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Calico Mary

Dreams of the Golden Aspen Ranch

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It was spring before we finally made it to Colorado Territory. There were four of us in our party: me, the only remaining daughter of one of the first white settlers in Colorado; Buick MacKane, a faro dealer and gunslinger turned cowhand; a half white/half Cheyenne brave named He Who Walks Two Paths, but who Buick and I just mostly just called “Cheyenne” (it was easier); and a beautiful young Arapaho woman named Morning Star, daughter of Chief Hosa.


Buick, Cheyenne, and myself had spent the winter with Chief Hosa (Little Raven) and his people on the plains of eastern Kansas. Buick had been injured during a run-in with several henchman working for a corrupt cattle baron, and I had almost been killed by some renegade Kansa warriors the previous fall. The Arapaho had taken us in, took care of our wounds, and nursed us back to health. It hadn't been easy, I had almost died from my injuries. I was unconscious for several days and bedridden for a couple of months. By the time both Buick and I were ready to travel, the weather had turned bad, and He Who Walks Two Paths convinced us it was safer to stay with the Arapaho until spring.


A spare tipi had been set up to use as sort of a hospital for Buick and I, and Morning Star moved in to take care of us. He Who Walks Two Paths originally had been asked to stay in Chief Hosa's tipi, as an honored guest, but since he spent most of his time with us anyway, Hosa finally told him to just stay there and save himself the trouble of walking back and forth between the tipis. After all of Buick's broken bones had healed, he had disappeared for a few days, with the Chief's blessing of course, to travel to a nearby town for some whiskey and some gambling. When he returned, he brought with him a pocket full of money, several dozen cigars, and a guitar. Where he got that, I had no idea, I hadn't even known that he could play, but he and Cheyenne would both play music for me and Morning Star in the evenings. There wasn't much to do after dark, and conversation was difficult at best. He Who Walks Two Paths did start to teach Buick some sign, which helped, but the Arapaho spoken language was beyond the gambler's verbal skills, he just couldn't get the hang of it. We also started teaching Morning Star some English, and by spring the four of us were good friends.


When spring came, it was finally time for Buick, Cheyenne, and myself to put Kansas behind us and continue on to Colorado. Chief Hosa was not real happy though when his daughter decided that she wished to accompany us back to my father's ranch. He knew that it wouldn't be long before the soldiers would come to force the village to relocate to a reservation in Indian Territory, and he wanted his family to stay together. Morning Star was adamant though, she felt her destiny was to remain with us, even if that meant leaving her people and going back to Colorado. So right after dawn one fine spring morning, we mounted our ponies and headed west.


We followed the Smoky Hill trail from Kansas into Colorado Territory, first along the Smoky Hill River then along Big Sandy Creek. Many settlers had used this trail to get to Denver during the gold rush, and many had lost their lives doing so. Several stagecoach companies had also used it, but none had much success. Hardly anyone used it anymore, not since the railroad had finally reached Denver in the summer of 1870. It was still the best way for us to get to where we were going, as my pa's ranch was not far from one of the settlements that had been used as a stage stop, a little place called Willow Springs. The ranch was located just the other side of Big Sandy Creek from the town, and the trail made for easier riding. As we got closer to Willow Springs, the terrain started becoming more and more familiar to me. Some things had changed while I had been gone, but I had grown up here, and knew the area well. I was in a hurry to get home, but we couldn't go as fast as I wished, as we were driving a herd of ponies ahead of us, plus I was in no shape to go faster. My injuries had healed, but I still was not as strong as I had been, and wondered if I was ever going to be fully recovered. In my present condition, it was a good thing I had changed my mind about taking Buick and He Who Walks Two Paths with me, as there was no way I could handle all the work involved with rebuilding by myself any more.


As we rode closer to the ranch, a wave of memories washed over me of the last time I had seen it. Everything had burned to the ground, and I hadn't even had a chance to bury the bodies of my pa and my sisters. I felt tears building up in my eyes, but knew I had to put the past behind me and build some sort of a future, but with which man I still wasn't sure. It didn't help that I had become aware that Morning Star really liked Buick, and He Who Walks Two Paths seemed to be developing an interest in Morning Star as well. To be honest, I had no idea if either man had any intention of staying....Buick was used to wandering and I knew He Who Walks Two Paths had family not that far away. Things were getting rather confusing...


The first thing I saw was the chimney of the cabin, one of the few things that had survived the fire. I also noticed that the aspen trees that my pa had planted to one side of the cabin were also still there. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad....then I saw the remains of the rest of the cabin and the barn, and I could no longer keep the tears from spilling down my cheeks. I still missed my family so much, how could I ever forgive those who had been responsible for their deaths?

Riding closer, I noticed one thing that hadn't been there before, a small shed had been built back against the small bluff that rose up behind where the cabin had stood. I also noticed movement inside the small dugout pa had put into the bluff that we had used as a root cellar. Someone was squatting on my land! We reined up and drew our pistols, there was no telling who it was in the dugout, and we couldn't take any chances. Buick shouted out “Hello, the dugout, come out with your hands up!”, and slowly the door opened....


To our surprise (and theirs) it was our old pards from the cattle drive we'd been on the previous summer, Jesse and Pete! After putting our guns away and greeting the pair, they told us how they had decided to travel west themselves after the drive had ended, to look for me. It took them half the winter before someone could tell them the location of the ranch, and they had made themselves at home in the dugout to wait for me to arrive. The shed was all they could manage to build at the time to shelter their horses in. They had both started to get really worried that I wasn't going to make it, but were happy that I finally had, and were glad to see Buick and He Who Walks Two Paths as well. We introduced them to Morning Star, and I assured them that they were welcome to stay.


Well, I was finally home, such as it was. There was a lot of work ahead of all of us to make it livable, much less turn it into a working ranch again, but we all were looking forward to the task. It would also take money, and I wasn't sure where to get that, but we started making definite plans while sitting around the campfire eating dinner (thankfully Morning Star could cook!), with a real barn being the first priority. I also outlined my plans to head up into the mountains to look for a herd of wild horses that I knew had been there before in a little valley my pa took me to several times, we would need more stock than just the Comanche ponies He Who Walks Two Paths had brought. It was getting late, so we all got out our bedrolls and settled down for the night.


Before I laid down, I took one last look at the small grove of aspen trees that my pa had planted for me just because I had thought they were so pretty in autumn. As I was shutting my eyes to get some sleep, all of a sudden the perfect name for the ranch occurred to me. From that point on, this would be the Golden Aspen Ranch....

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I awoke the next morning early enough to see the sun rising over the eastern horizon. I had forgotten how pretty that could be, since I hadn't seen any sunrises while in the village, and on the trail we were usually up and moving west every morning before the sun came up. I was looking forward to taking a few trips closer to the mountains, as pretty as the sunrises were, the sun setting over the mountains was even better! I loved this land, and was happy to be back. This was where I belonged, and I was looking forward to making all my dreams for the ranch come true. Some wild horses to start, we'd have to break them to ride of course, but they should make good riding stock. I'd also have to look into getting some draft horses to breed, wasn't likely to find them running wild, and I knew there'd be a market for them. Maybe get a few mules too, at some point down the road, they did come in handy.

I wasn't really interested in raising a lot of cows, but a small herd would be good, then we wouldn't have to worry about food. Speaking of food, one thing we'd need to do and soon would be to plow the old garden patch, get some vegetables growing. Corn, maybe some potatoes, things like that. We'd had a pretty decent garden when I was growing up, but it was already overgrown. We'd have to start all over, which meant coming up with a plow somewhere, as well as something to pull it. I didn't think the indian ponies were up to the task, maybe I wouldn't wait on at least one mule.

Jesse and Pete hadn't been idle all winter though, and that was a good thing. Bless those two, they may have been young but they both had a good head on their shoulders. In addition to cleaning out the dugout and building that little shed, they had also dug a new well. The old one had gotten fouled, and had partial collapsed and was no longer useable. They hadn't had enough wood to build anything over the well, but were keeping it covered as best they could with an old saddle blanket held down with rocks. I wanted to get a pump to put in over it, it would sure make drawing water a lot easier, and we'd need plenty of that. They had also put in a new outhouse around the side of the bluff, Morning Star and I were very thankful for that!

I'd started making a list in my head of all the things we were gonna need, and I was starting to get a little concerned. A pump, a plow, a mule...a wagon would be almost a necessity, and a lot of lumber....this was gonna get expensive, and none of us had much in the way of money. Jesse and Pete had spent most of their earnings from the cattle drive on the way out here, they must have hit up every saloon on the way! What little they had had left when they got here had been spent on the lumber for the horse shed and the outhouse. Buick had some money, and had told me he was willing to spend it on the ranch, but what he had wasn't going to be enough to cover everything.

I knew we could make this happen, it was just a matter of figuring out how. Not only did we need to get some money to pay for all the supplies, we needed to find a place to buy them. There wasn't much left in Willow Springs, after the stages had quit running most of the people had moved on. I also needed to find out which of our old neighbors was still around, I was a little concerned for the safety of Cheyenne and Morning Star...some people may accept them, but then there were others that could cause trouble if they found out we had an indian and a half-breed with us....



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The last time I had seen this ranch was not a pleasant experience. I had watched from afar as men had burned the buildings and murdered the Fair One's family. It was there that I had sworn my oath to the Great Spirit to avenge her family's deaths, and as I saw the Fair One flee from those same men, I had sworn to protect her as well. After many many moons it had now come full circle.

 

As we neared the ranch I was feeling a variety of emotions, anger, sadness, fear, but as we rode into what had been the barnyard a feeling of relief swept over me. It was the first time since I had ridden after the men who had destroyed this place, that I was able to relax. I surveyed all the land around us and thought, this is good.

 

The plants were coming back to life after a long winter, birds were nesting, and critters where many, this would be a good place to start anew.

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Morning Star arose at sunup that first day, I laughed to myself as I thought about the irony of Morning Star rising as the stars were growing dim and the sun was peeking over the eastern horizon. She had gone about gathering herbs and any edible plant she could find. Jesse and Pete even had some cofffee to share with us, I always knew I liked those two! We broke out some hardtac and had a fine breakfast, the best we had enjoyed since leaving Hosa's village.

 

As we sat around eating I took a hard look at each person in our own little village. I would be interesting as we found our places here on the ranch. Jesse and Pete were young and didn't know much except for punching cattle, but I could tell that they were eager to learn more about the ranching business.

 

Morning Star, she was eager to learn everything, she could have been named Smiling Star as she seemed to always have a smile on her lips.

 

Buick, now here was an interesting man, I always had had a hard time trying to read him. I hadn't been around a dandy before meeting him, it was hard for me to imagine a man that wanted to sit in a saloon for days on end gambling and drinking. He hadn't been around a saloon and whiskey much at all for many moons and he did seem to be growing accustomed to the outdoors more and more each day.

 

The Fair One,, I had watched her from afar and close up for many a moon, yet I still couldn't quite figure her out. Why had she gone off by herself? Twice she had done that and it nearly cost her her life. I had got her to promise me while we were still at Hosa's village that she wouldn't try running off alone again. I couldn't even begin to understand myself when it came to the Fair One either...

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Jesse and Pete had told me that the closest place to get supplies was Hugo Springs, so I knew a trip down there was our first step. After breakfast, I asked Buick to go there with me, to pick up some things we needed right away and check on the availability of things we'd need in the future. He Who Walks Two Paths wasn't happy about it, he wanted to go as well, I think he was a little jealous that I had asked Buick and not him. That wasn't the reason though....


"Cheyenne, you know I mean no disrespect, but for now it's best if you and Morning Star remain here, at least until we find out how safe you'd be going into town. We just got here, last thing we need right now is trouble starting because some people may not want you two around," I told him.

"I am not afraid, and you'd be better off taking at least two of us with you, you may not be safe either" was his reply.


"Then I'll take Jesse too, please stay here and help Pete. The two of you could go down to the creek and see if you can find a dead tree or two, or even a couple of small live ones to cut down. We need enough wood to make a small corral for the ponies until we can come up with something better."

With that, Buick, Jesse, and I saddled our horses and headed out to Hugo Springs. The town ended up being a lot bigger than I remembered, it had definitely grown in the last few years. I noticed a school on the edge of town, and that reminded me, I really needed to ask Cheyenne if he could teach me to read. There was also a couple of saloons, busy already even though it was still morning when we arrived. I knew the men would like to go in for a drink, but that would have to wait, the supplies came first. We reined up in front of the general store and went inside. The shopkeeper was friendly enough, and more than willing to help us find what we needed, and gave us some pretty good information as to where to find the things he didn't carry in his store. As we were paying for the flour, salt, and coffee we had bought, I heard a voice behind me...."Hey Mary, I thought that was you, thought we'd run you outta the Territory for good a couple of years ago!"

A chill went running down my spine, I knew that voice! It was one of the men I knew had been responsible for the fire, a rude bully named Leo Scott. As I turned to face him Buick and Jesse moved to stand one on each side of me, and I noticed that they had their hands on the butts of their pistols. The shopkeeper put up his hands and said "Hey, I don't want any trouble in my store!", but Leo just snarled at him to shut up.


