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Authors: Phoebe Conn

Tags: #Indian captivities, #Dakota Indians

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BOOK: Tender savage
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When Little Crow was wounded, Mankato took over leadership of the Sioux warriors and attempted an all-out attack through the ravine that lay at the southwest of the beleaguered fort. Again the braves were driven back by fire from the artillery pieces, which had been double-charged in a desperate attempt to stave off the attack. The Sioux were brave, but not suicidal, and the fort's defenses would not be challenged again. The Indians withdrew and made no plans to return.

Viper could not recall ever having been so tired, but as he gazed at the disheveled p>oses of the friends who had collapsed from exhaustion all around him he realized with

scant pride that he had more stamina than most. At least he was still awake. He had agreed with Little Crow that taking the fort was the first step to ridding the valley of whites. Once the fort had fallen, there would have been nothing to stop them from reaching the Mississippi. It was now painfully clear Fort Ridgely was not going to fall, and no more time would be wasted trying to defeat men armed with artillery. He had known exactly what he wished to do when the enemy had been the army. Now he would have to redirect his anger toward any whites they encountered, and he was not convinced that was what he truly wished to do.

Using a twig, the weary Indian drew a faint line in the dirt at his side, lazily tracing the path of the river from the fort to New Ulm. The town would have no cannons. From what he had seen of the residents, there were few men to defend it, either. If the Sioux could move with the same determination they had shown that day, the dty would soon be theirs. Just as they had at the agency, he knew most of the braves would turn to looting, but there was only one thing of value in New Ulm as far as he was concerned, and he whispered her name softly to himself. Erica must know about the war. Did she also know he would be coming for hCT?

On Saturday morning, August 23, lookouts at New Ulm saw huge clouds of black smoke coming from the dirertion of Fort Ridgely. Fearing the fort had tallen to the Sioux, they fully expeaed to be attacked from the north side of the river.

Now commanding the forces gathered to defend New Ulm was Judge Charles E. Flandrau. A member of the Minnesota Supreme Court, he had attended the state's constitutional convention and was a former Indian agent. A resident of Traverse des Sioux, he was the most prominent citizen of the valley, and his leadership had been readily sought and acknowledged. He had ordered the street barricades fortified with wagons and whatever else could be found to more effectively seal off the core of the city. There were now more than one thousand women, children, and men without firearms crowded into the

barricaded structures. Many of them had been in their cramped basement quarters since the first attack on Tuesday and were not only frightened, but tired and hungry, as well.

Not realizing the Sioux had set the fires to give the residents of New Ulm the mistaken impression the fort had fallen, Flandrau sent a force of seventy-five across the river to defend the city on the north. Those men were quickly cut off by waiting Sioux and had to retreat to St. Peter. Flandrau then had only two hundred twenty-five armed men to defend the town.

While Little Crow recuperated from his wounds, the chiefs Mankato, Wabasha, and Big Eagle led a force of six hundred fifty braves to within striking distance of the town. The Sioux warriors approached to within a mile and a half, then began to fan out. As their charge increased in speed, the braves began to yell war cries so terrifying that the white men who had advanced past the barricades turned tail and ran for the center of the town, while the Indians used the vacant houses they had passed for cover. The firing then grew intense, with sharpshooters hidden in a large wooden windmill west of the business district keeping the braves from overrunning the barricades there.

Viper was surprised to find that the citizens of New Ulm had burned many houses to the ground to prevent them from being used as cover. He was on horseback that day, and, carrying a torch, rode swiftly to set other houses aflame so they could advance under the dense cloud of smoke fanned by the wind blowing from the direction of the river. They had the numbers to encircle the town, and as he moved forward setting fires, his friends kept up steady fire at the men who manned the barricades.

