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Calico Mary

Dreams of the Golden Aspen Ranch

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ohhhh yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

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Things were running real well, even though the new ladies were somewhat of a distraction for the men, which come to think of it, none of them had gone into town to visit the saloon or Hattie's whore house. Lizzy was spoken for, having managed to get Grumpy's attention, it appeared that Ella may have broken through the fence that Danny had built around himself so that left four of the ladies for any single ranch hand to try to woo. I don't think the men had taken so many baths in my recollection. Heck, Ol Grizz even showed up for Thanksgiving, bathed, somewhat of a shave and even fresh clean clothes.

 

I got to thinking, the last woman we had wanted rid of, Abigail, we had sent home with Girzz. When not the old spinster? Mildred! I wasn't sure how I could get him to take her with him, especially if he were to be around her for a while first. I could always pay him, it would sure be worth it!

 

We had the Thanksgiving meal all ready, the men, and those with wives were all lined up waiting to go through the line as Cali and I and the six, well five, Mildred had refused, dished out the plates. It was fun to watch the men try to flirt with the ladies as they went through the line, and more than a few got elbows in their sides from their not so pleased wives.

 

Anyway, we got everyone served, including Hop Sing and Lu Sing and then we all filled our plates and found places to sit. Of course the five ladies had no problem finding a seat, but Calico and I went out on the porch to eat. After the hot kitchen the coolness of the porch was refreshing. We gave thanks for our food and as we ate told each other how thankful we were for one another.

 

Then I heard that voice again, Mildred's. I couldn't make out what she was saying but you could tell that she wasn't happy, But then that wasn't unusual for her. Grizz had been sitting out in the yard eating and playing with the pups that he had given the kids, now was a good time to try to convince him to take Mildred home with him.

 

I called Grizz over and offered to fix him up with Mildred, I had to quickly duck as he swung at me. Luckily I was quicker than he was. I pulled five twenty dollar gold pieces out and held them in the palm of my hand. He looked at me and tilted his head a bit and asked, "That the best you can do, the last one went willingly, this one isn't going to go so easily. I pulled out another five gold pieces and flipped them to Grizz as he slyly smiled.

 

Grizz went back to playing with the pups as Calico and I sat in our chairs with huge smiles and one more huge thing to be thankful for.

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Grizz walked in the house just in time to see Mildred order Hop Sing to bring her some pie. He pretended to look over the books on the shelf until Hop Sing returned with the pie. In stead of 'thank you' all she said was 'it took you long enough.'

 

Grizz didn't even give her a chance to to take the fork off the plate before he snatched it away. The whole room got quiet. She glared at him and started to stammer a hateful speech, but he shut her up with a hard stare and a hand held high.

 

'Woman' Grizz said, 'I don't know who in the hell you think you are, but you've been lording around here like you own the place, well let me tell you this, you don't own this place, and if you did, you would have earned it and would treat those who labor along side you with some respect'

 

Everyone just stood open mouthed and stared, Mildred among them, waiting for the next shoe to drop. Grizz paused just long enough for dramatic effect and then continued 'now you get you ass out to that kitchen and do the dishes!' She started to protest and Grizz grabbed her by the waist and threw her over his shoulder and stomped out to the kitchen.

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Thanksgiving was a special day at the Culpepper Ranch, we all had much to be thankful for. Part of the morning was spent at the chapel, Biblepuncher held a special service that just about everyone attended, it was standing room only. It was nice enough for the kids to play outside after that, and the yard was filled with all the youngsters on the ranch, they had a lot of fun and so did all the pups and Buford. Grumpy Old Man let him play with the kids while he sat on the porch talking to Padre, and ole Grizz when he arrived. Stands Alone came down for a while to sit and talk with the other older men, but the rest of his family declined the invitation to eat with us, saying they just weren't comfortable with the idea of a big fancy meal indoors. Stands Alone did bring me a message from Two Birds though, telling me that she asked him to pass along that they were all thankful for being allowed to stay on the ranch. I did finally convince everyone to let me help with getting ready for the meal, just not with the cooking. I helped gather up enough plates and silverware for everyone, while Cheyenne and Eddie rounded up extra chairs so everyone would have a place to sit. We were truly blessed to have such a wonderful extended “family”, and there was only one person on the ranch that didn't seem to agree.

 

That was Mildred, I'd hoped that once she'd gotten a little used to the place her attitude might improve, but no such luck. The woman simply had no interest in fitting in, and seemed to expect everyone else to change to suit her. That wasn't going to happen, and I had the feeling that things would soon be reaching the boiling point, we simply had to come up with somewhere else for her to go. I wasn't sure where, but spending the winter with her was going to drive everyone crazy, and the last thing we needed was to lose good hands because of a stranger's attitude. Something would have to be done about her, the sooner the better.

 

Those women weren't lying about being able to cook though, that had to have been one of the most delicious meals I'd ever had. There was enough for everyone to have their fill and then some, it was a good thing we'd gotten all the work done, except for washing dishes, before because we were all so stuffed afterward that nobody was moving very much. While we were eating Cheyenne came up with the idea of offering Grizz some money to get Mildred out of our hair, I didn't think that was going to work but told him to go ahead and try. I watched as Cheyenne offered the man some money, but of course Grizz held out for more, and I couldn't say I blamed him. Still, Cheyenne finally made it worth his while, and Grizz was smiling as he pocketed the coins. He wasn't smiling so much when he went inside to look for Mildred though.

 

I followed him into the house and to the dining room. Ella was offering to get Danny some pie, and asked him what kind he wanted. Danny smiled and told her “Whichever one you made is fine with me.” Ella blushed bright red, but returned almost immediately with a huge slice of pumpkin for him, and a much smaller piece for herself. Mildred however insisted that Hop Sing serve her, which kind of made me mad as I thought we had made it clear to everyone that the Sings officially had this day completely off work. The two of them rarely went an entire day without doing something for one or another of us, they deserved a break. I would have never tolerated any one from the ranch going against my wishes on that, but I had to think for a minute about how to handle it since Mildred was a guest, not family or an employee.

 

Before I got the chance to do anything, Grizz took matters into his own hands. First he chewed her out, and it got so quiet in there you could have heard a pin drop. Then he threw her over his shoulder and carried her towards the kitchen, telling her she was going to wash the dishes, and he was gonna make darn sure she did it right. Little Flower, Laura, and Sally had no objection to that, they had all been assigned to handle the dishes but were more than willing to accept Grizz's idea instead. It wasn't long though before we all heard angry voices coming from the kitchen, and the next thing we knew we all heard a big crashing sound from there as well.

 

“What the heck was....” Cheyenne started to say, but before anyone could react Grizz appeared in the doorway of the dining room, blood starting to run down his face. “Changed my mind Culpepper, it ain't worth yer gold. Darn woman threw a plate at my head,” Grizz growled, and as Cheyenne told Tommy to go fetch Doc Eells from the den, Mildred appeared behind Grizz. “I'm not going anywhere with you, old man, and you can't make me!” she screamed, and I could almost see the steam coming out of her ears. She did have a point, we may rightfully have been able to make her leave the ranch, but couldn't force her to go with Grizz. Grizz sat down in an empty chair, but before Doc arrived, Clara had run to the kitchen and grabbed a couple of clean towels and was starting to apply pressure to the wound on Grizz's forehead. “Good! A fine gentleman like this deserves better than the likes of an old bitty like you!” Clara snarled at Mildred, and as soon as he heard that, for once ole Grizz was speechless. Clara looked more than a little embarrassed herself, and quickly backed off when Doc arrived to check on Grizz's injury. She retreated to one side of the room and didn't say anything else, but it was obvious that she'd sure gotten Grizz's attention with her comment.