"Yes, I'm back, and I intend to rebuild the ranch and stay put this time! You had no right to run me off, and it ain't gonna happen again! Now, why don't you just go about your business and leave us alone, we ain't hurtin' you none!" I told him, he wasn't going to intimidate me, and I knew Buick and Jesse weren't going to back down either.

"Why don't we go outside and talk 'bout this, WITHOUT your guardians, " Leo challenged me, but before I could react, I heard another voice behind the bully. "Not today, Scott, you just go on back to the saloon and leave these fine folks alone, NOW!" said a man I had never seen before, but who obviously knew Leo. Leo turned and said "Whatever you say, Sheriff, but you ain't always gonna be around to come to her rescue, now are ya?" and with that he stomped out of the store.

The sheriff tipped his hat to me and introduced himself to the three of us, "Sheriff Gibson at your service, ma'am, and I'm glad I was able to put a stop to that misfit before he got the chance to do anything wrong. I've heard the rumors about what he did to your family, that is I'm assuming you must be Mary Meier, I've heard of you too. But without proof, there's not much I can do, especially since it happened before I got here. Maybe the three of you might want to consider heading on out of town, I can't do much about him until he does something that's against the law."

"Thank you kindly, Sheriff, and we were going to be leaving anyway, just as soon as we get this stuff loaded on the horses, " Buick told him, and the sheriff helped us to just that. Nice guy, and I was glad to see that the law in this town may end up being some help to us. But on the road back to the ranch, I had way too much time to think about what had happened. Now I knew that this wasn't going to be easy, and I worried for the safety of my friends, especially two of them....

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I was none too happy about being left behind, for several reasons. But I had to get over myself. Before Pete and I rode to the river we searched through the ruins to see if we could find anything useful. We were able to find an axe and her dad's plow. We didn't have a work horse for the plow, but maybe we could use one of the ponies for a small plot for the garden.

 

As we were searching through the ruins of the house something white under some charred boards caught my eye. I had a bad feeling, I motioned for Pete to help me with what was left of a wall. It was more than a bad feeling, it was the skeletal remains of a man and a woman. There was enough clothing and their shoes were intact, to tell that they must be her ma and pa. We searched the ruins of the house over and over but we couldn't find the remains of anyone else. We went out back under the aspens and dug a large grave. I figured that the two had died in each others arms, that they should be buried that way. After we had finished filling in the grave I found a couple pieces of the white picket fence, tied them together to make a cross and drove it into the ground at the head of the grave. I took a piece of charred wood and wrote Ma and Pa Meier on the cross.

 

Pete and I got ready to head for the creek to look for wood for the corral, Morning Star looked me in the eye and said, "you are not leaving me here alone" and leapt upon her pony. It didn't take long to gather as much as our ponies could drag, but boy that water looked good. Pete and I must have gotten the idea at the same time because it was a race to see who could hit the water first. We were taking things off as we ran, well we were trying to run, when a naked little Indian girl named Morning Star went sprinting past us, just a giggling as she flew past us. We both came to a stop standing there with our jaws hanging down starring at Morning Star as she laughed at us and telling us we ran like drunken braves. Pete and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, finished undressing and dove into the cool water.

 

We played like children for a while, finding a branch to jump into the pool from, but after a while we gathered our clothes, washed them out, put them on and headed back to the ranch. As we rode back each time we would look at each other we would laugh until our sides hurt...

 

Tomorrow I would hunt, fresh meat would taste much better than the hardtac we had been trying to eat. It was is good day

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When the three of us got back to the ranch, the others were busy setting up a temporary corral, and we quickly joined them to help out. They seemed to be thinking everything was funny, as they couldn't stop laughing.....


But after dinner, Cheyenne came up to me with a serious look on his face, and asked me to take a walk with him. He led me through the little aspen grove, but didn't say anything as we walked. All of a sudden he stopped and pointed to a mound of freshly turned earth, and simply said "I'm sorry,", then backed off a little. It only took a second or two for me to figure out what was there, and I fell to my knees in front of the grave. At least they finally had a proper burial, and I was thankful for that, but it still hurt so much! I sat there alone until the sun went down, before I finally headed back to where the others were.

When we laid out our bedrolls for the night, I tried to go to sleep, but it was slow coming. Once I finally had drifted off, my sleep was interrupted by bad dreams...in which I saw the cabin, and the flames and smoke coming out of it, and heard screams....long before dawn I woke up crying and never did go back to sleep that night....

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I woke early with a smile on my face, thoughts of acting like a youngun yesterday brought another giggle up from the depths of my spirit. The Fair One heard me and asked "what in the world went on yesterday with you three? It's been a long time since I've seen anyone carrying on like you three did!"

 

I gathered my things and we both creeped out of the dugout together. Morning Star was already up stirring the coals in the fire. She looked at me, smiled and giglgled. In a flash I felt a sharp pain in my arm as the Fair One punched me there. "Well, you gonna tell me or am I gonna have to pound it out of you?" That brought even more giggles out of Morning Star, which brought anyother punch. That one brought an "OWWW" from me and a quick, " well, you had to be there, I'll tell you about it today while we hunt. Grab your bow, we need to go before the sun rises." The Fair one looked a little surprised but said sure and grabbed her bow and we headed towards the creek on our ponies. It felt good to be riding we no paticular place to go, and to be under the stars with just a hint of red appearing in the eastern sky.

 

We reached the creek as the sun cleared the horizon, we led our ponies to the water and dismounted to drink with the ponies. The Fair One saw tracks in the mud and suddenly stiffened saying "look, tracks, barefoot tracks!" "hmmmm" I started, "how many sets?" She studied the ground, walking back and forth, "Seems to be three sets, a small set and two larger sets." I didn't say anything more but just stared down at my feet. She finally looked up at me, saw me staring at me feet, then she began giggling, "ohhh" was all that came out of her mouth.

 

We mounted our ponies again and began a slow walk up the edge of the creek, it shouldn't take long to find game. "You know" I started, "Pete and I only found your ma and pa yesterday, we looked everywhere, but they were the only ones we could find."

 

As I finished speaking I noticed three deer just up around the bend. I had to reach over and touch the Fair One's arm to get her attention, I pointed to her bow and to her and told her, "it's your turn." She slipped down off of her pony and started slipping through the brush, I heard the swoosh of the bow and the thud of the arrow hitting home. She nearly jumped out of her clothes in exitement as the deer fell on the spot. I joined her as she walked up to the deer lying there at the edge of the water. I looked into her face, a thousand different emotions were crossing her face as she stared at the deer. "He's sooo beautiful" she wimpered. "Now, what do we do" was all the came out next. I pulled the arrow out, washed the blood from it and handed it back to her, drew my knife and began cleaning the deer, washing it out with fresh water from the creek when I was done.

 

She looked deep into my eyes as I stood, "you sure you didn't find anyone but my ma and pa?"

 

''No" I answered, "and we looked through everything."

 

We didn't speak another word as we rode back towards the ranch, when we passed the watering hole she looked over at me and said, "you gonna bring me up here some day?"

I felt immediate heat in my face, looking down at my pony I said "sure".

 

We got back to camp as the others were still sitting around the fire, chewing on the hardtac, Pete and Jesse saw the deer stretched across my pony and came running,, "MEAT" was all they could say as they pulled it off and started dragging it to the fire.

 

It was a fine start to a new day on the Golden Aspen ranch....

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During the ride back to the ranch, all I could think about was Cheyenne telling me that he hadn't found my sisters' bodies....that just didn't make sense. They had to have been there, were else would they be? Both Margaret and Theresa had to have been in the cabin that night, we slept upstairs in the loft, it would have been harder for them to get out than for Ma and Pa....what had happened to my sisters?

I couldn't figure it out, but after we got back to camp and had breakfast, I had other things to worry about. Cheyenne and Buick both wanted to sit with me at breakfast, and they both looked upset if I tried to talk to the other man. Morning Star wasn't too happy about Buick paying attention to me either, and I hoped she wasn't mad at me for it. Jesse and Pete just kept their mouths shut, I knew those boys were smart!

 

After what had happened in town, I thought it best if Morning Star learned how to shoot, in case she needed to defend herself. I didn't think it would be a good idea to have either Buick or Cheyenne do it, she would have a hard time concentrating, so I asked Jesse and Pete to give her some lessons. Cheyenne, Buick, and I made sure the ponies were taken care of, and talked some more about our plans for getting enough money to the lumber so we could put up a barn. While the shooting lesson was going on, all of a sudden I heard the sound of a horse approaching, and fast!

The sheriff we had met the day before came racing up, gun drawn, with a worried look on his face. He reined up next to the three of us, and asked if anything was wrong. We told him about the shooting lesson, and asked him if he wanted to get down and have a cup of coffee with us. "Be grateful for that, much obliged," he said, "I came out here to talk to you folks anyway. I thought it best ta warn ya, Leo Scott and his brother Bill spent most of last night drinkin' in the Saloon, and tryin' to get the other fellas in there all riled up against ya. I don't trust them, and you folks shouldn't either, they're hell-bent on causing you trouble! But unless and until they actual do anything, I can't arrest them for just talkin'. Shooting your mouth off ain't against the law, sometimes I wish it was. If I hear that they've got any definite plans, I'll do my best ta stop em', but I can't be everywhere at once, I sure hope you folks can defend yourselves if necessary."

The three of us assured him we could, and then he asked me to walk with him aways back towards the road. When we were out of earshot of the others, Sheriff Gibson turned to me and told me "I noticed you have a couple of Indians with you, you know folks ain't gonna like that much if they find out. It's my job to keep the peace around here, and I'd rather not have any trouble..."

"I understand your concern Sheriff, but Cheyenne saved my life several times, I owe the man. Besides, he's only half-breed, his father is white and owns a spread further north in the Territory. Morning Star is Arapaho, and daughter of Chief Hosa, who did everything he could to keep the peace between his people and the whites before he was driven out. She and I have been friends since we were little. Who I choose to have on my ranch is my business, and I'm not asking them to leave. All we want is to be left alone, if any trouble starts it won't be by us! You have my word."

As he was getting on his horse, he said "Well, don't say I didn't warn ya, take care of yourselves and keep your powder dry!" and with that he went on his way.

Things just weren't turning out the way I'd hoped. It seemed I still wasn't welcome here, my friends weren't either, and now there was the mystery of what had happened to my sisters. Plus we still didn't know where we were gonna come up with the money for all the supplies we needed. Add to that it sure looked like Leo and Bill Scott weren't going to leave us alone.....I really needed to talk to the others about setting up a watch at night, to make sure we wouldn't be attacked as we slept.

Plus Cheyenne and Buick were both starting to show signs of being jealous of each other....what was I gonna do about that?

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As the sheriff rode off I cud feel the heat building in my face, this time it wasn't embarassment but anger. At first it was directed towards the Fair One. Why hadn't she told me of the run in with those two brothers? It wasn't long before the anger switched over to those two idiot brothers.

 

I went to the Fair One and told her, "this has got to end, and it is going to end now!" I charged over the the dugout and brought out my guns. I sat at the fire and begain inspecting each one carefully. I reloaded each rifle and put them in their pouches, I emptied each revolver, checked it and cleaned it and then reloaded each one.

 

Buick had come over to me when I had first started and I looked him in the eye and asked him, "Are you in?"

 

"You bet" was his replied as he headed off to get his gear.

 

Then it was Jesse and Pete, "what cha aiming to do Cheyenne?" "Looks like you're expecting bad trouble. Whatever it takes, we're in too."

 

Morning Star bent over and whispered in my ear, "I may not know how to use those firesticks, but my arrows are true and my knife is sharp, I go with you!"

 

The Fair One had been watching it all from across the way, and with tears in her eyes she came over to us. "I can't ask any of you to do this, please let me handle it. I couldn't stand to lose any of you!"

 

I looked into her dark blue eyes and studied them for a moment almost getting lost in them. "This will end today, we will ride into town and you can try to settle things with those loco lobos, but if you can't, we will, once and for all." With that said we readied ourselves and our ponies and rode side by side, all six of us towards town. We were coming for them, and if needed hell was coming with us!

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As we rode off towards town, Buick told us that once we got this problem taken care of, he was going to leave for a while, and head up to Denver. At first I was a little upset, but he went on to explain that he wouldn't be gone long, he just wanted to find a faro game or two and see if he could come up with some money, to help with the expenses of rebuilding. He admitted that he couldn't guarantee any winnings, but was willing to try. But first we needed to settle things with the Scott brothers.....

Cheyenne hadn't said much since we left the ranch, and I knew he was furious. Finally he asked me "Why didn't you tell me about this before? Don't you think I had the right to know?" "I was gonna tell you, I just hadn't got around to it yet.....I was trying to figure out a way to tell you without hurting your and Morning Star's feelings.....and I was trying to avoid what we're doing now!"

He stared straight ahead, and said "From now on, anybody gives you any trouble over me, or Morning Star, you tell me right away. I'm not hiding on that ranch like a coward, and I'm sure not gonna hide behind a woman! I have the right to fight my own battles!"