After having faced cannon fire. Viper found the assault up>on New Ulm child's play. The men defending the town were relying upon the protection of wooden barricades that he felt certain would be far easier to ignite than the roofs at Ford Ridgely. He could swiftly turn that wooden wall of defense into a ring of fire, and while that idea struck him as nothing less than brilliant, he did not want to see all the residents of New Ulm bum to death in the inferno he could so easily create. He pulled his horse to an abrupt halt, then gouged his heels into the stallion's

flanks when a bullet came so near his thigh it ruffled the fringe on his buckskins. There was a fine line between bravery and stupidity, and he wheeled his mount away and back through the veil of smoke as he tried to decide just how much more of the city he truly wished to put to the torch.

It had been so long since Erica had slept she felt only numb rather than fatigued. Enduring three seemingly endless days of waiting for the Sioux to return had been far worse torture than facing their first attack, but she could tell from the sound of the gunfire that this battle was much more intense than the previous one had been. Casualties were being carried to the back door of the hotel and brought inside as quickly as space could be found to accommodate them.

Like everyone else, she had been forced to wear the same clothes all week. That her pale blue dress was splattered with bloodstains was scarcely reassuring to her patients, but her manner was still calm and competent. Dr. Mayo had complimented her many times, for he had found she had a better knowledge of emergency procedures than most medical students. That also worked to her disadvantage, however, when he had to rely upon her to care for the more seriously injured before he could reach them.

Two hours went by, perhaps three. Erica had no reason to glance at the clock as she drew upon reserves of strength she had not known she possessed. Being tired seemed a small complaint when men who were seriously wounded lay on makeshift beds all around her. Stumbling out the back door in the vain hope that no more casualties would be found waiting, she saw two men approaching dragging a third between them. She rushed out to meet them and quickly provided instructions when she saw the profusely bleeding wound in the badly injured man's left thigh.

"Just take him right on inside. Carry him to the front room, but don't leave him until Dr. Mayo says you may go." The two able-bodied men turned fright-filled eyes toward her, fearing their friend might lose his leg, but she shook her head warning them not to ask that question out loud.

Erica held the door open as the trio entered, but she couldn't bear to follow them just yet and leaned back against the frame structure to catch her iHreath. Before she had enjoyed more than a few seconds* respite from her labors, she heard hoofbeats approaching rapidly. Assuming someone must be bringing in another desperately wounded man, she remained where she stood to greet them.

The horse was big and black and his flying mane obscured the rider's identitv until it was too late for Erica to flee. Bright streaks of red war paint crossed the Indian's face on a diagonal slant resembling a fierce swipe frcnn a cougar's claws, while his long hair flew out behind him like a wild crown of ebony fire. His bronze skin glistened with a light sheen of sweat, and the gleam that filled his eyes was again that of highly polished steel.

Paralyzed with fright. Erica could not even reach for the door, let alone gather the strength of pur]x>se necessary to dart back inside the hotel. She stood transfixed by the Indian's piercing silver gaze, certain she was looking directly into the face of her own doom. Her worst fears had suddenly come to pass, and as the stallion's hot breath brushed her cheek she fully expected a bullet to rip through her heart. She shut her eyes tightly to spare herself the gruesome sight of her own blood splattering across the horse's flank.

Viper leaned down, and with the ease of a well-trained warrior he plucked Erica from the ground, then laid her across the horse's withers in front of him. Without breaking his mount's furious pace, he swept down the line of buildings beside the hotel, then leaped the barricade at the end and carried his struggling captive away before the men defending the dty had the presence of mind to realize who he was and what he had done. Swif dy obscured by the blanket of smoke he had created, the Indian disappeared with the grace of a phantom at dawn.

"Jesus Christ!" screamed the man whose hat had been knocked from his head by the hind hooves of the fleeing horse as the animal had cleared the top of the barricade with no more than an inch to spare. "Who in the hell was that?" He jammed his battered hat back on his head before he turned to peer over the makeshift wall, but he could

make out nothing through the cloud of smoke that surrounded them.

Gunter had been helping Ernst Schramberger keep his two rifles loaded, having none of his own. He wasn't certain just exactly what he had seen, since the Indian who had sped by them had been little more than a blur of black and bronze. And light blue, he realized, with a sudden horrified suspicion that the bit of blue silk that had passed so quickly from his view might have been his cousin's dress. "It was a Siouxl" he screamed as he turned to Ernst. "But what was he carrying? Was it a woman in blue? Did any of you see what he had?"