 

Mildred wasn't done screaming though, and we all got an earful before Cheyenne finally shouted her down. “Enough! You've made it plenty clear that you don't want to be here, well that's fine with us. Grizz offered you a place to go, if that's not good enough for you then you tell me right now where you want to go, and first thing tomorrow I'll send you there. I won't have you causing any more trouble on MY ranch, and that's final!” For a minute I thought Mildred was going to explode, I didn't figure she was used to anyone standing up to her, but finally she just hung her head and said, “California, I want to go to California.” Cheyenne quickly agreed, telling her, “I'll have someone take you to the train station first thing in the morning, be ready to go at daybreak. Now git!”

 

Mildred didn't look back as she left, with many people muttering, “Good riddance,” as she walked out. I wasn't sure how Grizz felt about it, but then again he was so busy staring at Clara, who had seen him looking at her and was blushing like crazy, that I'm not sure he even noticed. It didn't hurt my feelings any to send her away, in fact it sounded pretty good to me. Cheyenne, however, turned to Grizz and said, “Now, about my money.....”

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Grizz stopped looking at Clara just long enough to look at Cullpepper and grin. You wanted her gone...you never said I had to take her. I reckon i earned the money. And with that her turned back to Clara and winked

 

Clara giggled before looking away.

 

After every ones attention was elsewhere ol grizz gave back half the money... for train fare he said. No one saw except Clara who smiled warmly and pretended not to notice.

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I could tell that it hurt Grizz more to hand back half of the gold pieces than the pain from the gash in his head. I didn't ask for the rest of the gold pieces and told him that it was for trying. I was furious at Mildred, and it had been building from the moment she had arrived at the ranch. For some reason she thought she owned the place and was ordering everyone around, telling them to do this and that, whether or not she knew them, what they were like or what they were supposed to be doing. Then she refused to attend service that morning, telling us she didn't need to be thankful for anything, anything she had she had gotten herself. I could hardly argue with that, she didn't have anything and what she did no one else wanted any part of it.

 

Once she stormed off, it took a little while for things to lighten up, after Doc had patched up Grizz, Grizz got up and started doing an Irish jig while singing about what he was thankful for. As he moved around the room when he game to Clara he reached out and quickly snagged her hand and pulled her into his act. It wasn't long before Clara had begun singing too, which most of us were more than happy to hear as she started to drown out Grizz. At first Grizz stopped dancing and just stood there staring at Clara, but as he listened to her sweet voice, a smile began to creep across his gristly face. He reached down into his pocket and found the gold pieces and threw them back to me saying, Culpepper keep your gold, I've found my treasure right here. Ol Grizz was never the same after that night, we would have gone to calling him Cubby because of the way he followed Clara around. He even tried to shave, but gave up after we couldn't fing a razor sharp and strong enough to cut throug the wires on his face.

 

As we watched Grizz and Clara carry on that evening Calico snuggled up beside me saying how happy she was for Ol Grizz and that she'd always had had a soft spot for him. He had been a part of our lives from the time we had come back to the ranch and it did us good to see a warm smile on his face instead of one born of mischief. Later that evening he came to me and asked if maybe he could use our indoor water hole sometime. I almost gasped at the idea, but Calico nudged me a bit and I quickly came up with a suitable answer. First you've got to make arrangements with Biblepuncher, then a good long bath, with soap included, and then after the ceremony you will be welcome to use the water hole. Grizz was pretty sharp and he had noticed that I had left out "indoor" when I mentioned water hole. I felt another nudge from Cali, and I corrected my invitation to include the word indoor, but then I again told him the stipulations that I had laid out before.

 

I turned my attention back to the festivities and noticed that all the plates had been cleared, but Sally, Laura and Little Flower were still having a good time in the rooms away from the kitchen. Calico and I looked at each other with a look of puzzlement and then headed into the kitchen. There were Karl, Prairie Dawg, Crossfire Brown, Blackwater, and a newer hand Gunner doing the dishes. When they noticed Calico and I standing there with our jaws dragging the ground they just turned around and in unison said, "Thank you!"

 

Calico and I looked at each other, pulled our jaws back up and smiled at each other, and I noticed a gleam in her eyes. We headed out back without saying a word and found fresh towels and hot water already prepared for us, but who had prepared it? Everyone, including Hop Sing and Lu Sing were inside enjoying themselves. But then, who cared at that moment!

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Sometimes I couldn't help but think Cheyenne was even crazier than I was. Grizz, take a bath? With soap and everything? I'd believe that when I saw it! Not that I objected to the idea, far from it, but I figured that would take one heck of a miracle to accomplish, though if Clara was able to make it happen I doubted anyone would be disappointed.

 

Speaking of baths, visiting the indoor water hole was the perfect way to end what had been a wonderful day, despite Mildred's attempts to ruin it. I had so much to be thankful for...a wonderful husband, great kids, good friends, and a roof over our heads and plenty to eat. What more could a person want? We were so blessed, and as I laid in Cheyenne's arms after we finally went to bed I sent up a silent prayer to thank the Lord for all he had given us. Life really was good!

 

After I fell asleep though, my dreams were no where near as peaceful as I would have hoped. It had been a while since Frank and Lives Again had visited my dreams, but they were there tonight. We were all standing out back of the house, staring towards the tipis where our Cheyenne and Ute friends were camped. It was just getting dark, and snow was starting to gently fall, but it was still a pleasant scene. That is, it was until Lives Again turned to me and said, “Trouble is coming, protect your friends.” Then as they always did, the pair disappeared, and I heard coyote howls in the distance.

 

Trouble is coming? Protect our friends? I woke up shivering, upset that she hadn't been more specific. Sometimes those dreams were a big help, other times it just left me confused. I snuggled up to Cheyenne, determined not to let it prevent me from sleeping. All the same, in the morning I was still very tired, it hadn't been a very restful night. And I still didn't know what it all meant!

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The next morning after breakfast I told Calico that I would be the one taking Mildred into town, I just couldn't expose my men to Mildred any more than necessary. Calico wasn't none to happy about it, though I asked her if she would like to ride along. She made a real ugly face when I asked her, but then she thought for a moment and with a wince like it hurt real badly agreed to go. Clara, one of the wagon ladies was a seamstress and really needed to be able to work to support herself. Calico explained that she would go with me to talk to the Dixon's about possible selling their business.

 

I had a double seat buggy hitched up and as Karl brought it to the house Mildred was there waiting, at least she was punctual. Before she could start to complain I laid out the law to her. No complaining on the ride to town, well that pretty well took care of it. Oh, and if she did, I would leave her on the road to town and she could walk the rest of the way by herself. She doubted that I would actually do that, but Calico quickly reassured her that if I even acted like I wouldn't, Calico would make sure I held up my end of the agreement.

 

Apparently Mildred believed the two of us and it was a quiet peaceful ride into town. Mildred didn't speak until she had stepped from the buggy, "Well, I guess I should thank you." But that was all she said. I saw Calico clench a fist, so I quickly stepped between the two of them and told Mildred that she best be stepping lively if she didn't want to see what Colorado mud was like.