"But it's not your battle you wanna fight, it's mine!" I told him. "The Scotts have hated my family and me ever since they moved here....they picked a stretch of land that didn't have any easy access to water, and they've resented anyone who was smarter than that from the start. I can't believe they've managed to hold on this long, they must have come up with some other way of getting money, probably illegal. The whole family is no good, never have been!" As we were riding, we were passing by a large bunch of boulders on one side, and there was a big stand of trees up ahead on the other side of the road. Next thing we knew, we all heard the sound of gunfire, and bullets were starting to whiz by us! I felt a sharp stinging pain along my ribs on my right side, a couple of inches below my arm, and heard Buick yell "Get behind the rocks...NOW! MOVE!"

Well, he didn't need to tell any of us that twice, we all realized the shots were coming from up behind the trees. We jumped down from our ponies and Morning Star grabbed all the reins to hold em' for us behind the biggest boulder, her bow and arrows wouldn't be much use right now. The men started returning fire, but I took a few seconds first to check my side, it stung like crazy but I could tell it wasn't bad. The worst part was that there was now a hole in my shirt, I'd have to fix that, I only had one spare set of buckskins. The gunfire coming at us from behind the trees didn't last long, maybe a couple of minutes, then it stopped. We heard the sounds of horses galloping away, couldn't see much with the trees in the way but it seemed like they were leaving. Morning Star called over to Cheyenne, "Three horses, I think..." and he agreed, there'd been three of them. Probably why they stopped their attack, we had them outnumbered...

We waiting for a while behind the rocks, just in case someone was still hiding over there. Finally Buick said he was going to go check it out and make sure they were all gone, and told Jesse and Pete to cover him just in case. Cheyenne looked at me and noticed the blood on my shirt, and told me "You're hit, why didn't you say something? Here, let me take a look..."

"No, I'm fine, it's just a scratch...I already checked," I said, "Barely broke the skin, I'll be fine." "You let me be the judge of that!" he insisted, and before I could stop him he reached over and yanked my shirt up. I must have turned bright red, and all of a sudden he looked real embarrassed too and quickly put my shirt back down...."You're right, just a scratch, but still, you need to clean that first chance you get," and he looked down, "Maybe.....maybe have Morning Star help...."

Then he looked back at me, straight into my eyes, and softly said "I'm glad you're ok, I couldn't stand it if something bad happened to you," and he started leaning over, I think he was going to kiss me!....but then Buick came back saying, "They're all gone, they hightailed it outta here...we gonna keep going?" and Cheyenne quickly backed off....and replied "Of course we keep going, this ain't over yet!"

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The Fair One was right, the bullet had just grazed her, but I still had to look. When I looked back into her face I didn't know who was redder, her or me. We both seemed locked in a world of our own,,,.then we heard Buick and were wisked back to the moment.

 

We leapt upon our ponies that Morning Star had been holding and took off in a cloud of dust after the bushwackers. I didn't care who they were, if I could get close enough, The Fair One's blood would not be the only blood shed that day.

 

We rode hard, like the wind howling down through a canyon. I looked over to see Morning Star, she was low on her pony's neck with that ever present grin on her face, whispering in her pony's ear. Jesse was beside her, his hat blowing in the wind held on by his stampede string, reins in hand as he slapped his pony's hindquarters with them, no grin there, but a cold stare off into the disstance. Buick was on the outside of Pete, his hat pulled low onto his brow, not looking quite as confident in his ride as Pete, but the same steel eyed look in his face. I turned to my right to see the Fair One, her long glimmering hair stretched out behind her, riding low on the autumn pony, he didn't need urging on, as he glided over the ground she hardly seemed to move at all. Jesse was on her outside, I swear he and Pete must have come out of the womb together, hat blowing in the wind behind him, using his reins to lightly slap the hindquarter of his mount...

 

We crested a small hill, and you guessed it, off in the distance were the three bushwackers, we had made up ground on them. I think everyone read my mind as we all came to a slidding stop, the others staying mounted as I slid off with my Sharps in hand. Morning Star took the reins of my pony as I slid down onto the ground, laying nearly flat feeling the warmth of the earth through my buckskins. As I looked through the tube my thumb found the hammer and cocked it, my finger found the set trigger and cocked it, I found a target, breathe,,,,hold,,,,sqeeze,,,the Sharps spoke again. As it lowered I heard Jesse and Pete say , "You missed him", then the Fair One chimed in,,,"waiiiiiiittt," and then "Dang it all" by them as the rider tumbled off of his horse.

 

I slid the Sharps back into its' pouch and as I leapt back upon my pony we we off again...

 

We could see the buildings in town off in the distance, on we rode. We were indeed coming, and if need be judgement and hell were coming with us, this was going to end today, what ever it was, it was going to be finished......

 

As we neared the town we slowed up, we had no idea how many men we were about to face. Would we be able to reach a peace?, naaa, they had alredy thrown that chance away.

 

We left our mounts at the end of town in a corral that was being tended to a yound dark man with buffalo hair. "I'll take good care of them for you", he told us as he led them over to the trough. As we came around the corner of the building an eirie feeling came over us,,the street was empty, not a soul to be seen except for the sheriff, who was walking our way.

 

"Hear tell that one of you shot a man clean off his horse" he called out as he neared us.

 

The Fair One turned slightly lifting her arm to show the blood and the holes in her buckskin. "We were fired on first" she told the sheriff, "bushwacked we were, that man got what he had coming to him."

 

I don't think the sheriff believed her or if he was placating someone because he replied. "Don't know about that, which one of you shot that man?"

 

"That would be me" I spoke as I stepped forward with my Sharps in my hands. "Idda kilt all three of them if I could have, and I reckon that's what we've come here to do, if we have to."

 

The sheriff looked us over, stretched from one side of the street to the other, all well armed and not looking like we were in a mood to talk.

 

"Well" he started,,,,"let's see what we can do about this"......

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"What we can do, Sheriff, is make darn sure me and my friends don't have to spend all our time looking over our shoulders, or hiding, or taking turns sleeping to make sure we ain't attacked again! I was born here, and I ain't being run off again! It's bad enough they already killed my parents and sisters, I ain't gonna let them kill any of my new family now! If you don't put a stop to them, we will, we ain't got no choice now!"

Sheriff Gibson looked at me kinda strange, and then said something that really shook me up, "Your sisters weren't killed in that fire, they both survived, didn't you know that?" All I could do was shake my head, and I could feel all the blood draining out of my face....Margaret and Theresa were still alive? Where the heck were they then?

"All the same, Sheriff, those men DID kill her parents, and today they tried to kill her. We ain't leaving as long as those Scott brothers are still a danger, to her or the rest of us!" Buick told him, "Now where are they?!"

Sheriff Gibson shook his head, and we noticed another man with a star pinned to his chest walking up behind him. "I can't let you shoot up the town, just to get your revenge. This here's my younger brother, and he's also my deputy, and we're gonna escort you fine folks back out of town, and you need to be on your way. I won't stand for any trouble in my town, and that's final!"

I had to admit, the man had courage, facing down 6 of us with only his brother at his back.....and I did understand his position. Keeping the peace in town WAS what he was getting paid to do, and I didn't blame him for not wanting any innocent people getting hurt. All the same, if we left now we were all likely to be shot in the back long before we reached the ranch.

Before any of us got the chance to do anything, the doors of the saloon swung open, and out walked Leo and Bill Scott, with two other men behind them that I had never seen before. "You all killed our friend Tom Anderson today, and we ain't gonna stand for that! 'Sides, ain't nobody in this town wants two injuns around! We ain't skeered of no woman, two boys, and two injuns! You just back off Sheriff, and let us men take care of this trash!" Leo snarled at us as the four men walked out into the street to face us.

I saw the look on Cheyenne's face, and knew this wasn't going to end well......

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I could feel my blood begin to boil through my viens, "Sheriff, those are two of the men that bushwacked us. I killed one of those cowards today, and I don't reckon I'm done. You got a decision to make, you for us, or against us."

 

The sheriff and his brother slowly stepped toward us, but turning towards the Scotts and the other two men to face them. "Boys, I guess it's your turn to make a decision, drop those gun belts, or I guess you''ll join your friend Tom in hell."

 

Leo quickly answered the sheriff, "we ain't got no fight with you sheriff."

 

I'd heard enough, I slowly bent down and laid my Sharps on the ground. "You cowards got no trees to hide behind now. Make your move, NOW!"

 

The faces of the four men went pale, "You ain't gonna let them come in here and tell you what to do are you sheriff?" came out of Leo's trembling mouth.

 

I was boiling for a fight and I didn't want the men being free to cause any more trouble, but then I didn't want to risk any more harm coming to the Fair One.

 

I looked Leo straight in the eyes and told him, "I take you and your brother on, just me, you two, right here, right now, you ain't afraid of no injun are you? "

 

A smile came across their faces, "you got a deal, red man, you're gonna wish you were at Sand Creek when we get done with you."

 

The Fair One and the others started to protest my call but I held up my hand to them, they took the hint and stepped back.

 

The brothers and I manuvered in the street til we were lined up in the middle of the street facing each other. The brothers were smiling, I could feel my hands twitching, but my eyes were locked on the two brothers, standing about an arms length apart. I saw movement of a hand, my pistols seemed to fly out of their holsters, thumbs cocking them as they rose, each pistol finding a man, both pistols spoke catching each man in the chest before they could cock their pistols.

 

As I stood there watching the two men reel backwards I heard the Fair One scream, "NO" and then a single loud blast,,,the other two me had started to draw on me, she drew and send them both to hell to join their friends. She looked at me saying, "well, that's one I don't owe you for" smiling as she said it.

 

The sheriff and his brother checked each man, they were all dead. He turned to us "y'all ain't gonna make a habit of this are you?"

 

I looked at him, "I've never gone looking for trouble sheriff, but I will tell you this, after I saw Calico's homestead burnt and her ma and pa killed I swore an oath to the Great Spirit to protect her."

 

The sheriff smiled and invited us into the saloon for a drink, I looked him straight in the eye and asked "all of us?"

 

"Wouldn't have it anyother way" was his reply.

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We went in the saloon and pushed two tables together so there would be enough room for all of us, and sat down. The bartender brought over a bottle of his best whiskey and 8 glasses, and put them down saying "Complements of the house, I'm glad to be rid of those troublemakers! Let me know if ya need another one."

The men all started getting acquainted with each other, but Morning Star and I just sat quietly. I don't think Morning Star really wanted the whiskey, but she didn't want to be rude and turn it down. Plus having two strangers with us made her a little nervous, her English was still a little rough. I was lost in thoughts of what Sheriff Gibson had told me about my sisters, was it really possible my sisters had escaped the fire? And if so, what had happened to them?

Cheyenne was telling the sheriff and his brother all about our plans for the ranch, and how we intended to go up to the foothills soon to try and round up some wild horses to add to the Comanche ponies we already had. Buick also told them of his plans to head for Denver, he didn't tell them he was going up there to gamble, but instead just said he was looking for part time work to earn some money. Deputy Gibson told Buick he'd let Buick know if he heard of any openings for law dawgs in the area, which the rest of us got a good laugh over! The brothers gave us a lot of information about the area, and how it had changed since I had been there. They also gave us a warning, they had heard rumors that a horse thief named Dutch Henry Born had been seen in the area, and suggested we take precautions, a horse ranch made an attractive target for a outlaw like that.

After a while, we realized it was getting late, and if we didn't hit the road we wouldn't make it home before dark. Saying goodbye to our new friends, we headed back to the ranch and got there just as the sun was going down. Morning Star made dinner, then we all turned in a little early, it had been a long day and we were all really tired. Sleep was slow in coming to me though, and again once I fell asleep, I was bothered by strange dreams....this time of my sisters. I dreamed I saw them running towards the mountains, followed by hooded men on horseback.......again I woke up crying and couldn't go back to sleep.

When morning dawned, we had breakfast, then Buick saddled his horse and packed up his things, promising to not be gone any longer than necessary. I thought Morning Star was going to start crying, but she just got busy taking care of the breakfast dishes and didn't look up again til he was gone. Which was probably a good thing, because right before he climbed into the saddle, he grabbed me and kissed me soundly, told me he'd miss me something terrible, and promised to bring me back a present from Denver....then he swung up on his horse and headed north.


Morning Star may not have seen it, but Cheyenne did, and when I turned towards him, his face was unreadable, but I got the feeling he wasn't too happy. He didn't say anything though, just turned and went to help Jesse and Pete with the ponies. Darn it all, now he was mad at me, and it's not like I asked Buick to kiss me goodbye! Maybe he just needed something to get his mind off of it, and what had happened the day before. Maybe now was a good time to start making definite plans to head for the foothills to look for those wild horses I hoped were still there.....

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After the ponies were taken care of, I got everyone together and outlined my plans for a trip to the foothills. One of us was going to have to stay here with the ponies, and Pete volunteered. The rest of us started getting some supplies together, it was at least a couple of days ride each way, plus whatever time it took to find and hopefully catch some of the horses. When we were ready, we saddled up and headed west, the mountains rising up in front of us ever higher.

