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Authors: Nancy A. Collins

Walking Wolf

BOOK: Walking Wolf
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Walking Wolf

A Weird Western

Nancy A. Collins

For My Father

John Wayne Collins



Every kid plays at Cowboys and Indians, sometime or another, no matter what their sex, race, background or temperament. I was no different—except I wasn't playing. It was how I lived. My name is William Skillet. That's my White name. My Indian name—some would say it was my
name—is Walking Wolf. I was raised by the Comanche as one of their own on the open plains of what are now the states of New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Now I know what you're thinking. I can't be more than fifty years old, by the looks of me. And the last time the Comanche lived free of the reservations was before the turn of the twentieth century, which would make me either quite well preserved or a damn liar.

Well, I have been known to lie on occasion, but this time I'm giving you the straight skinny. To the best of my knowledge, I am one hundred and sixty-five, give or take a year. The reason I'm vague as to my exact age is that I don't really know when I was born. Eight Clouds Rising—my adopted father—could only tell me that he found me during the season the buffalo cows dropped their calves, the year after the fever went through the tribe, claiming the life of his only natural son. Which probably means I was born sometime in 1844, but don't hold me to it.

But I
tell you the reason for me being so youthful-looking for a man over a century and a half old. I'm not exactly what you'd call human. The closest thing you might be able to relate me to is what's known as a “werewolf,” but not the kind you see in the picture shows that sprout hair and teeth every time there's a full moon. The truth of my kind is a lot more complicated—and frightening—than that.

What you're about to read is the story of my life—leastwise, the early part of it. I wrote it more for my sake than anything else. As I've gotten older, the past has a tendency to become both fuzzy and painfully distinct. Like when I get up in the morning and I'm surprised to find myself in a house, not a tipi, or when I look out the picture window and expect to see a herd of buffalo grazing in the valley below. Other times, I find myself grasping for the name of a loved one like it was a bubble in a stream. I do not want to forget that time, to lose the truth under the weight of a new century's memories.

Now I don't want anyone reading this to think I'm bragging about having led an interesting life. It's just saying some folks just have more things happen to 'em—and in an entertaining fashion—than others. After all, life ain't nothing more than the things that happen to you on your way to dying.

Chapter One

I don't remember my real family. And although I've had all kinds of names in my lifetime, both Indian and White, I never knew the name my flesh-and-blood folks gave me when I was born.

All I know about my Ma is that she was human, probably from the Old Country. My Pa was a
(that's what you folks call ‘werewolves' call themselves) who went by the name of Howler. And for some reason, in the early 1840s they moved out into the wilderness surrounding what would one day become Dallas, Texas.

My story begins with a Comanche brave named Eight Clouds Rising coming home after a successful attempt at stealing Apache ponies. Eight Clouds belonged to the Penateka band, who were famed for their lightning-fast raids, hence their nickname of “Wasp Riders.” As he made his way back to his camp, he caught sight of a thin spume of smoke on the horizon. Then he spied the buzzards. Eight Clouds, being inquisitive by nature, decided to go check it out.

The cabin was still smoldering when he rode up. To hear him tell it, he was surprised to see a White homestead so close to Comanche territory. Whites preferred being within a half-day's ride of one another, yet the nearest settlement was a good three days' journey from there. As he drew closer, the ponies rolled their eyes and whinnied at the stink of death hanging thick in the air.

There was a body sprawled before the collapsed ruin of the two-room cabin. The corpse was that of a boy of nine or ten—the same age as his own son, Little Eagle, who'd died the previous spring. The boy was dressed in a rough-woven flaxen shirt and crude canvas overalls, his feet bare and tough as leather. He'd been shot in the chest and his throat slit from ear to ear. His scalped skull was black with clotted blood.

My Ma's body lay between the barn and the cabin, carrion birds picking at her eyes. She lay on her back, her skirts hiked above her hips. Her killer had cut out her sex and removed her left breast. Eight Clouds was so disgusted he spat in the dirt. He'd claimed his fair share of trophies, but there was no honor in making a trophy of a woman's breast or adorning a war spear with the scalp of a young boy. But then, this wasn't the work of Comanches, or Apaches either, for that matter. The horses that left their tracks at the massacre sight had been wearing shoes. This was a White man's crime.

My Pa was lying near my Ma. He'd been skinned alive, judging by how his limbs were twisted and contorted. As Eight Clouds knelt to examine the butchered remains, he noticed the peeled, snarling muzzle of a wolf jutting from my Pa's face.

If Eight Clouds had ever needed proof that the Whites were bad-crazy, this was certainly it. While he had never seen one himself, Eight Clouds knew the Comanche legends that told how Coyote—the first and greatest of the skinwalkers—had helped human beings by giving them fire, teaching them language and interceding with the Great Spirit on their behalf. And damned if the Whites hadn't gone and skinned him alive!

As Eight Clouds stood pondering the immensity of the Whites' folly, he heard what sounded like a baby crying. He looked around and noticed a smokehouse next to the barn, and it was there the crying seemed to be coming from. Like I said, Eight Clouds was inquisitive by nature, so he decided to take a look inside.

My folk's smokehouse wasn't any different from any other you'd find at that time—except that there were a couple of human carcasses hanging up alongside the dressed-out antelopes and jack rabbits. There were also a couple of barrels set behind the door, and it was in one of these that Eight Clouds found a baby wrapped in a blanket, crying to beat the band. That squalling infant was none other than yours truly.