 

Our next stop was the Dixon's shop in the middle of town. There was no love lost between our two families so we got to the point of our visit quickly. Their eyes lit up when they heard that there might be a buyer for their business and they excused themselves for a moment to talk between the two of them. When they came back they gave a price that was nearly triple what we thought that it was worth. When they saw the frown on our faces they tried to justify the high price.

 

I didn't need for Calico and I to discuss the price, I merely to them that if they wouldn't accept our offer from Clara I would have Clara open a new shop and build her business from scratch, which wouldn't be hard because of Mrs. Dixon's reputation of shoddy work. They started to get up to go and discuss it again but Calico quickly told them to give us a yes or no right then. No more talking or waiting, yes or no! They looked at each other and started to hesitate, Calico saw their hesitation and said, "Let's go, I like the shop across the street better anyway." Well, that was all the Dixon's needed and they agreed to our terms.

 

Calico and I walked out and as we walked to the restaurant for lunch she gave me a kiss and told me "Thank you." Not being too shy, I quickly to her "Your welcome," and kissed her back.

 

Over lunch Calico told me of her dream and the concern over Running Bear's camp. That had me pretty concerned so lunch we took the buggy to the fort, I wanted to talk with Captain Baylor and see if there was anything that we should know about.

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As tired as I was, I didn't really want to put up with Mildred, but I had been planning on going to town to find out if Mrs. Dixon really did want to sell her store. Although Clara had agreed to let Grizz come courting, she wasn't giving up on her idea of having a store of her own. I couldn't blame the woman for wanting to make sure she had an income regardless of what else happened. It was tough on women who ended up alone out here. Clara had already finished one new dress for me, and as impressed as I was with it I knew she'd do well going into business.

 

Talking with the Dixons was not a pleasant experience, but it didn't take long to get them to agree to our terms. I was anxious to get home and give Clara the good news, but Cheyenne wanted to have lunch first. As we waited for our food to be brought out at the restaurant, I told him about my dream. At least he didn't think I was totally insane, and took the warning seriously, even though he was as confused as to what it meant as I was. He suggested going to talk to Capt. Baylor about it, I agreed as long as he didn't tell the Captain about the dream itself. I didn't want the officer to think I was crazy, better to just say we wanted to make sure the troubles with the tribes to the north weren't spreading our direction.

 

When we got to the fort, Captain Baylor was more than willing to talk to us for a while, and had an orderly bring tea for me while he offered Cheyenne something a little stronger. After we explained the reason for our visit, the Captain thought for a minute, but admitted that he didn't know of any trouble in our area, and promised that if that should change he would notify us immediately. The Captain asked how Running Bear and his family was doing, then the conversation turned to hunting and Cheyenne's new horse. I let the two men talk for a while, not joining in because I was still thinking about the dream. If the captain didn't know of any threats, then what could be going on? I couldn't shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen, and we needed to be prepared.

 

After a while we had to let Baylor get back to work, so we returned to the ranch. Before heading for the house though we decided to go by the camp and at least give them a warning about what had happened to me the night before. As we pulled up however, Stands Alone came out of his tipi and spoke first. “I have felt it too, and we are prepared. The Great Spirit will help protect us.” How in the world did that man always know what I was thinking without me ever saying a word? Padre had also joined us, and said, “Stands Alone had a vision, and told us that trouble is comin', don't know what or when, but we're ready for whutever it is. Running Bear and Black Horse ain't gonna let nothin' happen to Two Birds or the little ones, and Stands Alone and me won't either. And it's high time them two young bucks get a chance to prove themselves anyway.”

 

Well, it was good to know that our warning was unnecessary, but I didn't like the idea of them having to defend themselves. Two warriors, two old men, and two teens could only do so much, and I was glad that Cheyenne also promised to make sure to warn all the other men to keep their eyes open and their firearms close by. In the event of anything happening, it wouldn't take long for the hands to get to the camp to help out, but I hoped no such precautions would be necessary. Unfortunately, since Stands Alone had confirmed my fears, I knew that somehow, sometime, something bad was going to go happen.

 

I tried to forget about it for a while when we got home, I couldn't wait to share the good news with Clara. She was thrilled of course, and promised to pay Cheyenne back for the cost of the store as soon as she could. We told her that wasn't the important part, and I made sure she knew that at most she shouldn't plan on paying back more than half of it, that she and I were partners now. She could handle the dresses and the day to day running of the place, but I wanted her to display some of my quilts for sale as well. We shook on the deal, then hugged, and I was glad we'd been able to help her out.

 

Things were still going great between Miss Lizzy and Grumpy as well. Although Danny was taking things slow with Ella, it was becoming clear that something special was brewing between those two. Jenny and Kate so far had not shown any clear preferences in regards to the men, but that was fine. I was beginning to think I might have found both my nanny for the twins and the governess to help with the orphans, last thing I wanted was for them to marry themselves off immediately before I got them to agree to the idea...

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Miss Liz really liked ole Buford, so Grumpy and Liz were gettin along fine.

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We got back from town and gave Clara the good news, which thrilled her immensely. Though Grizz, who hadn't left yet was none to happy to hear that Clara would be living in town and running a business there. He went off towards the barns, where he slept when visiting the ranch, mumbling something about already haven taken a bath, with soap no less. Clara went running after him and I could hear her telling him that they could try to work something out. Calico and I just shook our heads and agreed that if the two of them could work it out we'd pay for the wedding, but then we were pretty sure a snowball stood a better chance in hell than the two of them working it out.

 

The ranch had had a good year, three thousand head of cattle sold, two more Clydesdales had been born, our crops had done well and we had more than enough hay stored for the winter.

The reaping machine had been a God-send, getting the crops in quicker than ever before, with much less manpower and hours. None of the men had died or left the ranch this year, and only a few injuries, mostly gunshots, which I seemed to have the lead in that category, having been shot in the rump and shoulder. My rib was almost healed and the flesh around my shoulder wound had healed nicely thanks to my mother's salve.

 

The kids were healthy and growing like weeds, Eddie and Little Flower had married, we had recently hired a new man, Gunner Gatlin, that as his name would show had been a Gatlin gun operator in the army. Cora and Calico had gotten through a tough patch, which could have torn us all apart had it gone the wrong way.

 

The main worry we had for the winter was the dream that Calico had had about Running Bear and his small camp. Was it danger from sickness, weather, or from man, whether another tribe or the army. Only time would tell there, but as we had sworn to help them no matter what, it kept us concerned and with a watchful eye towards their camp.

 

There was one day when a pair of riders came to the ranch and Calico and I greeted them from the porch. We introduced ourselves to them which you could see them having some trouble believing us. "You, a half-breed savage, you own this ranch," as he was saying it I saw Calico reach inside her bosom, which I knew she was getting really hot from that statement. "And you, a white woman are breeding with this," he continued, but as I heard her derringer cock and fortunately for the men I was quicker than she was and pushed her hand down before she could shoot the man. The men had started to draw their pistols but stopped abruptly when they noticed Karl and several of the men holding them in their sights, not to mention Buford eyeing them up. "You best get off our land, and if you ever show up again I'll kill you!" steamed Calico as she pointed the direction she wanted them to go.