We didn't talk much on the ride, and I had way too much time to think. Next thing I knew, Morning Star was grabbing my arm, and I noticed that the others had stopped. "You falling asleep, almost fall off pony" she told me, and I realized she was right, I had dozed off, not a great idea on this terrain. "Sorry bout that, I ain't been sleeping good lately" I told them, "Maybe we could stop a little early tonight", to which they all agreed, but all three were looking at me kinda funny.

We camped for the night by Cherry Creek, and got a fire going so Morning Star could cook dinner, then Cheyenne asked me to take a walk along the creek with him while we were waiting. At first we just talked about locating the wild horse herd, then he stopped and turned towards me, "I'm a little concerned, why ain't you sleeping? What's wrong?" he asked. "Don't rightly know....but I been having bad dreams ever since we got here, and I'm not sure why....never had a problem with that before. I'd rather not talk about them if you don't mind....", not that I minded him knowing, it just upset me to even think about it!

"Maybe the Great Spirit is trying to tell you something in these dreams....any idea what that might be?" he pressed on, clearly not wanting to just let it go. "Maybe," I replied, "But I have no idea what....haven't figured that out yet." He stood there and thought about that for a while, then said "You need to stop listening with your head, and start listening with your heart. Then maybe you figure it out!" Good advice, but I wasn't sure how to follow it....


We went back to camp and the four of us ate, then Cheyenne played his flute for us until after dark, I could barely keep my eyes open by the time he stopped and told me in no uncertain terms to try and get some rest. Try I did, but the bad dreams just kept coming back.....I think I did finally get a little sleep right before dawn, but not nearly enough.

After breakfast we got back on our way, but I was still tired, and now I had to lead my friends to a valley I wasn't even sure I remembered where it was, to find wild horses that might not even be there anymore.....

 

And just what was Buick doing right now I wondered.....

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I was growing evermore worried about the Fair One, she wasn't resting well, ever since we had arrived at the ranch you could see something missing in her eyes. I was worried too about the wound in her side, it was just a flesh wound, but infections can be deadly, no matter how small the wound. I had decided when we got back into camp that night I would get out my mother's salve and give it to the Fair One to use.

 

We were headed up a canyon, there was some sign of wild horses, but we were having trouble finding any. I was sure it would take another day of scouting the area before we could have a chance to capture horses.

 

We searched throughout the day, making mental notes of where we saw sign, where food plots were, and most importantly water. We were worn out as we made it back to camp that evening. Morning Star was in her element, smiling as she cooked some of her specialties over the open fire.

 

After we had eaten I gave the salve to Morning Star and asked her to take it to the Fair One and to treat her wound with it. Before I barely had time to look back up Morning Star was before me, "she wants you, you go."

 

I took the salve and went over to where the Fair One was sitting, off a bit away from the rest of us. "You need to rub this into your wound" I told her reaching out the salve for her to take.

 

She looked at me and said "No, you treat it" and slowing lifted her buckskin. I felt my face warm, seems like that had been happening alot lately. I knelt down and tenderly treated her wound, keeping my eyes at the dirt beside her, for some reason I couldn't look into her eyes. When I was finished she lowered her buckskin and said "Thanks" and gave me a quick kiss on my cheek. Now my face was hot, I wasn't quite sure what to do, I got up quickly and returned to the fire. I sat by the fire and pulled out my flute, Morning Star sat beside me and quietly sang as I played. I kept an eye on the Fair One thru the evening, I could see her relax more and more the longer I played. Before long she was snuggled up in her blanket, hopefully the Great Spirit would grant her a night full of sweet dreams instead of the nightmares she had be having.

 

The next morning we awoke with the sun peaking into the sky. Morning Star was busy at the fire and Jesse was tending the ponies. The Fair One motioned me over and asked me to check her wound. It was looking much better, but then I really didn't look at it that long,,,I did notice how fair her skin was though...

 

We had a quick breakfast and head up the canyon again, this time we found a herd of about 20 mustangs at the watering hole. We pushed them up the canyon until they could go no further. Jesse and the Fair One weren't quite sure what to do now, 20 nervous mustangs and just the four of us. I picked out the mustang that was the leader or the herd. I motioned for the others to keep blocking the exit as I urged my pony gently towards the herd. I would stop every few steps, and wait until the mustangs would settle a bit, and then a few steps more, this went on several times until I was almost among the mustangs, I pulled my flute and started gently playing it, trying to sound like a soft breese through the branches of a tree. Gently urging my pony nearer and nearer to the leader...once beside him I continued to play for some time as he relaxed and got used to me beside him. I reached into a bag of roots the Morning Star had given me and fed those to him, then I slipped a rope over his head and fed him the rest of the roots. As I guided my pony towards the exit of the canyon he decided he wasn't too happy with it all and started rearing back and fighting to escape. Jesse came up along side of him and deftly threw his rope under the mustangs front legs and hobbled him. After we got him calmed down we led him, with the others following back to the water hole. We let them drink and cool themselves in the water, we joined them on our ponies, the cool water felt good on our feet and legs. While they were in the deep water Jesse and The Fair One put a rope around each of their necks.

 

Now we would have to see how well we could get them back to the ranch. After all, my father had only told me how to calm and catch mustangs not how to move them, and come to think of it, the whole time he was telling me he always had that silly smile on his face....

 

While we waited in the pool for the mustangs to get used to us I was in deep thought about the Fair One's sisters. The sheriff had told us they were alive, but that was all.....

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On the way back to the ranch, I couldn't believe our good luck, we'd caught almost two dozen horses, and a few of the mares looked like they could be pregnant. I was glad Cheyenne seemed to know what he was doing when it came to catching them, my pa had never caught more than one or two at a time, trying to get all of them was a new experience for me. The lead stallion was a beauty, jet black with just a splash of white on his forehead, I only hoped some day I was going to get to ride him. Not a bad start for a herd, now we just needed to get them all back home and start breaking them. And hope that Buick was able to come up with enough money so we could get the barn built!

I still wasn't sleeping well, part of it was the nightmares, they seemed to be getting worse, and were always about my family, especially my sisters. Also, I was more than a little embarrassed about having asked Cheyenne to treat the wound on my side....but I'd seen him work wonders with that salve of his when he had been shot the year before, so I figured he must know what he was doing with the stuff. Last thing I needed right now was for it to get infected, we had too much work to do. I sure hoped he wasn't getting the wrong idea! I was going to talk to him as soon as we got back, I knew he wanted to visit his father and I hoped I could convince him to take me along, I was originally going to suggest he take Morning Star but maybe he was willing to take us both. I hoped Mr. Culpepper could give me some much needed advice about getting my ranch going. And I hoped the wound healed up enough to not need the salve anymore before Buick came back.....

Buick had made it to Denver okay, and found his way to Market Street and the string of saloons located there. He visited each one, but found most already had one or more faro dealers already employed. He finally decided to have a drink in the last one on the block, a rowdy place called Big Ed's Saloon. The owner was Big Ed himself, a giant of a man well over 6 foot tall and solidly built. Just the kind of man who could handle the rough crowd that frequented his place. As Buick sat at the bar with a glass of whiskey, he kept his eye on the faro game towards the back of the room. The man dealing had a couple of players sitting at his table, and all of a sudden one of the men started screaming "You filthy cheatin' thief!" and both he and the dealer pulled their pistols, the dealer being just a few seconds too slow...

As Big Ed was instructing his bouncers to get rid of the body, Buick went up to him and introduced himself, saying "Looks to me like you're gonna be needing a new faro dealer....how bout I help you out for a few days while you look for a permanent replacement? I'll split the take with you, fifty fifty...how bout it?"

Big Ed looked Buick up and down, and said "My dealers get twenty five percent, that's the standard, why should I give you half?"

"What would you rather have, fifty percent of whatever I can bring in, or a hundred percent of nothing? I can only stay a few days, so it's not like you'd have to split it with me for long, but it will give you the chance to look for someone else in the meantime, do we have a deal?" Buick explained to him.

Big Ed thought about it, and finally agreed, but only for a few days. "Fifty fifty split, you drink for free, and you get the whores for half price, take it or leave it. Oh, and you get caught cheating you're on your own, don't be expecting any help from me!"


"You got yourself a temporary dealer then, and I appreciate the free drinks. I'll pass on the whores though, I ain't interested, " Buick told him.

Big Ed looked at him very funny at that, until Buick said "I got me a girl, don't need any others. I'm just gonna be here long enough to get the money I need to get back to her, don't need any distractions. Now, if you'll excuse me, I better get to work." With that he sat down and started calling out to anyone interested in playing, and started doing fairly well, both for himself and for Big Ed. The saloon owner would have no reason to complain....


The next day Buick showed up to work before the saloon got crowded, and was having a drink before he opened the table for the night. As he was sipping his whiskey, he watched the saloon girls that were sitting around waiting for customers to arrive, and there was one that he thought looked awfully familiar for some reason, but he couldn't figure out why. He didn't think he had ever met her before, but then again anything was possible, lord knows he'd been in enough saloons in his day. Then, as he was heading for the faro table, a rough looking man came in and shouted "Hey Theresa, me and you is gonna have us a fine time tonight, I got paid today!" Buick turned just in time to see the woman he had thought he'd recognized stand up and link arms with the man, and head for the staircase. "Theresa?" he thought, "nah, it couldn't be...."

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As we rode back to the ranch I kept having visions of my father's silly smile. Then I started thinking, I'd been on mustang round ups with him and I'd never seem HIM try that! I kept seeing that silly smile, but then I kept seeing those 20 beautiful mustangs too. I was gonna have to ask him about that,,,,or should I?

 

We hobbled the mustangs that evening, we had them in the corral, but they were wild horses after all.

 

I used the salve on the Fair One that evening, her wound was already showing great improvement. It would most likely only need one more treatment, and I knew that would please the Fair One. After I treated he wound that evening she surprised my by asking if it was ok if she could go along with me to visit my father. She quickly let me know that she was wanting to ask my father all sorts of things about ranching. I didn't tell her he trained me in all of the aspects of running a ranch, but I wanted her company when Morning Star and I went. It would be interesting to see her face when she saw the ranch, my father, and well, what I did on the ranch.

 

I knew when we came back, we would have most if not all of what we would need to get The Golden Aspen Ranch off the ground.

 

"You know though," I said looking straight into her eyes, "we have to find out about your sisters first. You can't go on with these nightmares, and just not knowing what has happened to them. I think you and I ought to ride into town in the morning. After that is settled, we can head north to my fathers."

 

For the rest of the evening Morning Star and I sat by the fire, me playing my flute and her humming and singing along, but this time she was sitting a little closer....

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The nightmares just wouldn't stop....Margaret lying in a bed somewhere, unconscious from fever....Theresa scantily dressed, surrounded by rough men who wouldn't leave her alone....I woke up screaming in the middle of the night, and woke up everyone else too. It took Morning Star quite a while to calm me down enough so that everyone else could go back to sleep, but I spent the rest of the night sitting up, I didn't dare close my eyes....

In the morning I was exhausted, but I still saddled up and headed to town with Cheyenne, he was determined to get some answers for me. We pulled up in front of the Sheriff's office and tied our horses, and I noticed that he was getting some rather unfriendly looks from some of the townspeople. I guess killing the Scott brothers hadn't helped matters very much. We went inside, but the sheriff wasn't there, only the deputy, who told us that his brother was over at the saloon, talking to the bartender, so we headed across the street instead. When we asked Sheriff Gibson if we could talk to him a while, he had the bartender pour us all some coffee and we sat down at a table.

"Sheriff, you told me last week that my sisters were still alive, I need to ask you, what else can you tell me? I need to find them," I told him.

"Well, Miss Meier, I'm afraid I can't tell you much more than that, remember, I wasn't here when all that happened. When we moved here to Hugo Springs to accept these badges, we came through Willow Springs, and that's where I heard about your sisters," he explained. "From what I understand, after you had left for Denver that day, one of the neighbors came over...Mr. Barrett, you remember him?" and I nodded. "Well, his wife and kids had gotten sick so he went to your folks' place to get help, and both your sisters went back to his place with him to see what they could do. It was late when they returned home, just in time to see the attack on your parent's cabin start. They were unarmed, there wasn't much they could do besides ride to the Willow Springs way station to try and get help. The stationmaster made the two of them stay there, while he got some men together to ride to the ranch, but by the time the men got there it was too late. The next day, they wanted to go back to the ranch and wait for you to come home, but the stationmaster wouldn't let them, said it was too dangerous, and that hopefully you wouldn't run into any trouble and would go looking for your sisters in Willow Springs."

"When I got there, I thought my sisters had been in the cabin, and then a bunch of men started chasing me, even if I had thought to go to Willow Springs I wouldn't have been able to," I was almost in tears, they hadn't been very far away, I just hadn't known.

The sheriff continued, "They waited there for a couple of weeks to see if you'd show up, but when you never did the stationmaster finally gave each of them $10 and put them on a stage for Denver, thinking they'd be more likely to be able to find honest work up there. They left that day and as far as I know, no one around here has seen or heard from either one of them since. Sorry I can't be more help than that, if I hear anything that may help you find them I'll be sure to let you know."