According to Eight Clouds, I instantly stopped crying when he picked me up—a good luck sign according to the Comanches. I looked him straight in the eye and smiled. He could tell by the color of my eyes—yellow—that I weren't no human baby. Eight Clouds couldn't believe his luck! Here he'd been worrying about his squaw, Thunder Buffalo Woman, being so sad on account of their son's death, and he finds himself a baby skinwalker!

He wasted no time in making a papoose cradle out of some antelope hide and a couple of barrel staves. Pretty soon I was accompanying him on his way back to camp, dangling off the horn of the saddle he'd taken from a Mexican
he'd killed the season before. Of course, I don't remember none of this.

When Eight Clouds got home, he showed me to Thunder Buffalo Woman. The prospect of having a young'un around the tipi cheered her up to no end. She suggested to Eight Clouds that they take their new son to old Medicine Dog, the tribe's shaman, so I could get myself properly named.

Medicine Dog was a wise man and was quite old, even when I was coming up. He was the one who tended to the tribe when folks fell ill, the one who could look at buffalo afterbirth and tell whether the next season was going to be cold, the one who could see the future in the tossing of the bones. He was also in charge of naming the babies born to the tribe—at least the boy ones.

Medicine Dog was sitting outside his tipi, smoking his pipe, looking like he'd been expecting Eight Clouds and Thunder Buffalo Woman the whole time.

“Good day, Medicine Dog,” my new daddy said.

“Yes, it is a good day, Eight Clouds. What is Thunder Buffalo Woman is carrying? Have you a new son?”

“I found this child in what was left of a White homestead. I would make him my own.” Eight Clouds motioned for Thunder Buffalo Woman to show me to Medicine Dog.

Medicine Dog squinted at me with his left eye—he'd lost the right to an Apache arrowhead years before—and puffed on his pipe. “Your new son is a skinwalker, Eight Clouds. You have brought good luck to the Penateka.” Getting to his feet, he motioned for Thunder Buffalo Woman to hand me over. He stood there for a long moment, staring down at me as I played with his medicine necklace, before entering his tipi.

Several long minutes passed before the shaman returned, handing me back to my new mother. He nodded to himself, as if pleased by what had transpired. “I offered smoke to the sky and earth and to the four corners of the world and to the Great Spirit. In the smoke I saw the name of your son. It is Little Wolf.”

And so that's how I got my first name and became an official member of the Comanche.

When I was younger, folks used to always ask me all kinds of questions: What was it like being raised by Injuns? Were the Comanches really murdering red devils? Were they really cannibals?

Well, the Comanche had themselves a warrior society, no two ways about it. They were born horsemen, and proud of their skill in combat. They thought farming and settling down was for weak and cowardly types. They valued bravery and courage above all else, even to the point where a warrior preferred to die young in battle than to grow too old to wage war. Needless to say, they were always fighting someone or other.

Before the Whites came, the Comanche had running feuds with the Pawnee, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Dakota, Kiowa, Apache, Osages and the Tonkawas. Later, when the Europeans started trying to settle Texas, they switched over to fighting first the Spanish, then the Anglos, full-time. But just so you won't think they were completely inhospitable folks, they were on decent terms with the Wichitas, Wacos, Shoshone and Tawakonies. Most of the time.

As for them being murdering devils—I'll grant you they could be downright merciless to those they decided were enemies. I've seen Comanche braves bury Apache warriors up to their ears in hot sand and coat their heads with honey so the ants would pick their skulls clean while they were still alive. Then again, I've known a Comanche brave to give water to a White he found dying of gangrene on the open prairie, wrap him in a blanket and sit up with him just so he wouldn't die on his lonesome out in the middle of nowhere. The Comanche could be funny that way.

Like I said, they were a proud people. And fearless. They were the lords of the southern plains and they damn well knew it! The Mexican
who first settled the area lived in fear of them. Comanche braves were often in the habit of riding into San Antonio, thronging the streets and public squares, and swaggering around like they owned the place. Hell, they even made the townspeople hold the reins of their ponies as they went about raiding the shops and houses! Leastwise, that's what Medicine Dog told me. By the time I was coming up, things were already changing for the Comanche in Texas, and not for the better.

Finally, as for them being cannibals—well, that story got started on account of this band of Comanche called the Tamina, also known as the Liver-Eaters. There weren't very many of them and they felt inferior to the bigger, more powerful tribes like the Wasp Riders and the Antelope People. So they came up with this story about eating the livers of their enemies. Now, the Comanche have this big taboo concerning cannibalism, and no Comanche in his right mind would even think about eating another human being, but it sure did make them sound fierce, didn't it? Unfortunately, most settlers tended to take things at face value and believed they really
cannibals. Needless to day, the Tamina branch of the family got exterminated mighty quick.

Thanks to Eight Clouds Rising and Thunder Buffalo Woman, I grew up a happy, healthy child. And, personally, I couldn't have asked for a better childhood. The Comanche cherished their children, seeing how they tended not to produce that many in the first place, and a baby's chance of getting to be a full-grown adult was pretty dicey.

Now one thing you've got to remember about the Comanche: They were a pragmatic people. While they believed in the Great Spirit and the Spirit World beyond this one, they didn't spend much of their spare time fretting over it, unlike other folks. They didn't hold with coaxing children toward good behavior by promising them all kinds of sweets after they die, or frightening them away from evil by threatening eternal damnation. Instead, the children were shown by word and example that the respect of their fellow tribesmen was to be desired for in and of itself, and the condemnation and contempt of the tribe was to be dreaded like the plague. Men who were brave and generous were applauded and respected as role models. And since it was practically impossible to live a secluded life in a Comanche encampment, everyone was aware of the conduct of everyone else. It was a remarkably effective way of keeping kids in line, let me tell you.

BOOK: Walking Wolf
13.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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