 

"You going to let her talk like that to men?" the two tried to protest. "Seems like your the ones that have a problem with her, don't go and see what happens," was all I told them as I lifted my hand off of her hand with the derringer. They seemed to get the idea and spurred their horses in the direction Calico was still pointing.

 

As the two rode off I chuckled a bit, "You got a problem?" Calico almost snarled at me. "Nope, not me, none at all." is all I could say, except for, "You want me to put that away for you?'

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The next few weeks after Thanksgiving were pleasant, for the most part. Grizz wasn't so thrilled about Clara's new business, but she was not going to be denied the opportunity. As she pointed out to him, at least he didn't have to worry about her being after his money if she was making her own, and it wouldn't hurt him to go to town if he really wanted to court her. Of course the last thing Grizz wanted to do was spend a lot of time in town, but I had the feeling if anyone could convince him to do so it would be Clara. I did willingly go to town with her several times, there were changes she wanted to make to the shop that I was happy to help with.

 

The first thing we did was put all of Mrs. Dixon's leftover merchandise on sale. We weren't happy with the quality of any of it, but if anyone was willing to buy it at a discounted price that was fine. Anything left over we were going to take apart and use the material to make children's clothes out of, either to sell or to donate to the orphanage. Of course Clara would need new merchandise now, so I had Sally, Laura, Little Flower, and Cora all come as well to help get her started. The second thing we did was make a trip to the general store, as Clara wanted to order a bunch of material and some patterns. While we were there she also told Mr. Olson that she wanted to order a sewing machine. I had never heard of any such thing, and the two of them had to explain what it was. Mr. Olson had a catalog with pictures of one in it, and I was fascinated. I couldn't blame Clara for wanting one, it would make the whole sewing process a lot easier, and she'd be able to produce a lot more items far more quickly than the lot of us could by hand.

 

Cheyenne spent a lot of his time with Danny, the two of them working together to train his new stallion. The horse was coming along nicely, though we were glad to see that he would probably remain very spirited, even when fully trained. That's exactly what Cheyenne wanted, and a definite bond was starting to form between him and the horse. He was struggling to come up with just the right name for the animal, and everyone had suggestions, but nothing sounded right to him. I finally told him, “Why don't you just call him Vóhpo'häme and be done with it?”, but Cheyenne just grimaced and muttered something about “Yeah, right, call him White Horse, not real original....” Oh well, he'd come up with something he liked sooner or later. I couldn't really talk, as long as I'd had the autumn pony she still didn't have a proper name!

 

There was one incident that really made me mad though, when two strangers came riding up to the ranch. We didn't get a lot of strangers making the ride all the way to the ranch house, so on the few occasions it did happen they were normally made welcome, especially in cold weather. These two I had to make an exception for, the minute we introduced ourselves they decided to be rude and insulting. I couldn't believe my ears, they couldn't possibly have been from around here or they would have known better than to show up on Culpepper lands making such disgusting comments about Cheyenne. I was ready to shut their mouths permanently, but it was probably a good thing that Cheyenne insisted on giving them a chance to take themselves elsewhere voluntarily. It was a good thing for them that they had sense enough to leave, as Karl and some of the other men had our backs almost immediately. All the same, I was not in a good mood the rest of that day, even though Cheyenne tried to calm me down and even volunteered to help put my derringer back where it belonged. That was nice of him, but when I told him it wasn't necessary he looked so sad that I ended up changing my mind and letting him help. For a little while at least it got our minds off of the rude things those men had said.

 

The next day I decided to go on over to Running Bear's camp. Two Birds was going to help me with Cheyenne's Christmas present, but we needed to work on it in her tipi so he wouldn't see it before it was done. I was making him a new pair of knee-high moccasins, and a matching knife sheath, but I wanted Two Birds's assistance with the beading I wanted to do on it. With her help I was getting better at it, but since this project was a present for Cheyenne I wanted it to turn out perfect. I decided to take the twins and Rose with me, so they could play with Two Birds's children, and I also asked Sally to go along. She was really nervous about the idea at first, she still hadn't totally forgiven herself for Little Bear getting hurt, but she finally agreed to go.

 

When we got there, Two Birds greeted all of us warmly, even Sally, which surprised her but pleased me very much. Running Bear and Black Horse were not there, turns out they had decided that it was a perfect day for hunting. Padre and Stands Alone were sitting by the fire, and Lone Wolf and Runs with the Wind were busy caring for the ponies. Stands Alone seemed a little preoccupied to me, but I didn't think much of it until Sally, Two Birds, and I had gone into her tipi with the kids to start working. A feeling of something bad about to happen came over me for a few seconds, then it was gone. I tried to forget about it and concentrate on the beadwork, but at the same time I tried to stay alert to any signs of trouble. Nothing had gone wrong yet, but that didn't mean it wasn't going to....

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I had been searching for a name for the whitle stallion, Calico had suggested Vophohame, or White Horse. No, I had made the mistake with the name Blacky, this time I wanted something with meaning. I was leaning towards Morning Star, or White as Snow, both held special meaning to me, but I just couldn't make up my mind. As spirited as he was Shooting Star would also be appropriate, but it didn't have the spiritual meaning of the other two.

 

I was spending as much time as I could with the stallion, leading him around the barns as I worked and I always had a treat for him, whether sugar cubes or apples. I needed a name though! He was learning my whistle and would come to it, as long as he could smell a treat. Danny and I had taught him to back up, circle, and do a sliding stop. We also figured out a serious reward for the stallion. We would breed him with any of the mustangs that happened to come into season that winter. If Buick agreed I would just but any of the mares that may still be caring a foal.

 

I had also been using the stallion ride the fences, something I wouldn't normally do, but it gave me the opportunity to spend extra time on him. I knew one thing for sure, he loved to run and lead. Not that he wasn't faster than any horse on the ranch, but he always managed to get out in the lead even if that wasn't particularly what I wanted. I knew I needed to try to fix that, but for now he was advancing spectacularly.

 

The Autumn Pony was already showing signs of carrying a foal, I was excited to see how that was going to turn out. The offspring from Blacky and the Autumn Pony was magnificent and I was expecting no less on this one. It just had to be special.

 

Soon, some of the men and I would head for the foothills to hunt the elk that had moved down the mountains ahead of the winter snows. While we had plenty of beef on hand for meat, there was just something about the hunt and meat from elk. The skins came in handy too, they made for warm blankets, rugs, you name it. The more I thought about it, the more the urge was building. I needed to get it set up with the men who would want to go and we would need to have a rifle competition to make sure of their accuracy. I could feel the energy building within me just thinking about it.

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We had been there for about an hour when the bad feeling I'd had early came back with a vengeance. It was so strong for a few seconds it almost took my breath away. Before I could even react to it, I heard the sound of gunfire, then of a pony screaming in pain. I yelled at Sally and Rose to get down, and as I scrambled to my feet I was glad to see I didn't need to repeat my warning to Two Birds, as she was already grabbing for the younger children to help protect them. I had my pistols with me, but I'd left my rifle on the autumn pony, I hoped it wasn't her that I'd heard. I rushed outside, and saw that Padre, Lone Wolf, and Runs with the Wind were trying to take cover behind a couple of the tipis, and I could tell from their positions that the gunfire must be coming from the east. Stands Alone was still by the fire, and I noticed that he was grabbing for his ankle, his fingers already covered with blood.