Cheyenne and I thanked the man, then headed back to the ranch. On the way, I told Cheyenne, "We might as well get going to your father's place, it could take months or even years to track down where those two went. You should have gone back a long time ago to pay your respects to your ma, and it's my fault you haven't, you stayed in Kansas because of me, and that ain't right. As soon as Morning Star can get ready, we'll leave," trying to hide my disappointment.

He shook his head, saying "What about your nightmares? I can tell they're getting worse, and they won't stop until you find your sisters. How much longer do you think you can go without sleeping? And you aren't the only one who isn't getting any sleep now...."

"I'm real sorry about that, if necessary I'll start sleeping away from the rest of you, no sense all of us suffering..." I told him, embarrassed that I was causing problems for my friends.

He immediately objected, telling me "You'll do no such thing, can't you see we're all worried about you? We all just want to help."


"Right now there doesn't seem to be much anyone can do to help, so let's just get this trip over with and maybe by the time we get back, I'll have thought of some way to try and find them." We rode the rest of the way in silence, but as we approached the ranch, we could see a wagon coming from the north, so we hurried to get there just as the wagon did. It was Buick, and the wagon was loaded as full as it could be with lumber.


"Well folks, I got lucky! This here ain't enough lumber to build everything, but it's all I could fit in the wagon I bought. I did arrange for a teamster to haul some more down here, he should be here tomorrow or the next day. Oh, and I promised you a present..." Buick told me, pulling a blanket wrapped around something from beneath the seat. He handed it to me, and I unwrapped the blanket to find a brand new rifle! "It's a Winchester, best I could get ya, thought you needed a new one," he told me, a huge smile on his face. Well was I ever shocked! I wasn't expecting anything like this, I figured maybe he was going to bring me some material for another dress or something, but a new rifle? He must have gotten lucky! His smile faded though, when we told him that Cheyenne, Morning Star, and I were planning a trip to the Culpepper ranch. I could tell he was disappointed, he had just gotten back and here I was telling him I was leaving, and with Cheyenne no less....

I'll give the man credit, he did agree to stay there and help Jesse and Pete build a better corral for the new mustangs, and get started on the barn. Buick looked over the horses we had caught, and I could tell he liked that black stallion as much as I did. I thought maybe I would let him have the horse, as long as he was willing to let me use it for breeding with some of the mares. He would look awfully nice on that horse, I thought. As Cheyenne, Morning Star, and I were getting our things ready for our trip, Buick did come up to me and tell me, "When you get back, we need to have a long talk, just you and me, there's something I need to tell you about...."

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Before we headed for my father's ranch, I had a quick talk with Jesse, Pete, and Buick. The mustangs would need to have lots of human contact, small at first but a little more each day. Feeding them by hand some of the roots Morning Star had dug would go a long way towards gaining the mustangs trust. If any of them starting showing trust then halter them and just lead them around. We would need a second corral before we could start breaking them. I don't think Buick heard much, it seemed his attention flittered back and forth between The Fair One and the black stallion.

 

We gathered some food stuffs, a couple boxes of ammo, and our bedrolls. Morning Star was smiling even more today, I didn't know if it was because Buick was back or because we were going to be out in the open for a few days. Anyway I was always pleased to see her smiling, maybe some of it would rub off on to the Fair One.

 

I was thinking as we rode, "what in the world did I get into, out here for at least 3 days with two women?" I kept seeing that silly grin of my father's when he told me how to catch mustangs, then it hit me, he had that same silly look when he told me he knew EVERYTHING about women. Dang it all, I got the feeling I was lucky to be alive riding up to that black stallion like I did.

 

As we rode by the water hole, Morning Star reached over and stuck her finger in my side and started giggling. I let out a couple giggles and The Fair One looked at us with the look a mother gives a naughty child and sternly asked "alright I'm tired of being in the dark, just what happened up here?" That just caused Morning Star to laugh all the harder, and I just shrugged my shoulders and answered her, "Don't have an idea of what your talking about." and with that urged my pony to catch up with Morning Star who had taken off.

 

After things got settled down my mind went back to what in the world was I doing out here with two women. I didn't have a clue about women, white or indian, and here I was both! One thing I did know, I was out here alone with two beautiful women, what was going to happen along the way I had no clue, but it sure beat being with a bunch of stinky men.

 

As we rode the Fair One and Morning Star did a bunch of talking, reminded me of the hens running around my father's ranch. I'd try to talk every so often but it was like trying to get a young colt's attention. Just before we stopped to camp for the night I pulled out my sling and started watching for rabbits or any other edible small game. I killed a rabbit and then a rattlesnake that had the poor manners of spooking our ponies. Then The Fair One had to tell Morning Star about the fight in Kansas where I had knocked the man silly, and calling me David.

 

"David, why she call you David?" I finally got to talk a little bit as I told Morning Star the story in the bible about David and Goliath. We I got done, Morning Star's smile was gone as she said, "you will have to tell me more about this bible and the Great Spirit in it."

 

We sat around the fire eating the rabbit and rattlesnake Morning Star had cooked, and telling more tales until we couldn't keep our eyes open any longer. I don't know how it happened but I ended up between the two as we laid out our bedrolls...I was hoping that the Fair One would sleep tonight...

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That first night on the road to the Culpepper ranch, I was so tired, I really hoped I could get some rest.... those hopes were in vain, but at least that night I was able to keep from waking the other two up. I laid there looking at the stars, until my friends started stirring. I helped Morning Star with breakfast, then we hit the road again. We had decided to avoid going through Denver, and wanted to steer clear of any of the forts I knew had sprung up north of there, no sense asking for trouble. I wasn't exactly sure where Cheyenne's father lived, I just knew it was somewhere between the Thompson and Cache La Pourde rivers, much closer to the mountains than my land, so I let him lead the way.


Although Morning Star and I had done a lot of talking the day before, I wasn't really in the mood to again, so I kept quiet and let Cheyenne tell my friend some more of the stories from his Bible, and she was fascinated. I remembered some of them, but it had been a while since I'd heard them. That did remind me of one thing, so when we stopped for the night and got dinner ready, I asked Cheyenne "I hate having to ask this, but one of these days when we have some time, could you teach me how to read? It's kinda embarrassing, not knowing how," to which he readily agreed, but then Morning Star said she wished to learn as well. The two of them seemed to be getting along really well, which I had known they would...but for some reason that was starting to bother me, just a little bit....


Again I didn't get much sleep, and was starting to have trouble staying in the saddle the next day. Cheyenne slowed his pony way down, and the other two ponies followed suit, but all that did was make me feel guilty for holding the other two up. At this rate it was going to take at least an extra day to get where we were going. That night at dinner, Cheyenne said we should be reaching his father's ranch about midday the next day. I laid down right after dinner, not only to try and rest but to give the other two some time alone together....but I admit, I was more than a little jealous watching them sit together by the fire, laughing and talking, Morning Star in Arapaho and Cheyenne in his mother's tongue, but both of them understanding the other perfectly. Then I finally dozed off, and the nightmares made their appearance again....


Morning dawned bright and warm, and we hit the road as soon as we could. Cheyenne had started recognizing more and more of the landmarks, and I could tell he was in a hurry to get there. I did my best to push on....then all of a sudden we heard the sound of horses galloping up behind us, and next thing we knew there were bullets whizzing by us! Cheyenne yelled at me and Morning Star to run for it, I think he was going to try and face down whoever was chasing us all by himself, but before he could, a man popped up from behind a small rise off to one side of us, and started firing back at our pursuers. The man called out to us to head for his place, gesturing behind him with his head before getting off a few more rounds, so we turned our horses that direction. But instead of going to the house we saw off in the distance, we went around back of the rise and scrambled down off our horses to return fire. We managed to shoot a couple of them, and then the rest decided to take themselves elsewhere. The man that had come to our rescue explained that the men chasing us were a bunch of deserters from nearby Fort Collins, who had been causing all sorts of problems in the area, and the army had been unable to catch them. Then he introduced himself as John Miller, and told us we could rest a while at his place, and water our horses before moving on.


We followed Mr. Miller to his house, and then got down to get a drink for ourselves and our horses. The door of the house opened and a woman, obviously pregnant, came out on the porch. I looked at her, and almost fell over....it was Margaret! I went running over to her, but all she did was shrink back against the wall...."Margaret, it's me, Mary Elizabeth," I said, as Miller grabbed my arm and kept me from going on the porch. "It's me...your sister...." I was so confused, she didn't look happy to see me at all, in fact she looked terrified...


"So you are still alive, what are you doing with those filthy indians?" Margaret demanded, "Get them off our land! I don't want them here!" She was practically screaming at me, and I didn't understand it, pa had always taught us to respect indians, and she had never shown any signs of being scared of them before. "It's those damn indians that cost ma and pa their lives, and I want them gone, NOW!" She was practically hysterical, and Miller, obviously her husband, shoved me back and told me "You better all leave, I don't want Maggie upset, not in her condition, I should have known better than to bring you all here..."


"But, Margaret..." I tried to talk to her, but she wouldn't listen, "Don't you 'but Margaret' me, Mary Elizabeth, how dare you bring indians here, you can stay but I want THEM off our land now!" she insisted. I just stared at her for a second, I couldn't believe what I was hearing, then I turned around and marched back to my pony, leaped into the saddle, and told my friends, "You heard em', let's go," and urged my pony into a trot back towards the road, tears streaming down my face.

Once we had got back to the road, Cheyenne grabbed the halter of my pony and made me stop. "Are you sure you don't want to go back there, she IS your sister...Morning Star and I will leave, and you can stay...."


"Hell no, not if you two aren't welcome too, no I ain't gonna stay!" I practically screamed at him, I knew it wasn't fair to take it out on him, but I was so upset. I took a deep breath and tried to settle down, "Now, just where is this ranch of your father's, let's get going before anything else goes wrong....."

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As we got nearer and nearer to my father's ranch, my thinking about my self changed the nearer we got, i was feeling less indian and more white. This was the area I had been raised and tho my mother had had a great influence when I was young, my father's influence was formost.

 

When Margaret had screamed to get those filthy indians away from her, I was taken aback, who in the world was she talking about, I was Cheyenne Culpepper, son of Frank Culpepper,,,and Morning Star, well she was dressed in buckskins same as the Fair One, and well she was beautiful. I realized that Margeret was pregnant, but I felt anger rising from my belly. As we rode off though I realized that I did look more indian now, my hair hadn't been cut for many moons, and my buckskins were looking pretty rustic. And Mr Miller had helped us out of a tight spot, though I was sure we would have handled the deserters from the fort. I had a feeling that fight wasn't over, iffn if I had to find them later.

 

The Fair One insisted we move on to my father's ranch without trying to see her sister right then. She was pretty persistent on wanting to know how much further it was, several times she asked me, are we there yet? I finally told her, just over the next rise you'll see the entrance to the ranch. Sure enough, there the entrance was, large stone columns with heavy wood across the top with Culpepper Ranch written out in large wooden letters. We stopped for a few seconds just before the entrance admiring the entrance, the Fair One looked over at me, "Well, it's about time" she yelled as she took off at a quick gait.

 

Morning Star and I caught up to her quickly, I was wondering how long it would take her to realize we still had 5 miles to go before we came to the house. We had gone about a mile when the Fair One abruptly stopped her pony, "OK" she said as she backhanded my shoulder, "how much further NOW?" I laughed and told her how far, which then she stuck her tongue out at me. Just as we were about to get started again a line of wagons came up over a small rise, the men riding with them quickly brought their rifles up towards us. I could sense the alarm in Morning Star and The Fair One, I quickly threw up my right arm and hollered, "Bob, it's me,,,,Cheyenne!"

 

You could see Bob lean over towards the man on the horse on his right and say something, when he finished the man whirled his horse around and took off in a hurry back along the road to the house. The men had lowered and put their rifles in their scaboards and started moving towards us. As we met Bob jumped down off the wagon as I slid off my pony, we hugged for a while, Bob had been like a big brother to me growing up. It didn't take long though for his eyes to turn to The Fair One and Morning Star. "Well, you've done well for yourself, you couldn't make up your mind so you took one of each" he said with a laugh.

 

After I had intoduced the two women to him and the men we spoke briefly, said our goodbyes, mounted our ponies and continued on for the ranch. I could feel the exitement welling up from deep inside my spirit, yet at the same time a sadness was slowly taking over, this would be the first time I would ride into the ranch proper without my mother running out to greet me,,,,, I had hoped the Fair One and Morning Star wouldn't see me wiping the tears away from my face.....

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After leaving my sister’s place, I was in as big of a hurry to get to the Culpepper ranch as Cheyenne was, but for a different reason. He wanted to see his father, I just wanted to be someplace where I knew all three of us…me, Cheyenne, and Morning Star…would be welcome. I couldn’t believe what I had heard coming out of Margaret’s mouth, ma and pa had raised us better than that! I owed my life to my two friends, and I wasn’t turning my back on them for anyone, not even my own sister….

