now,” she insisted, then smiled at Robert. “And if you have a wife, bring her down for a visit. It gets mighty lonely here.”

Robert and Daniel picked up the trail of the unknown Indians just across an open piece of ground opposite Jeb’s cornfield. They followed it up a hill and turned to look back toward the farm. “He put the well in a good place,” Robert commented as they surveyed the valley.

Daniel nodded, looking across the valley to the ridge where his own farm had been. “I wonder if Mrs. Grant would have served us pie if she had known she baked it in Nancy’s stove,” he said.

Robert shrugged. Together they rode back to where the grieving Dakota had left a dead child. Daniel climbed the tree and lowered the body to Robert’s waiting arms. Together, they dug a grave and laid the child to rest beneath the earth.

When he was first sent to guard Indian prisoners in Mankato, Minnesota, Brady Jensen had thought his military career was at an all-time low. He was wrong. Three weeks after he marched out of Minnesota with General Sibley’s troops, he was ordered to Crow Creek Reservation where he was given a wagonload of squaws to deliver to various scouts’ camps along the frontier. He would end up right where he had started his career in the West—Fort Ridgely.

Like many of his comrades in arms, Jensen had taken to referring to the Indians as “Mr. Lo.” It was a bad joke on the sympathetic whites and their constantly calling attention to “Lo, the poor Indian.” He could hardly believe his ears when he was called in and told that for as long as the Dakota scouts’ services were needed, it had been decided to let their families join them as an incentive to encourage faithful service. Family ties were strong among the Dakota, Jensen’s commander explained, and if the men had their wives with them, the army wouldn’t have to worry about deserters. “There’s another reason for sending the wives out. After the men hear about conditions at Crow Creek,” the commander had said with a wry smile, “they’ll be more than happy to do their best on behalf of the army just so they can stay in service and keep from having to go there.”

Whatever the reasoning behind the plan to take the scouts’ families to them, Jensen wanted no part of transporting “the poor Indian.” He was sick of getting the worst assignments available because of one mistake in one battle over a year ago, and by the time he crossed the river at Redwood Ferry and climbed the hill past the sutler’s house and a few stores, he didn’t care who knew how he felt. When he pulled his team up in front of the U-shaped stone building that served as a combination surgeon’s residence and headquarters at Fort Ridgely, he ignored the two ragged squaws sitting behind him in the wagon and headed immediately inside, leaving the squaws to themselves.

The women looked at each other nervously. They surveyed the fort. Nancy nodded toward the dozen or so new buildings. “Little Crow must have burned the old ones,” she muttered under her breath to her companion. The two women were aware that their arrival had been noticed by several soldiers standing at the corner of the two-story barracks building on the opposite side of the parade ground. They hunkered down in the wagon, afraid to move.

But then two riders approached from the south. One of, the squaws watched their approach. Her hand went to her throat. She nudged her companion. And then, as the two riders came closer, she leaped out of the wagon, threw her arms into the air, and ran straight for the approaching riders.

And so it was that Robert Lawrence was reunited with his wife, Nancy. She fell into his arms the moment he jumped down from his horse, wrapped her arms around his neck, and began to weep.

“Do not cry, little wife,” Robert whispered huskily. He held her close and whispered her name over and over again until she had calmed down enough to hear him.

Daniel dismounted and stood at a respectful distance, holding the reins to both their horses. He looked toward the stone building where the captain lived and saw that Big Amos had also found his wife.

“Where are the children?” Robert asked.

Nancy could not look at him. She buried her face in his shirt and shook her head.

Robert swallowed hard.

After a moment, Nancy took a deep breath. Turning her head so he could hear her but still leaning against his chest, she said brokenly, “There was so much sickness. At first I tried to stay away from it. I made Clara stay in the tent and take care of the baby. I told her to stay away from the sick ones. It was so cold. And we never had enough firewood. The missionaries did what they could to help, but there were too many of the people—and too few who cared to help. Clara began to cough.” Nancy broke off and began to sob.

“Shh, shh, shh,” Robert soothed his wife wordlessly, in the rhythm of a Dakota lullaby.

Daniel stepped between the horses and began to rub his bay gelding’s ears, blinking away the tears in his eyes. He looked over his saddle horn and saw Big Amos, who had had no children to lose at Fort Snelling, lifting his wife in the air. He could hear the giant man’s booming laughter as he spun his wife around and around. And he wondered about the blue-eyed girl he had once loved.

Tears streamed down Nancy’s cheeks as she looked up at her husband. “I lost them, my husband. I lost our children.” Her voice broke as she half whispered in Dakota, “Forgive me.”

Robert pulled her to him again. “Don’t,” he said softly. He closed his eyes. When Nancy’s sobs quieted, Robert put one arm around her and together they walked to where Daniel waited. Robert took the reins of his horse and the three joined Big Amos and his wife beside the wagon.

BOOK: Edge of the Wilderness
3.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Horizon by Christie Rich
Love Love by Beth Michele
Meri by Reog
Cold Calls by Charles Benoit
Savannah Swingsaw by Don Pendleton
The Bloody Border by J. T. Edson
El Encuentro by Frederik Pohl
Accidentally Wolf by Elle Boon