 

Padre had his rifle, and I saw that Runs with the Wind had had the presence of mind to grab mine. I pulled one pistol and tossed it to Lone Wolf, the pulled the other. At first I hoped that the sound of gunfire would bring a lot of the men running from the ranch, then I remembered....Cheyenne and quite a few of the others had left earlier to go elk hunting, and most of the rest of the men were out on the range. The only ones I knew for sure that were still around were Eddie and Ike, even Biblepuncher had gone with the hunting party. We weren't going to get much help after all, we'd have to handle this ourselves.

 

As I joined my friends, I heard a voice call out, “Hey, injuns, let's see ya dance some more!” I recognized the voice as one of the men that I'd had to run off the ranch the day before. So they had come back to cause trouble? Well fine, trouble was what they were going to get. They fired off a couple more shots, all of them coming in low. I got the feeling that they weren't aiming to kill, just harass, well, I wasn't going to play that game and signaled the others to aim much higher than our attackers were. One of them tried to sneak around to one side to get a better shot at me and Padre, as soon as he did we were both able to get shots off at him. We never were able to figure out which one of us fired the fatal shot, but I don't think either of us really cared.

 

When the other man saw his friend fall, he decided to rush the tipi that the two teens were taking cover behind. Padre and I weren't in a good spot to respond, but we didn't need to worry, as soon as the man got close enough each boy came out from behind the tipi on a different side, and as the man started to aim at Runs with the Wind, both boys fired at the same time, and the man dropped like a rock. The boys both looked a little shaken, and I figured it was probably the first time either one had killed. They recovered quickly enough, then after exchanging nods both boys started drawing their knives.

 

Padre saw them doing it, and hollered over to them, “No, boys, not just yet!” Then Padre looked at me, and I could tell he was leaving the decision of whether or not to let the boys continue to me. I could tell he didn't think I was going to let them scalp the two men who had attacked us. All I did however was call out to Sally to take Rose back to the ranch and send Doc Eells up here. Sally and Rose came out of the tipi, and Sally hesitated, asking about the twins. “I'll handle the twins, you just get Rose out of here, now! And once you've talked to Doc, you stay put at the house, he can come alone.” Sally grabbed Rose's hand, and the two girls started running back towards the house as fast as Rose could. As I watched them leave, I could see Eddie and Ike heading our direction, rifles in hand.

 

Once the girls were halfway back to the house, I turned back to Lone Wolf and Runs with the Wind and nodded at them, “Go ahead.” As the two made their way towards the men we had just killed with their knives drawn, I went to check on Stands Alone, Two Birds was already by his side looking at his ankle. Padre went over to check on the pony that had been hit, fortunately for me it wasn't my autumn pony, unfortunately for the poor animal Padre had no choice but to put it out of it's misery. Even though I had given permission for the young men to take their first scalps, I wasn't up to actually watching it, preferring to concentrate on helping the elderly medicine man. Then Padre came over to me, and putting his arm around my shoulders said, “You ain't ever gonna get the hate to stop, not even yer grandchildren's granchildren will live to see that day. Don't let it get ta ya.”

 

I knew he was right, but that didn't make me feel any better. I knew that the hate towards these people would never stop, and that just about broke my heart. I was trying hard not to cry at the unfairness of it all, when Stands Alone grabbed my hand to get my attention. “Tomorrow, get up and pray as the sun rises, and ask the Great Spirit for his guidance. This you must do,” he told me, but I just shook my head. “I'll do it, but I don't think it's going to help,” I responded.

 

Stands Alone stared me straight in the eye, and simply said, “No, it will not help, you are correct, but you still should do so.” I agreed to try, then moved aside to let Doc Eells attend to the man, as the doctor had finally arrived. As I went to get my babies out of Two Birds's tipi to take them home, I noticed Eddie and Ike were silently watching their two friends, and I wondered just what they thought of the whole thing. I wasn't going to stay and find out though, that was between the four young men to work out between themselves. But as I walked back home, I knew we wouldn't be referring to Lone Wolf and Runs with the Wind as boys any more.

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I told the men of my plans for a hunt and six of them wanted to go, and the sooner the better, they were tired of beef and chicken and they all had a hankering for either elk or deer meat. We quickly got our rifles and made sure they were sighted in, and then got our packs ready. We prepared on of the larger wagons to take with us to haul the meat back and by they time we had made preparations we had time to head for the foothills and have time to hunt that evening.

 

I told Calico that we were leaving soon and got a perplexed look from her, "But I had plans for us this evening." is all she said with a frown. What could I do? The men were ready, as I was, and we were all hankering to make tracks for the foothills. We said a quick goodbye, well maybe not that quickly, and the men and I were headed out with the taste for fresh game lingering in our mouths.

 

We left the wagon and team at my grandfather's cabin and after sharing our plans with each other we split up in teams and headed off into the trees. I went with Karl and we headed about a mile up into the trees before we hobbled the horses and took spots overlooked a well used game trail. We hadn't been there but for a few minutes before we started to hear bulls bugling. Then off in the distance a shot, followed by a second. Someone else had struck before us.

 

As we sat there we saw squirrels gathering nuts and hiding them for the upcoming winter, we saw several smaller deer foraging for the same nuts that the squirrels were looking for, and then a few smaller elk. Then the bugling began again, this time much closer, but two different bulls were bugling. We watched as the first large bull came into view, he almost took our breath away he was so large and magnificent. He would walk a few steps and then bugle again. The other bull would echo and it wasn't long before he came into few as well. As we saw him Karl and I looked at each other, two huge bulls were answering each other's challenge.

 

The two bulls trotted towards each other and stopped short by about fifteen feet, each one lifting their head, sniffing the air with their head held high, and then bellowing again. It was a sight the neither of the two of us would ever forget. As we sat there admiring the two beasts suddenly they charged each other and the sound of their massive heads hitting sounded like a gunshot. Then they began sparring with their huge antlers, twisting, turning, trying to get the best of the other.

 

After a short time the two backed off and stood there with their heads lowered staring at each other. Karl and I glanced at each other quickly, I said, right, he said left, and we locked our sights on the two beasts. We fired almost simultaneously and when the smoked cleared we saw nary a bull. We reloaded our rifles and sat there a few minutes before walking to where the bulls had last been. We found the spot easily, the ground was all torn up from the struggle the two bulls had taken part in together. Then we found two blood trails, heading away in parallel trails. We found the first one sprawled out on the ground about one hundred yards away, and as we stood there admiring it and figuring out who's it was, we heard the struggled breathing of the second bull.

 

Karl looked down at the bull on the ground and said, "This one is mine, I hit him on his right side, finish off yours." I quickly sat and got the Sharps into position, found the heart area and squeezed the trigger. I heard the slug hit home and as the smoke cleared again it allowed the sight of the giant bull to be seen laying where it had just been standing.

 

Karl and I looked at each other again, we realized at the same time the amount of work that now lay ahead of us, getting these two bulls back to the cabin, and it would soon be dark.