 

Once we got to the ranch, I was pretty excited, I knew it was bigger than my pa’s place, just didn’t know by how much. When we got closer to the house, I felt my jaw dropping…it was huge!! No little three room cabin here….I had never seen a house that big. I couldn’t help but wonder, with this to come back to why was Cheyenne wasting his time on my little ranch? It didn’t make much sense, but then again I didn’t really understand much of what he did sometimes. I wouldn’t blame him if he decided to stay here, but I hoped I could talk him into going back with me, at least for a little while, I needed all the help I could get!


As we got closer to the house, I could see a man walking out to meet us, and I knew right away it must be Mr. Culpepper. It’s not that he and Cheyenne looked alike, my friend obviously took after his mother, but there were enough similarities to tell me that this was father and son. Something about the expressions on their faces, and there was no mistaking where Cheyenne got that little sparkle in his eyes! I reined my pony to a stop, and motioned Morning Star to do the same. Our friend deserved to greet his father in private, there would be time for introductions later. Besides, I think Morning Star was even more intimidated by the size of that house than I was. I just hoped that as big as the house was, there would be room for us to stay inside, it had been so long since I had slept in a real bed that would be a treat indeed.


I was also wondering by then if there was any chance that Mr. Culpepper may be acquainted with Margaret and her husband, they didn’t live that far away. If so, maybe he could help me figure out a way to talk to her without getting her all upset again….even if she didn’t want anything to do with me because of my friends, I still wanted to find out if she knew where Theresa was….maybe I’d have better luck with her…..


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We rode the rest of the way at a fast gait, the breeze managed to dry the tears that had been running down my cheeks. As we came into view of the ranch my eyes quickly scanned the whole scene, the house, the barns, corrals full of horses, beef in a pen waiting for slaughter, men starting a fire. I knew what the fire meant, that fire pit was used only for special occasions, there was going to be a celebration. Off to the side of the fire a calf was being readied for the spit, oh it was gonna be a fine time tonight.

 

My eyes went back towards the house, my father was on the porch, as he saw us approaching he started walking briskly towards us. I slid off of my pony without bringing it to a stop and ran to my father as my feet hit the ground. As I ran towards him, he was all I could see, tears were running down both of our faces as we held on to each other.

 

He most have opened his eyes after a while because he pushed back a step and asked me, "and just who are these two fine little fillies?" I looked around at The Fair One and Morning Star, The Fair One's face was a deep scarlet, and well I didn't think that Morning Star's face could get any redder but it was. I introduced Morning Star, to my father, as the daughter of the great chief Hosa. He reached his hand up to her and helped her down from her pony welcoming her to the ranch in the Cheyenne tongue. She thanked him and then gave him a bear hug, with that big grin growing on her face.

 

Then I introduced The Fair One to him, known as Calico. He reached up for her hand as well and helped her off her pony as well. She looked him in the eye before giving him a hug and said, "I feel like I know you a little already, the two of you have the same glimmering in your eyes and I get the same feeling from the booth of you." Then she gave him a hug that rivaled the one that Morning Star had given him.

 

As the four of us walked towards the house, my father managed to worm his way between Calico and Morning Star putting an arm around each one's shoulders, laughing as he stated, "I've just gotta hear the story of how you met these two, I'm sure it's gonna be a good evening around the fire."

 

Then he yelled over to the men at the spit as they were readying the calf for the fire, "Get that fatted calf ready boys, my son has come home." Oh it was gonna be a good time tonight.

 

Little Joe hollered over to us telling us he would bring our shooting arms into the house after he took care of the ponies, "I know you don't like being too far away from your Sharps" he added.

 

As we stepped up onto the porch my father stepped away from us, sniffed his nose a couple times and called for Hop Sing the man servant. "Prepare baths for these three, they need it." "They smell like they been on the trail for a week, and see if these ladies would like some fresh clothes too, I'm sure some of Lives Again's clothes will fit them. I knew there was a reason I couldn't get rid of them." Hop Sing called for his wife to come and see to it that the women were taken care of as my father and I walked into the den.

 

My father spoke first, "I've heard reports from the captain at the fort about some of your doings in Kansas. Sounds like all the training with the Sharps paid off" and handed me an envelope full of cash. "Seems like there was a big reward for those marauders you took out, the captain said there's $5,000 there. He also said anytime you want to scout or ride with him he'd be mighty proud to have you along. He also said that every last one of his men agreed." All that could come out of my mouth was "oh my..I know where this is going."

 

Hop Sing had joined us by then and as my father handed me one of his fine cigars I asked if Hop Sing would give me a haircut. I laughed as out from behind his back came his barbering supples. As Hop Sing gave me a haircut my father explained what had happened with my mother. It seems the remnants of cholera in her body had finally gotten the best of her. She had lingered hoping I would make it back before she passed, but he assured me that she knew whatever was keeping me away was of the Great Spirit and that she had found great peace in that.

 

As soon as Hop Sing finished with cutting my hair both of them pointed me towards the back door, "your bath is out back, your women have the two indoors" Hop Sing told me giving me a slight push. "Go now, hurry you stinketh like Lazurus," he laughed.

 

I saw the tub, full of hot water, "oh, this is gonna feel good" I said aloud as I stripped and slid into the warm soapy water. As I did Hop Sing gathered up my things, holding his nose as he did, and after I was in the tub he called for his daughter Water Lilly to come scrub me down. When a pretty young woman stepped out onto the rear porch, "OH MY" was all that went thru my mind, "she's all grown up!"

 

Water Lilly had the long bath brush in her hands, ohhhh that felt good as she scrubbed my back,,,, Hop Sing returned with proper evening clohthes for me, along with a pot of coffee and some of my father's best sipping whiskey...... I was certainly in no hurry now,,,oh,,,ahhh, a fine cigar, coffee, fine sipping whiskey, and a fine young woman scrubbing the stench off my body,,,,oh it was soooo good to be home.

 

"Hop Sing, is there any of my mother's sleep remedy left?" "Yes? Then I will need a strong dose for The Fair...for Calico. She hasn't been able to sleep for many moons. Would you prepare some please. We'll give it to her tonight, perhaps she'll be able to escape the dark spirits." He nodded and off he went...

 

Yes, it was soo good to be home......and we hadn't enjoyed supper yet or an evening around the famous Culpepper fire.....

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After Cheyenne had introduced us to his father, Mr. Culpepper called for someone to come help me and Morning Star get cleaned up, and I had to admit we both really needed it. This older lady came out to help us, and I had to remind myself not to stare, I had never seen anyone like her, but she was awfully pretty, especially her eyes. She motioned for us to follow her into the house, and lead us to a big room that had a little room on one side. She opened the door to the little room, pointed inside, and said "Pick whatever you like, I'm sure Mr. Culpepper will be glad to see these clothes get some use again," and it dawned on me then that these clothes must have belonged to Cheyenne's mother. I was kind of hesitant to wear them, it felt kinda funny, and I could tell Morning Star was totally lost, she wasn't used to white women's clothing. Mrs. Sing and I helped her pick a nice outfit though, and then I saw it, the prettiest dress I had ever seen, it was a lovely royal blue, with lace around the neck and sleeves, and several ruffles at the bottom. Mrs. Sing must have noticed me starting at it, because she told me I'd look beautiful in it, and to go ahead and take it. I tried to shake my head no, it was way too good for me to wear, and that I actually had brought one of my own dresses, that would be good enough. But she insisted that Mr. Culpepper would be hurt if I didn't pick something in the, well, she called it a closet whatever that was, so I finally agreed.

Then she led the two of us to another smaller room, and there was a huge tub in it, filled to the top with very warm water. Mrs. Sing told Morning Star to go ahead and use that tub, and that there was another one for me down the hall, but I could tell Morning Star was more than a little confused, she'd never seen a tub. I tried to explain the best I could, but Mrs. Sing just told her to wait, that she'd be right back to help, and led me down the hall to another little room where my tub was. She made sure that I knew what to do, then excused herself to go back to Morning Star's assistance. I gratefully peeled off my dirty buckskins and climbed in, oh that felt so good! I could have soaked for hours, but finally the water started getting chilly so I climbed out, dried off, and put on that beautiful blue dress. Just as I was getting finished, there was a knock at the door, it was Mrs. Sing with Morning Star, who looked lovely in the dress we had picked for her, it was a dusty rose color, and also had some lace and ruffles on it.

Then Mrs. Sing said "Come, we will go to the den, the men are waiting for you there," and she led us to a big room at the front of the house. We walked in, and I stopped dead in my tracks, I knew that was Cheyenne but boy did he look different! Now it was easy to tell he was half white, with his hair nicely cut and wearing gentleman's clothes, I almost didn't recognize him! But I had to admit, he did look very handsome like that, even though it kind of bothered me that I could tell Morning Star felt the same way...

Mr. Culpepper invited us to come in and sit down, that dinner wouldn't be ready for a while. The men were smoking cigars and drinking whiskey, and I think it kind of shocked Mr. Culpepper when Cheyenne poured me a glass of it too. But he also asked Mrs. Sing to please get a cup of herbal tea for Morning Star, he knew she wouldn't want any of the liquor. It didn't take long before the whiskey started making me really tired, I probably shouldn't have drank it on an empty stomach, especially as tired as I was, but by then it was a little late. I tried to concentrate on the conversation my friend and his father were having, but my eyelids were getting so heavy.....NO, I told myself, don't go to sleep now, the last thing I needed was to fall asleep in front of Mr. Culpepper and then start having another of those danged nightmares, no telling what he would think of me then. I wanted him to like me, there was so much I wanted to ask him, and not just about ranching....

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Boy that bath felt good I thought as I put on the evening clothes Hop Sing had brought me. Almost felt human again, most of all I smelled clean too. I went back into the house and joined my father and other men from the ranch. As I entered the den the men welcomed me home, patting me on the back and offering me a new cigar and some more of that fine whiskey. We all talked and laughed for a while when all of a sudden a hush came over the room, "Cheyenne" my father started, "you best introduce these two ladies to our friends here."

 

As I stepped over to The Fai...I mean Calico and Morning Star, my jaw nearly hit the ground, as I stammered a few words the room erupted in laughter. Dang it all, but these two women were the cause of my face turning beet red again! As I gained my composure, I stepped up to Morning Star, took her hand and kissed it, (it was my turn to see her face turn that deep scarlet) as I held onto her hand I turned back to the men and introduced "Morning Star, daughter of the great chief Hosa."

 

Now it was the fai..I mean Calicos turn,,,, I took her hand and bent over and kissed it, "Men, this is the reason I've been gone for so long, and no it's not what your thinking, this is The Fair One, Calico Mieir, of the Golden Aspen Ranch near Willow Spings." I think she turned the same deep scarlet as Morning Star.

 

Then I told the two I wanted them to see something, and lead them to a wall that had several paintings of my parents. As I looked at the pictures and then at each of them, I could hardly believe my eyes, but each of them were wearing dresses that my mother wore in the pictures. There was another picture that caught Morning Star's attention, it was of my mother and father, my father as a young man in buckskins and my mother in her native dress.

 

My father took Morning Star's hand, and as they walked into the midst of the men, I heard him telling her how much she would have liked my mother.

 

Calico and I joined my father and Morning Star with Calico holding on to my arm. I asked Hop Sing to get tea for Morning Star as I poured some whiskey for Calico. I had earlier explained to my father that I hoped the whiskey would help Calico relax and maybe sleep better. The whiskey worked a little better and faster on Calico than I had expected, I led her to one of the soft leather chairs, maybe she could nap before dinner I hoped.

 

It was an hour or so before dinner was ready, as the room emptied heading for the dining room, I bent down and woke Calico up, as she rubbed her eyes, I could see embarrassment and surprise in her eyes. "how long have I been asleep?" she asked. "Not long," I told her, "come dinners ready." and with that we joined the others in the dining room.

 

As we entered the room my eyes went to Morning Star, she had an even bigger smile across her face, she was seated next to my father with native Cheyenne food in front of them. I pulled Calico's chair out for her, she looked at me with a surpised look, but then sat. Oh it was a mighty fine dinner....

 

After dinner we all went outside to the fire. As my father sat with Calico and Morning Star on each side of him, he pointed me to the spot where the story teller always stood. "Cheyenne, the men have been waiting to hear where and how you found these two. Now step up and git with it!"

 

"Well' you see what happened was...."

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As I started telling my tale to all who were around the fire I knew I would need to be mindful of the time. After all I had been gone for just over 2 years and I had sooo much to tell. I started off with the reason I had made my oath to the Great Spirit to protect the Fair One,,,Calico, as I glanced her way I could see her wiping tears from her cheeks. As I continued I could see the looks on Calico's face as I told of things she had no idea that had happened as I was in the shadows.

 

I had always been quite a story teller and had the men laughing several times. Especially when I told them about going after the mustangs in the canyon. Several of the men were rolling on the ground holding there sides they were laughing so hard.

 

My father finally spoke up and broke up the laughing, "I thought you knew I was pulling your leg, I had no idea you would actually try that!" With that the men erupted in laughter again.

 

Then it was Calico's turn, "You want to know the best part though, it worked! We all thought he was going to die, but you should of seen it, I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it myself."