His companions had all been facing outward and had seen little more than the black horse's flying tail before he and his rider had disappeared. All except Ernst were too busy to worry as Gunter did that an Indian brave might have just ridden off with one of their women.

Ernst reached for the rifle Gunter had just loaded as he spoke. "You think a brave just carried Erica off, is that your fear?" he asked with a barely concealed smile, for such a happenstance sounded preposterous to him. "Go on in the Iwtel and take a look around. I'm sure you'll find her with the doctors."

Gunter knew the man was making fun of him. He also knew he would get no answers there, and since being ridiculed was easier to bear than the nagging fear that his pretty cousin had just been taken captive by a savage, he crawled away from the barricade. He kept his head down until he reached the back of the buildings and could make a dash for the hotel. He bolted through the back door, and moving toward the front room, called out Erica's name as he searched the faces of the wounded and those tending them for some sign of her.

Dr. Mayo looked up from the wound he was suturing. "I don't know why you're looking for Erica, but I'd like to find her, too. She was at the back door a few minutes ago, and I need her in here."

The smell of warm blood turned the youth's stomach, but he couldn't tear his eyes away from the physician's gruesome task. The man had laid his patient upon an elegant mahogany table that had formerly been used for dining, but that struck Gunter as no stranger than the fact

that the town was surrounded by Indians screaming what he was certain were curses none of them could understand. "I'm afraid, I'm afraid she's been taken captive," he finally managed to stutter.

"Taken captive? You can't be seriousl" William Mayo looked up again and saw immediately from the lad's stricken expression that he most certainly was. "God help us all," he prayed aloud. "Well then, you come here and help me. We won't be able to go after Erica until the shooting stops, and from the sound of it that won't be for some time."

There was only one thing Gunter wanted to do less than help the physician, and that was to find his parents to tell them Erica had been captured by some bloodthirsty Sioux riding a black horse. Swallowing hard to force back the nausea that filled his throat, he stepped forward. "What is it you want me to do, sfr?" he asked bravely, as though he actually had the courage to follow through with any instructions he might be given.

That she hadn't been shot dead surprised Erica so greatly that she didn't at first realize how excruciatingly painful bouncing facedown across Viper's lap actually was. She found it nearly impossible to draw a breath, and each time she managed that feat she gagged on the dust kicked up by the black stallion's flying hooves. Oblivious of her discomfort, her captor rode mile after bone-jarring mile. Then to her horror he forced his mount into the river, but he did not pull her upright until her hair had already been soaked to the roots by die water. She had been certain he meant to hold her head down and drown her, but the fact that he had spared her from such a horrid fate at what appeared to be the last possible minute did not lessen her fears that he meant to do her great harm. She was still terrified of the man, but she clung to him tightly to keep from being swallowed up by the river.

The stallion was a strong brute, and Viper had been certain the animal could carry both of them across before he had entered the river. When they reached the northern bank he wasted no time trying to remove Erica's arms from around his neck, but instead allowed her to remain in the

more comfortable pose and kept on riding. They reached the border of the thick stand of timber known as the Big Woods, then crossed the Minnesota River again above St. Peter and Traverse des Sioux. Only then did he allow the horse to strike a slower pace.

The woods cut a wide swath down the center of the state, extending all the way up to the Canadian border in the north, and Viper meant to stay lost in them for a good long while. He urĀ§;ed the stallion to continue until there was too little daylight left for the horse to make its way safely. Confident they would not be tracked this far from New Ulm, the Indian finally drew his mount to a halt in a small clearing surrounded by sugar maple trees and white elm. ''We'll make camp here," he announced confidently.

She didn't dare look up at him for fear of what his expression would be, but after a slight hesitation Erica removed her arms from around ViF>er's neck. When she realized he had released his hold upon her waist, she looked down with an apprehensive glance. The horse was so large that the ground appeared at least ten feet below her, and she couldn't find sufficient courage after all she had been through to leap from his back.

BOOK: Tender savage
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