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Doc, Eddie, and Ike all came back in time for dinner, Doc telling me that Stands Alone just had a flesh wound, he'd bandaged it up and expected the old man to recover as long as he kept off the ankle as much as possible. I invited Ike to stay for dinner, hoping that would cheer Sally up a little. Eddie and Little Flower joined us as well, I think they both realized I needed the company tonight. Cheyenne and the other men wouldn't be back til morning at the earliest, and then only if they'd found the elk they were looking for. After dinner I watched Tommy and Rose play with the twins until it was time to put them all to bed. When that was done I went back to the den, Eddie silently handed me a small glass of whiskey, I knew it wouldn't help my mood but it might help me sleep.

 

The next morning, I was getting the twins dressed when I heard the sound of horses approaching. I thought it was a little early for Cheyenne and the others, then I realized the sound was coming from the southeast, towards town, and not from the foothills. I hurried downstairs and out to the porch to see who was coming. It was Sheriff Tom, and he had with him a US Marshall and several other men. They pulled up in front of the porch, and Tom dismounted and asked me, “Is Cheyenne home, Calico?” As he was saying that, one of the other men started shouting, “That's her! That's the one we saw with the injuns, shooting down Billy and Steve in cold blood!” The other men quickly agreed, and the Marshall had to tell them all to hush, and let him and the sheriff handle it.

 

The Marshall told me, “Ma'am, these men claim that you were involved in the murder of two of their friends yesterday, they say that they weren't close enough to stop it, but close enough to see what happened. They told me that you and some savages killed two men for no reason, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to put you under arrest. I also will need to arrest anyone else involved, I'm going to have to insist on your cooperation on this.” Sally had come out on the porch as well, and as soon as she heard that she cried out, “They're all lying! Those two men attacked us, not the other way around. Mother and her friends were just defending themselves!”

 

Sheriff Tom looked at her, and asked, “Sally, now you tell me the truth, did you see the whole thing?” Sally had no choice but to admit that she hadn't left the tipi until it was all over, and hadn't been an eye witness. Tom then asked me where Padre, Lone Wolf, and Runs with the Wind were, and I had no choice but to tell him they were up at the camp. He and the Marshall asked me to go with them up to the camp, as they didn't want any more trouble. I didn't like the idea, but agreed as long as all the other men with them stayed at the house, I would not allow them to go any further. The two lawmen agreed to my conditions, and I led them towards the camp with a heavy heart.

 

When we got there, however, the only ones there were Two Birds and her children, even Stands Alone was gone. I asked Two Birds where the others were, she just shook her head and whispered, “Gone. I do not know where.” The Marshall wasn't too happy about that, but Tom pointed out there was not much either of them could do, and insisted on returning to the house. At that point the Marshall tried to demand that he put handcuffs on me for the ride to town, and all the other men seconded that. But Tom wouldn't hear of it, he asked me nicely for my cooperation, telling me he'd do everything he could for me as long as I went along willingly. There wasn't much else I could do, other than to tell Laura to go find her brother and tell him what was happening, and I also told Sally to take the other kids and find Cora to tell her as well.

 

Ike didn't want to let me go, but I finally convinced him that he needed to saddle my pony for me, that trying to prevent the lawmen from doing their job wasn't going to help matters any. As I rode to town surrounded by the men, Tom let me know that our lawyer, Jim Winchester, was down in Denver but that Tom himself would send a telegraph as soon as possible to tell the attorney to get his butt back to Fort Collins pronto. We got to town and Tom helped me off my pony, then escorted me into the jail. “Sorry about this, Calico, but I don't have much choice, not with the Marshall breathing down my neck. But I don't believe this was murder, and please know if there's anything I can do for you, I will.” From out on the street I could hear one of the men yelling, “Yer gonna hang for this, woman!”, and Tom obviously heard it too. He shook his head, telling me, “Now don't you worry about that, I ain't gonna let it happen!”

 

As Tom shut the cell door behind me, I wondered about that. I knew it hadn't been cold-blooded murder, not like those men were claiming, but without Padre and the others to back up my story it was my word against theirs. Neither Sally or Two Birds had seen anything, they couldn't help much. I didn't think I would hang, at least not while I was pregnant, but what would happen to me? Tom may have been an ally, but would a judge feel the same? I wasn't sure who I was more anxious to see, Cheyenne or Jim Winchester? That morning I had overslept a little, so I had failed to follow Stands Alone's advice about praying at dawn, but sitting in that jail I figured better late than never....

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Karl and I quickly gutted and quartered the two elk, hung the quarters on our horses and rode to the cabin in the dark. The other men were already there, and Danny and Biblepunher had their quarters already hanging in the barn. They met us at the barn and helped us hang our quarters. We sliced some steaks and took them into the cabin. With the six of us it was pretty tight, but we were enjoying our time away from everything.

 

We cooked the steaks with some potatoes and onions and had ourselves a feast, yes, life was good. We all slept well that night, even though everyone else slept on the floor and wrapped in skins. The sun was just peeking over the horizon when we rose and had leftovers from the night before as the sun climbed into the sky. As we ate and watched the sun rise we couldn't help but to be thankful for all we had, and our friendship with each other.

 

After breakfast we loaded the wagon with the meat and headed home. We were almost halfway there when Ike and Eddie met us with news of the shooting at Running Bear's camp. Then with a large amount of angst they told of Calico being arrested and taken to town by Tom and a marshal. I worked real hard to hide my anger, though I knew Karl could read me like a book as he pulled his horse up along mine and told me we'd get to the bottom of it.

 

I told Ike and Eddie to take the wagon to the ranch and that we were going to ride ahead and get more men before we headed into town. They didn't much like the idea, but then when they saw the look I gave them they just said okay and tied their horses to the back of the wagon before jumping up on the seat as the rest of us took off on a gallop for the ranch.

 

We arrived at the ranch to find Doc and the rest of the men waiting for us. They were already well armed and not in the best of moods. Doc told me it was all he could do to keep them from interfering with Tom arresting Calico and I knew right then that I needed to keep a tight reign on my emotions or this could get totally out of hand.

 

It only took a few minutes for those of us who had been hunting to be ready to ride again, and when we were all ready there were twenty five of us heading for town. As we rode we tried to come up with some sort of plan, but there we too many variables because we just didn't know for sure what was going on.

 

We split up before entering town, into four almost equal groups and went in from each direction. Karl, Danny, Biblepuncher, Prairie Dawg, Crossfire Brown, Grumpy and I went in as one group and went straight for the saloon first. If there was any news of Calico's arrest we knew that we could find it there. We stopped outside the open doors and listened for a bit, as we did I could feel the heat rising within my soul, there were men bragging about having Calico arrested.

 

The bragging men were all facing away from the door as we entered and as we all got into the room a silence fell over the room, except for the men bragging and as they all turned to see what had caused the silence I noticed the Marshal's badge on one of them. "You one of those savages that were looking for?" he snarled as he saw me.

 

"Name is Culpepper, Cheyenne Culpepper, I hear you men lied and had my wife arrested on false pretenses," I snarled right back at him. I knew right then that we were but seconds away from a gunfight, and as I studied the man I heard Tom's voice behind me, "They'll be no gunplay here, so just leave those pistols in leather."

 

"Tom, you've got my wife locked up, pregnant and all, and you know damn sure that these men are lying, there will be no gunplay here only if these men admit to their lies" I hissed at Tom without ever taking my eyes off of the marshal.