 

I went on to tell of the ride home and the run in with the deserters near the Miller ranch, I almost told of Margarets response to seeing me and Morning Star, but I got a glimpse of Calico's face, woops, I went on to meeting Bob at the gate. As I was finished I saw my father lean over and whisper into Calico's ear.

 

I finished my tale and stepped over to my father and the two beautiful young ladies, Morning Star popped up and gave me a big hug and a kiss on my cheek. Calico, stayed seated, I had watched her during the tale and noticed she had had her share of the sipping whiskey. Her eyes were a little glazed, but I wasn't sure if it was the whiskey or the part about Margaret.

 

Well, as she tried to stand I knew that the whiskey must have been a large part of it as she slid back into her chair. I reached down and slid my arms under her and carried her into the house to her room. She had put her arms around my neck and her head on my shoulder as I carried her, I didn't know a woman's hair could smell so nice. As I placed her on her bed she started to say "Sta.." but before she could finish she closed her eyes and fell fast asleep. I wondered if Hop Sing had slipped some of my mother's sleep herbs into one of her drinks.

 

As I left her room Morning Star was waiting for me, "lets go for a walk" she told me as she took my hand and headed for outside. It was quiet now as the men had turned in for the night. The moon was high in the sky and the stars were twinkling as we walked out from the house. "Now I understand why they called you "Man Who Walks Two Paths." I wasn't able to understand you at all, but now I think I understand, though I'm not so sure about your hair now." She giggled, gave me another kiss on the cheek and hugged me again. "I see how you look at Calico sometimes, and sometimes I see that look in her eyes for you, but she no tell me how she feels. This has all been so strange for me, in my village we don't always have a choice, but this is strange, I feel like I am being torn in two." "Me too" I assured her.

 

We walked along in silence enjoying the night sky and the cool breeze blowing into our faces.

 

As we returned to the house, Lu Sing, Hop Sing's wife was waiting for us, "I took care of Calico," she said as she took Morning Star's hand, "come, let me help you turn in." With that the two started up the staircase to Morning Star's room.

 

I returned to my room, sleep would come easily, it had been a long day and my spirit was at peace. Well, except for the thought of 3 young women drifting through my thoughts. I found my flute and began softly playing, as my eyes grew tired I put the flute down and slipped into a wonderul deep sleep.

 

I awoke abruptly the next morning, horses hooves and men shouting,,, "Mr Culpepper, Mr Culpepper, come quick! Those deserters attacked the Miller place last night, the killed him, but the men are bringing Margaret in with the wagons. They should be here in a couple hours or so."

 

I jumped out of bed, threw on the new buckskins that had been laid over the footboard and ran outside just as my father shouted, "get our horses men, it's time to deal with those scum once and for all." I strapped on my sidearms and looked up just as Little Joe was leading my pony up to the house. I got your Sharps and that yellow rifle for you Cheyenne. As my father and I mounted our horses I looked around, about 30 men all told. "Get a supply wagon loaded catch up with us" he told Rye Miles, "make sure you pack plenty of ammo and food, we may be out a while, and leave that blasted piano stuff here," he laughed as he spurred his horse to a gallop.

 

I looked back towards the house to see Hop Sing catch Calico and Mornng Star as they came running out of the house. I could see them struggle to try to join us, but Hop Sing, his wife, and daughter managed to hold them back.

 

As we rode it felt good, it felt like I was mounted on eagles' wings...

,

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We rode hard towards the Miller ranch, men armed with rifles and sidearms, some with shotguns, men on a mission, men fed up with the evil the deserters had visited upon the ranches in the area. After a while we met up with the wagons heading back to the ranch with Margaret riding on the lead wagon. As we pulled our horses up to talk with Bob, Margaret looked at me kinda funny like, tilting her head one way, then the other, "Don't I know you?" she asked. "Cheyenne Culpepper, ma'am" I answered, "just rode in yesterday." With that she pulled her head back a bit, with a confused look on her face.

 

Bob had told my father about the attack on the ranch and which direction the deserters had gone. My father ordered 5 of the men with the wagons to come with us and we were on our way again. There were 30 of us now, all well seasoned, men tested by the sands of time.

 

As we rode we noticed a lone rider coming from the mountains, as he got closer he was a peculiar sort, dressed in the skins of a grizzly, short stature and well, rather round, his hair was that of an old white buffalo, with a beard to match. Strangest of all, he was eating a turkey leg with his left hand. He'd take a big bite and then try to tell us what he knew of the deserters. It took a few minutes for him to tell us all he new, just before we left him there, I noticed his boots, they were green, sorta looked like mocasins....strange sort he was....

 

He had told us that he'd seen the deserters go up a certain canyon, one we knew well. It was a box canyon, one with no outlet. My father took 20 of the men, all the men with shotguns and a few with rifles. I took the other 10, all with rifles that were experienced long range shooters. I would take my men and head around to the end of the canyon from above. My father took his men and rode up the mouth of the canyon.

 

Once in place, I signaled my father that we were in place with a glass. My men and I had the deserters in view, about 400 yds away in the canyon. My father and his men stopped about about 100 yds short of the deserters and called out to them, "You men are surounded, you might as well throw down your guns and give up, no reason for anyone to die today!" The deserters answered with rifle fire. My father and his men took cover behind the boulders along the sides of the canyon.

 

We could see that there were 15 men among the deserters. all in ragged blue uniforms. We had 4 long range rifles in our group, and seven men with new Winchesters. Those of us long range riflemen chose seperate targets, and on a count of 3 opened fire. All 4 men were thrown to the ground. As we drew fire the men with the Winchesters opened up for several shots, then quit. Then the riflemen in my fathers opened up, drawing fire from us. As we looked down on them we saw that two more men below had fallen. That left 8 men left. The four of us picked out targets again, 3 men fell this time. The men below knew they had to try something different.. They ran for their horses as the riflemen with me opened up, 1 more man fell before he could reach his horse. The last four made a dash down through the canyon, all was quiet at first, but then the 10 men with shotguns opened up as the men on the horses came into range. The sound coming up the canyon was deafening as the shotguns fired in unison. It took a moment for the smoke to clear, but as it did we saw four riderless horses continueing down through the canyon. A cheer went up from the men as we mounted and rode back out to the mouth of the canyon.

 

We had ridden a bit when we came across that peculiar fellow with the grizzly skin, "Y'all know thar's a reeward for them men, I figure I otta git sumthan fer telling yu whar they were" he told us between bites of a new turkey leg.

 

"You have have it all" my father told him, "you go get them, you can have their wagon and what horses you can rope. We don't want any of it."

 

The man, we'd nicknamed grizz, yelled yee haw, and then thank you as he took off on his pony, eating that turkey leg as he rode.

 

It was dusk as we rode back to the ranch. We had met up with the supply wagon on the way back but decided to ride for home without stopping. The men were tired and hungry, and I had two, maybe three beautiful women waiting for me.

 

As we neared the ranch we could see Calico and Morning Star sitting on the porch in rocking chairs, wow, what a pretty sight they were. Wait a minute, there was three of them on the porch, Water Lilly was there too, wait a minute hold on, there were four of them, was the fourth one Margaret or was it Little Joe's wife? Ohhhh, this was going to be an interesting evening.

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I was just starting to wake up when I heard men shouting, something about the deserters attacking my sister and her husband.....I jumped out of bed and through on my buckskins as fast as I could, they had been cleaned and laid out on a chair in the guest room I had been given. I went running outside, buckling on my gunbelt as I ran, but Hop Sing grabbed me as I leapt off the porch and said "No, let the men handle this!" "I can fight, and Margaret's my sister, I got the right!" I insisted, struggling to get away...

Hop Sing was insistent though, and between him and his daughter they practically dragged me back in the house. I saw that Mrs. Sing had Morning Star by the arm and was making her go back inside as well, she had wanted to go too. They made us go into the den, and told us to sit down, and Mr. Sing stood blocking the door so I couldn't get by. I didn't want to sit, so I just paced back and forth, and tried to reason with the man. "She's my sister, if those men killed her husband I got the right to go after them myself!" I told him, I was furious. "Mrs. Miller do not like Mr. Culpepper, and will not be happy having to come here," he said "Maybe if you here, you can help with her, she be very angry, I'm afraid."

"Why don't she like Mr. Culpepper, is it because of his late wife?" I asked, and the Sing family all nodded. "Well, I don't get it, I mean, I know I haven't seen her in years, but why does she all of a sudden not like indians? Heck, we were raised among indians, I didn't see the first white person I wasn't related to until I was almost in my teens. This doesn't make sense!"

Mrs. Sing asked me again to sit down, saying she'd explain. "When Margaret first come to this area, we not know much bout her, other than parents been killed few months before. She come here to teach school nearby. One day, Shoshone chief come, say many people in his village sick, he need help, and she volunteer to go. It smallpox, and most of village die. When she come back, she start getting real sick, almost die herself. John Miller help doctor at Fort Collins take care of her, then they fall in love. Get married, and she start to have baby, but lose baby, doctor say it because of smallpox. Margaret heartbroken, after that she hate all indians, even Mrs. Culpepper. It not indians' fault, but she will not listen. Losing child can do that to woman...."

Well, I could sort of see how that could happen, but I still didn't have to like it. And obviously Margaret wouldn't be happy to have to come here, and she had to be devasted by the loss of her husband, no wonder the Sings wanted help dealing with her. This would not be pleasant....

I had gone back to pacing when we heard the wagons pull up outside, so we all went out. Margaret didn't look happy, no surprise there, but she was surprised to see me. "What are you doing here? Do you know who these people are?" she asked, very angry. "Yep, I've been friends with Cheyenne Culpepper for a while now, and he invited me to come meet his father," I told her, but I could tell she didn't like hearing that! We helped her down and took her inside, I said she could lay down in the guest room I was using. We made sure she hadn't been hurt, just a little shook up and definitely upset by what had happened at her farm, perfectly understandable. A few minutes later Water Lilly came in with a cup of tea, and told Margaret to drink it, that it would help her get some rest. I don't think she wanted to, but drank it anyway, and it wasn't very long before she fell asleep. Water Lilly and I left her alone at that point, and I walked back to the kitchen with the other girl. On the way I asked her what was in the tea that had made Margaret go to sleep, and she told me "Oh, just some herbs, same thing Cheyenne ask Father to give you last night so you sleep. Then he take long walk with Morning Star." Oh, really?!

Then we joined Morning Star on the porch, she was sitting out there talking to another lady, introduced to me as the wife of one of the men that worked there. The other three women started talking like crazy, but I just sat staring out at the mountains. Finally Morning Star asked if I was all right, and I told her yes, I just had a lot on my mind, and the others seemed to understand.

It was starting to get late before the men got back, tired but successful, they had found the deserters and made sure they wouldn't hurt anyone else, ever. We had checked on Margaret several times, but she remained asleep. After the men had dismounted, Mr. Culpepper stopped to talk to me for a few minutes before going in the house to clean up. He told me he wanted to offer to buy John and Margaret's land, but thought it best that I make the offer to her, as he didn't figure she really wanted to deal with him. I got the feeling he felt pretty much the same way, so I told him I'd talk to her when she woke up. She had told me before she went to sleep that she couldn't stay here, not alone and with a baby on the way. John had relatives back east, she was sure they would be willing to take her in until the baby was born and she could have a chance to decide what else to do. I thought that was a good idea, I would miss her but at least I knew that she would be safe. Unfortunately, all she could tell me about Theresa is that she had stayed in Denver. Margaret didn't know if she was still there or not, they hadn't kept in touch. It was looking like I would have to make a trip there at some point!

The men went in to get cleaned up, and Water Lilly and the other lady went to the kitchen to see about helping with dinner, leaving me and Morning Star alone on the porch. She turned to me and asked "Is there anything I can do to help? I know you worry about your sister, but I worry about you too." I just shrugged and answered no, it wasn't my sister that I had been thinking about. All this time Cheyenne had been following me around, I had gotten the idea he was interested in me. But if he was, how could he do that? Have Hop Sing put something in my drink to make me fall asleep then go walking with Morning Star? I knew I was being unreasonable, after all it had been my idea to introduce the two....but I was still very disappointed and more than a little hurt. At least Buick didn't seem to notice that Morning Star was even around half the time, much less realize that she was attracted to him. And now she was going after Cheyenne too? I had thought she was my friend.....


Lu Sing came to the door and told us that dinner was ready, would we please come in to the dining room now. As I followed Morning Star in, I couldn't help but wonder if there was a polite way to ask not to have to sit next to Cheyenne at dinner.....

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As we dismounted by the porch I saw Water Lilly, Morning Star and Caliope, Little Joe's wife sitting talking like hens in the hen house. Calico was sitting off by herself though, and wouldn't even look my way. As Water Lilly and Morning Star came to greet me and check to see if I was ok, Calico just sat there, ignoring me! Women! I spoke with the two briefly and excused myself to get cleaned up.