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I could tell Tom wasn't any happier about the situation then I was, and he did keep his word that he'd treat me fairly. The cell was far enough away from the stove in the front that it was a little chilly, so he brought me extra blankets and even an extra pillow. After apologizing to me again for having no choice in the matter, he told me he was going to run down to the telegraph office just liked he had promised, but that he would make me some hot tea as soon as he returned. He even asked if I wanted him to bring me something to eat, but I wasn't really hungry at that point.

 

While he was gone, I wrapped up in a blanket and tried to pray, as I could sure use some guidance. But it was hard to concentrate, even though I knew Tom was on my side, the Marshall obviously wasn't, and I was starting to get a little scared. If those men had been close enough to see what happened, why did they just ride off afterward? And why were they lying about it? We'd only been defending ourselves...what were we supposed to do, just let the two dead men keep shooting at us? It didn't make much sense, but then again it seemed like not much in our lives ever did.

 

When Tom returned, he had a surprise for me. “Ya got visitors, Calico, I guess I'm going to have to make more tea than I thought,” he told me as he walked in the door. I looked up and saw that Cora was here, and she had brought Two Birds with her. “Cora, what are you doing, bringing her here? It's not safe...” I tried to tell her, but Cora just shook her head. “I know, but Two Birds came to the house to talk to Little Flower and she insisted that she needed to see you. Jenny and Kate are helping Laura and Sally watch all the children, I couldn't let Two Birds come here alone. Don't worry, I have sense enough to keep her away from the saloon, that's where all those men are, as long as they don't see us we should be fine.”

 

“When they're ready to leave, I'll make sure they get out of town safely,” Tom said. Then he even brought chairs over so the two women could sit down while they talked to me, then went to make us a pot of tea and to give us a little privacy. From the stove he could still hear us, but I knew he probably wouldn't understand a word Two Birds said anyway, and neither would Cora. After Two Birds sat down, she told me, “Grandfather knew that those men were coming, how I do not know. You need to know this, he did not try to abandon you. He sent Lone Wolf and Runs with the Wind to find Running Bear and Black Horse, to tell them what has happened. Then he and Padre left to go to the fort, Grandfather said he needs to talk to the chief of the soldiers, that there are more bad men out there than just the ones that came to your lands this morning. He thinks these men are keeping watch for any soldiers that leave the fort alone or in small groups. The men are planning to attack and kill any soldiers they find, and try to make it look like we did it.”

 

I knew she had to be referring to Captain Baylor, but I wasn't sure just how safe it was for Stands Alone to approach the fort, and I told her so. Two Birds shook her head, saying, “Padre will not let Grandfather come to any harm, the soldiers should not feel threatened by an old man. Grandfather knows that the chief of the soldiers is a friend to Soars with Eagles and White Deer, he would not have gone if he did not think he could trust the man.” I sure hoped that no one at the fort would feel threatened, and decide to shoot first and ask questions later. I knew we could trust Captain Baylor, but would he listen? That I wasn't entirely sure about, but if Stands Alone thought the soldiers might be in danger, I sure hoped the officer would at least be willing to hear him out.

 

I was going to try and translate what Two Birds had said for Cora, but she stopped me, telling me that Little Flower had already done that. I had the feeling that Cora didn't want Tom to hear what Two Birds had said. I wasn't sure why, unless it was that she figured the sheriff wouldn't believe the story. I knew most people probably wouldn't understand how Stands Alone could know the things he did, when there was no logical reason for it. Tom brought us each a cup of tea, but as he was handing us the cups we all heard the sound of a large group of horses pulling up across the street, in front of the saloon. As soon as Tom was finished giving us the tea he went over to the window to look, then turned to us and said, “I knew Cheyenne probably wouldn't take too long to show up, I just figured he'd come here first. You ladies stay put, I'm going over there to talk to him.”

 

As Tom left, we heard the noise coming from the saloon die down, but we had no idea why or what was going on over there. Cora immediately volunteered to go over and find out what was happening, but I told her no. “Please, stay with me. I don't know what Cheyenne is up to, and I really don't want to be alone when I find out...”

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Tom moved between me and the marshal, but as he did Blackwater and his men came in from the back of the saloon with their guns drawn. "Well Tom, looks like we drew to an inside straight while these lying curs tried to pull a card out of their sleeve. If you were me, what would you do now?" I asked Tom.

 

Tom told the marshal and his men to drop their gun belts, very slowly and carefully. The marshal tried to protest but Tom told him to look around him and make his own decision. Then Tom added, this man's wife is in my jail and she's expecting and he knows that you're the reason she's there, but you decide what you want to do, and then Tom sidestepped over to the bar.

 

Blackwater slid up behind the marshal, who had not yet begun to unbuckle his holsters. and rapped him up side his head with the barrel of his pistol. "I'd just as soon see you reach for your pistol" Blackwater told the marshal. "Now, what's your pleasure?"

 

The marshal tried to protest one last time to Tom who then answered him, "Cheyenne is a man of honor, when I investigate this he'll stand by my decision, won't you Cheyenne?" I looked over at Tom and gave him the evil eye, then I promised I would. The marshal protested one more time, "but what about his men?" "They'll do as I say; now drop those gn belts or draw!"

 

One of the marshals men tried to go for his pistol but Gatlin Gunner dropped him like a rock with the butt of his rifle. "We could have killed you all for that, but I'd rather see you rot in prison or hang" I told the marshal as he finally started to unbuckle his gun belt. His other men followed his example one by one, even the fool who had almost made a fatal mistake.

 

"What now?" the marshal asked Tom. "Looks like I'd best put you in protective custody, unless Cheyenne promises to control his men" Tom snipped at the marshal.

 

"As long as they stay in town, and go unheeled, I reckon we can keep an eye on them," and then I hollered for Casey to set up several rounds for the marshal and his men." Karl looked at me kind of hurt like and asked, "What? none for us?"

 

"Not until we're done with business" I almost snipped back at him. "There's a time for drinking and this ain't it" I finished. Then quietly I told him, "those drinks will loosen their tongues, all we have to do is wait."

 

Tom gathered the gun belts off of the floor and winked at me as he headed back to his office. "You got this?" I asked Karl. "Yea, sure" he replied disappointedly. Then I took off after Tom and to finally see Cali.

 

"Well it's about time!" Calico told me as I entered the door to the office. I just winked at her and gave her a big kiss and asked her what in the world had she gotten herself into this time.

 

"OUCH" was all I could say as she punched me in my shoulder, "yea I love you too!" she told me as I rubbed my shoulder.

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Oh, was I ever glad to see Cheyenne, even if I was a little disappointed that he hadn't come straight to the jail to see me. After he explained what had happened over at the saloon I had to forgive him, at least he was trying to take care of business and not visiting Hattie's place or something like that. I told him everything that had happened the day before, and Two Birds also told him what her grandfather was up to as well. After listening to us, Cheyenne turned to the sheriff, “Tom, can't you let her come home while you try and get to the bottom of this? You know she doesn't belong in here!”

 

Tom just shook his head, “You know I can't do that Cheyenne, the US Marshall's office in Denver would have my badge for it! I can't do anything without a judge's permission, and the circuit judge won't be here for two more days. I'll take good care of her, you have my word.” Cheyenne was about to argue the point some more, but I stopped him. “Sweetheart, think about it for a minute, do you really want to risk Tom losing his job and being replaced by someone as crooked as that Marshall? Think about how much worse off I'd be then, heck, we'd all be a lot worse off. Let the man do his job, and show a little faith in him, he's doing everything he can to help.”