 

It wasn't long before we were called to dinner, Calico was still giving me the cold shoulder as she found a spot between my father and Caliope to sit. Morning Star was surrounded so I took an empty spot directly across from Calico, right next to Water Lilly. Before I sat, I asked Water Lilly if I could sit beside her, and I made sure that Calico was aware that I was doing so too. Water Lilly reacted perfectly as she looked up with a wonderful smile and said, "Why of course! It will be just like when we were young." As I sat, I could see Calico's eyebrows narrow and her lips purse. Ha! it worked, but why was she acting so? Like I said before, women!

 

My father was unusually talkative during dinner, telling of the gunfight, his hopes to buy the Miller ranch, and being blessed by having so many beautiful ladies at the dinner table. Then he started telling tales of Water Lilly and I when we were young. That got Calico's attention, and Morning Star's as well. Every so often Water Lilly would giggle and turn red as my father would reveal some untold secret he knew about us.

 

The plates had been cleared and my father was still telling tales so I went to the liqour cabinet and got some of his sipping whiskey. It was quite nice to be serving the others as I poured everyone a small glass of whiskey. When I came to Calico, she still wouldn't look at me. I filled hers and moved on until I had served everyone. Lu Sing brought tea for Morning Star as my father continued to try to embarass the two of us.

 

My father finally ran out of things to try to embarass us and announced that it was time to dance. It seemed that some of the men came out of nowhere with a fiddle, a guitar, and a harmonica to provide the music. As Water Lilly and I glided around the floor I could see Calico watching our every move, I was either being really smart, or really really stupid.

 

After that first dance Hop Sing and Lu Sing excused themselves for the evening and insisted that Water Lilly follow them, she tried to object, but she didn't get far. My father had Morning Star tied up and I knew better to cut in on my father, but no one had taken Calico onto the floor to dance.

 

As I approached her she squirmed a bit in the big leather chair, but as I reached down, took her hand and kissed it I saw a faint hint of a smile. "May I have this dance,"' I asked her. She tried to protest that she didn't know how as I lifted her out of the chair. "It's easy" I assured her, "it's just like slipping through horses in the corral." She gave me one of her funny looks that changed as I held one hand and put the other around her waist. The longer we danced the closer I drew her to me, then I whispered in her ear, "Why are you mad at me?"

 

She gave me one of those looks again, but didn't say a word. Finally she said, "what's with you going for a walk with Morning Star last night?" "Water Lilly told me that after I went to sleep that you and Morning Star went for a long walk last night, ALONE!" I tried to say something but she had caught me by surprise, not that she knew, but that SHE cared! I tried to put that into words, but even to me I sounded like an idiot. It was my turn to feel the redness enter my face, which brought a great deal of joy to Calico.

 

As they were playing the last song of the evening I took Calico's hand and headed for the door, she pulled back, "Oh, it's my turn tonight, whose turn is it tomorrow night" she said abruptly, then after she had enjoyed seeing me squirm enough, she giggled and continued, "well let's go, time's a wasting" and with that she led me down the steps out into the night, with only the moon and the stars keeping us company. "Yup", I thought to myself, "Life is good." I could see the stars twinkling in her eyes.....

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I was kinda shocked when Cheyenne asked me to dance, well, I'd never done it before. The only dancing I had ever seen was in the indian villages I had spent time in, and this was totally different. He didn't seem to mind though, and told me all I had to do was follow his lead, easier said than done, I think I stepped on his toes more than a few times. We danced for a while, then a couple of the other men wanted to dance with me, and I had to admit I was having a good time. But then Cheyenne came back, and we danced some more, then he leaned over and whispered “Last song, let's go outside for a while.”

I wasn't so sure about that idea, after all he'd done the same thing with someone else just the night before. But I let him talk me into it, and we went outside. I figured it would be a while before Margaret wanted to sleep again, she had woken up earlier but had asked to take her dinner in the bedroom, she wasn't in the mood to be sociable. I might as well go for a walk, maybe he'd tell me just what the heck he was up to!


We walked for a while in silence, then I finally told him “I'm glad your father is being nice enough to help Margaret out, even if she don't like him, ain't no way she can handle that farm on her own,” but I also needed to tell him something else....”It's not like I could stay and help her, as much as I like being here sooner or later I got to go back to the Golden Aspen, I can't leave Buick and Jesse and Pete to do all that work by themselves. Plus the sheriff did tell us that there was that horse thief lurking around, need to make sure he don't get any of my stock. Plus I need to go to Denver and see if I can find Theresa.”


All of a sudden Cheyenne stopped and pulled me into his arms, telling me “You know, my father has plenty of room here, and the house is more than big enough, you could consider giving up that ranch and just staying here.....I can talk to my father about hiring on those other three hands, there's always plenty of work to go around....”

Boy, I didn't know what to say to that! I didn't know exactly what he had in mind, maybe he was just looking to hire me to work on the ranch, there was still the matter of Morning Star, and lord only knew what his father would think! Plus I didn't know if I could give up my family's ranch that easily....that was home and I had thought it always would be....would I be able to give it up and move somewhere else just like that? Plus I still had to find Theresa, I couldn't give up on locating her. This was something I would need to do some serious thinking about, no way was I prepared to give him an answer just like that....not without asking a whole lot more questions!

But before I could ask him anything, he pulled me even closer and kissed me, and I thought those butterflies in my belly were never gonna quit flutterin'. He finally pulled back just a little, and just stood there staring at me, when a slight movement behind him caught my attention. I leaned over a little to see past him, and saw Water Lilly running back around the corner of the house, she'd been watching us the whole time. Great, what was she up to?? And was she going to tell Mr. Culpepper?


I think we better go in now, it's getting late,” I told him, not wanting to tell him what I had just seen. “I slept so good last night, I'm hoping I can do it again.” I don't think he wanted to go back, but I was insistent, lord only knows what these people were gonna think about me if they found out I had let Cheyenne bring me out here then kiss me.....I wasn't really sure I was gonna be able to sleep that night, I had way too much to think about!

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The stars twinkling in Calico's eyes mesmerised me, before long I was telling her I wanted her to forget her dream and move here, her men and all. Well, I surely meant what I had said, but wow, that was a lot to lay on her, especially since I didn't really know how she felt about me. I had watched her everyday for over 2 years and it seemed like I had known her forever, even if much of the time I had watched from the shadows.

 

Heck, then I even had the nerve to kiss her, and not just on the cheek either! But, she didn't pull away quickly either though. I was kind of glad when she wanted to go in, I was afraid I would say something else and just plain scare her to death. As we entered the house we said our good nights and she turned and ran up the stairs, just like I did when I was a kid. Oh boy, I sure hoped I hadn't messed everything up with her.

 

As I stood there a second or two watching Calico disappear into her room I noticed Water Lilly watching me from the back porch, as our eyes met she motioned me to join her. I hesitated a bit but she motioned a bit more boldly for me to join her. I wasn't so sure about this, but I joined her anyway. As I got to her she pulled me out onto the porch, out of sight, and laid a giant kiss on me! "I have been waiting for a long time for you to return, and I don't aim to let some other woman take your heart without a fight" she whispered, then she turned and disappeared around the porch. I stood there for a minute or two, just not knowing what to do. As I turned to go in, there was my father, "looks like you've stepped in it son" he laughed as he put his arm around my shoulder and led me to the den for a nightcap.

 

As we sipped our whiskey, he grinned at me, "you''ve got some decisions to make son, and their yours to make. I'd like you to stay and start taking over, but I know that you've got dreams of your own. You've got three wonderful women that seem to want to put a brand on you. You've got lots to think about." "Now enough about that for now." "I'm going to make Margaret an offer for the Miller ranch tomorrow, it's not big, but I'll need more men to work it." "if you come across anyone hire them if you feel their right for the job."

 

I poured another drink and went out to sit on the porch for a spell. The stars were bright, the crickets were chirping, and the rocking chair creeked as I pondered my situation. What in the world was I going to do? As I sat there I heard someone come out of the house, it was Hop Sing, he handed me my flute, "this allways make you feel better" he said as he sat beside me. "you lucky man, you got three pretty girls, you must choose the one your heart desires" he told me. "Only your heart can tell you what to do" he said softly as he rose and left to go inside.

 

I looked at my flute and started playing the music that came from my heart. I sat there for hours playing and pondering, I was still sitting there when the sun woke me up the next morning. I was still as confused as I was when I went to sleep....

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The next morning when we woke up, I convinced Margaret to go to the dining room with me for breakfast. When we got there, I noticed that Cheyenne was sitting with Water Lilly on one side of him and Morning Star on the other, I was a little disappointed that we'd gotten there too late.... The two seats next to Morning Star were empty, and I was going to have us sit there, but Margaret took one look at Morning Star and walked to the other end of the table, where Mr. Culpepper was, and he invited her to sit next to him. I ended up sitting across from my sister, oh well, Mr. Culpepper did want my help talking to her. I did notice that Water Lilly had a big grin on her face, Morning Star looked hurt, and Cheyenne just looked confused.

After the meal was served, Mr. Culpepper told Margaret that he had sent to Fort Collins for a preacher, to give John a proper Christian burial, and asked her where she would like John to be buried. He told her that he'd take care of everything, but he needed to know her wishes. She told him she wanted John buried at their place, next to the infant daughter they had lost, to which Mr. Culpepper readily agreed. Then he told her that I had mentioned that Margaret wanted to go back east, to John's family, so he was willing to pay her a fair price for the land, that day, so she wouldn't have to worry about a buyer and would have money for the trip. I told her that it was a sensible idea, and I really thought she needed to agree, it could takes weeks or months to find someone else to buy the place, and she needed to go now while she could still travel, in a couple more months it wouldn't be safe for her to do so in her condition. Margaret let out a big sigh, said “I don't really like it, but I don't have much other choice, you have a deal,” and then excused herself to go lay down for a while until the preacher got there.

When the preacher arrived, we all got ready for the trip over to the Miller place. Lu Sing had helped Morning Star and I pick more of Lives Again's dresses to wear that were more appropriate for the occasion, and since we were in dresses instead of our buckskins we had to ride in the wagons, we couldn't very easily take our ponies. Mr. Culpepper tried to help Margaret get up on the wagon seat, but she refused, so the preacher stepped forward and said “Please allow me, ma'am.” I didn't have a problem letting Mr. Culpepper help me, and as he did I looked back and noticed that Cheyenne was helping both Morning Star and Water Lilly onto the second wagon...it figured! It took a while to get to the Miller place, but when we got there the preacher conducted a very nice ceremony for my sister's husband, and before long all of us women were in tears. The men all looked properly respectful, even though they knew Margaret's feelings towards them, it still wasn't right the way John had been killed by those deserters for nothing.

We returned to the ranch and had lunch, then Margaret decided to go lay down for a while. Mr. Culpepper had told her he would have some of his men take her to Denver the following day so she could catch the train back East, and she needed to rest up before the trip. I asked Mr. Culpepper if he would go for a ride with me, that I wished to talk to him in private, he told me to change into my buckskins and he'd arrange to have our horses saddled. Once we were mounted, he took me down a trail that led towards the mountains, boy was that a pretty sight! I had all sorts of questions I asked him about ranching, and he patiently answered all of them. Then when I stopped to think of some more, he asked me “Why aren't you asking Cheyenne all this, I taught him everything he needs to know about running this place, is there a reason you waited to talk to me?”

I had to admit, it had never occurred to me to ask my friend, I guess I was just so used to thinking of him as an indian, rather than as the son of a rancher. The whole time we had been in Kansas, he had acted more like one of his mother's people, and that's mainly how I saw him. It wasn't until we had arrived here that I had really realized that he did walk two paths, and there was a lot more to the man than I had ever realized. Mr. Culpepper listened to my explanation, nodding the whole time, I don't think he was shocked to hear that I felt that way. He knew his son's heart was torn between the two worlds, all he wanted was for his son to be happy.

Then he said something I wasn't expecting, “I know my son asked you to stay here, and I wanted to let you know that you'd be more than welcome to do so. If you'd like, I can help find a buyer for your place down south, and I have plenty of room for your horses. I can hire your hands, I need more men anyway if I'm going to take over your sister's place, so that's not an issue. Have you given any thought to staying with us?”

Well, I had, but still had not come to a decision on that, and I told him so. I still wasn't sure exactly why Cheyenne wanted me to stay, but I didn't say that part. I told Mr. Culpepper that I needed to return to the Golden Aspen regardless, that I wanted to go along when his men took Margaret to Denver, then ride the rest of the way to my place. I would think about their offer on the way, and hopefully I would be able to come to a decision by the time I got there, and would let him know one way or the other. Then he asked me if Cheyenne was going to go with me, and I admitted I hadn't talked to his son about it just yet. He insisted that he would feel better knowing that I had an escort back to my ranch, and then if I decided to return, great, if not Cheyenne could come back north whenever he was ready to.

At that point, we turned our horses around to head back to the house and get ready for dinner. I knew I needed to talk to Cheyenne that evening about going back to my place. I'd left Buick and the others alone long enough, it was time for me to head back. I did hope he was willing to go with me, and not just ask one of his father's men to act as escort.....I really needed to find out why he asked me to stay, and try to figure out if my heart belonged to him....or to Buick....

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