 

Cheyenne wasn't really happy about it, but he finally agreed that I might have a good point for once. Just then the door opened and we all heard a voice say, “I for one think she ought to stay here for a while, only way to keep her from getting into trouble. Should have tried this a long time ago...” I looked over to see Doc Eells walking in, and I could tell he was trying hard not to laugh. “Sheriff, do you think the judge would have any objection to me examining my patient, to make sure she's not suffering any harm from this?” Tom said he didn't see anything wrong with it, so he unlocked the cell door and let Doc in. He also let Cheyenne give me a big hug, but then told him he had to wait in the office with everyone else until Doc was finished.

 

As soon as everyone else had stepped away from the cell, Doc proceeded to pretend to examine me. It gave him the chance to lean over and whisper, “You still got that derringer on ya?” When I nodded, he smiled and also slipped a pocket pistol out of his bag, making sure that no one from the office could have seen him do it. “Here, find a place to hide this as well, just in case you need it.” I managed to get that one hidden away in the top of my boot, thankfully I was wearing my knee-high moccasin boots and after re-lacing one of them had plenty of room for the pistol. I knew Tom was not following protocol by not searching me, the man knew I rarely went unarmed but was choosing to ignore the fact. That went a long way in proving to me he really was on our side, and it was nice of him to let me keep my derringer, at least if anything went wrong I wouldn't be totally helpless.

 

Doc was just finishing up when the door opened again, this time it was Captain Baylor. “Sheriff, it's been brought to my attention that we have a bit of a situation here. It sounds like there was an incident yesterday, and you have one of the participants here. I've brought several of my men, I intend to keep them stationed at the front and back of this building, to help prevent any more trouble. More men will be sent to replace these in rotating shifts until we get this mess cleaned up.” I was afraid for a second that Tom would object, but he just reached his hand out to the Captain and thanked him for the assistance. I didn't fail to notice though that the officer didn't say a word about Stands Alone and Padre, and I could tell Cheyenne noticed it too.

 

Tom volunteered to go get me something to eat from the restaurant down the street, and while he was gone Baylor took the opportunity to tell me and Cheyenne what he hadn't wanted to say in front of the sheriff. “I have two visitors over at the fort, and they told me a very interesting story. They will be staying there as my guests for a while, and are being afforded every courtesy. I've given orders that none of my men will be leaving the fort unless it's in groups of ten or more, better to be safe than sorry. But I would like to locate the other participants from yesterday's occurrence, just to make sure they stay safe as well. It sounds to me like someone is going through an awful lot of work to try and start trouble between us and any natives in the area, and I for one want to get to the bottom of it.”

 

Cheyenne translated Baylor's words for Two Birds, and she thought about it for a minute. “I think I know where they might be, but if anyone else goes to try and find them they will just disappear. I am the only one besides Grandfather and Padre that can go get them. I need to go back to the ranch and feed the baby, but after that I will go and get them, and see if I can convince them to go to the fort. But will they be safe if they do?” We told Baylor what she had said, and he asked us to tell Two Birds not to try and bring her two brothers and the two Utes to the fort, but at least try and get them to return to the ranch. “If they will agree to stay at the ranch, I can go out there and talk to them. That would be the safest place for them right now, but I don't want this lady placing herself in any danger to find them. Cheyenne, you have anyone that could go with her?”

 

Cora spoke up at that point, “Let me, Eddie, and Little Flower go with her. We can protect her, and the others won't be as likely to run from us as they would anyone else. Besides, I feel so helpless just sitting here, I want to do something useful.” Cheyenne and Two Birds both agreed to that, but Cheyenne also insisted that they take Biblepuncher as well. “You and the preacher get Two Birds back home first, then as soon as she's done with the baby, you four take her wherever she needs to go to find the others. We need Lone Wolf and Runs with the Wind to tell their side of the story too. With them at the ranch, the other two at the fort, and Calico here, if there are any more of those men wandering around somewhere it will be harder for those snakes to get at all of them.”

 

That was the worst part of the whole deal, we had no idea just how many people may be involved in this plot to start trouble between the army and the indians in the area. I was sure that was their main objective, trying to drag the Culpepper Ranch into the mess was just a diversion. The ones in town would be easy enough to keep an eye on, but that didn't mean that any of us were safe just yet....

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I took a quick trip to the saloon to check on Karl and the marshal and his boys. Karl was looking awfully thirsty as were most of the men from the ranch. I told Casey to set up one round for my men and told him to keep it flowing for the marshal and his men. After my men finished theirs I told Blackwater to take most of the men and to head back to the ranch, and while on the way back to watch for any one who didn't belong on the way there. He was looking longingly at the bottles on the bar and feeling sorry for him, I told Casey to line up another round.

 

Karl, Prairie Dawg, Crossfire Brown, Gatlin Gunner, Grumpy all stayed in town with me, to keep an eye on the no account marshal and his men, and to listen for anything that may give us an idea of what all they were planning and who else may be involved. The only thing they had heard so far was that, I was going to be sorry and that there were more men waiting. I sat down next to the marshal, who wasn't much impressed and asked him what he would do if someone tried to frame his wife. He mumbled something about me being a half-breed and shouldn't have a white woman as a wife anyway.

 

I thought about his comment for a minute or so and then pulled one of my pistols and placed it on the bar in front of him. "Well, if you think you're better than I then do something about it" I half snarled at the marshal. It got real quiet as everyone was waiting for the marshal's response. Suddenly he reached for the pistol and as he did I drew my knife and as he grabbed the pistol and plunged the knife into the bar pinning his arm by his sleeve. "Next time I'll cut your hand off and feed it to your curs in the corner there" I told him as I took my pistol back with one hand and pulled the knife from the bar with the other.

 

As I got up to leave the marshal couldn't stand it anymore and started cussing me loudly. I smiled at him as I stepped back a few steps, "is that the best you've got?" I asked him. "You'll get yours, I'll see to it myself" he yelled at me. "Really?" I asked as I threw him a pistol. He caught it and as he cocked it and began raising it at me I drew my other pistol and had it pointed directly at his head, well, he wasn't blind nor all that stupid because he froze and then slowly lowered the pistol. "You've use two of your nine lives tonight" I told him, "I reckon you're running just a mite short of lives left, next time I may stop just showing off."

 

I stepped up to him and took back my pistol and told Casey to give the marshal another drink for his nerves as I stepped back out into the street. The troopers from the fort who had been watching the whole thing were surely amused by my antics with the marshal. "We thought you were going to drop him for sure" several of them said in unison. "Not just yet, but you can bank on it, it will happen, and as soon as we know what's going on, I'll give him another opportunity to die like the swine that he is" I told them as I headed back for the jail. I did feel badly about likening him unto a swine, I didn't mean to insult swine like that!

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Cheyenne left for a while, but eventually came back to see me again. Tom agreed to let Cheyenne into my cell for a while, not that we could do much with Tom that close, but at least I got to hug him. We sat together talking, with one of Cheyenne's arms around me and the other one on my tummy. Tom and the soldiers standing outside the window got a good laugh when we started reminiscing about the day we met, how I had been bathing while on a cattle drive and how Cheyenne had gotten an eyeful. We spent a couple of hours talking about some of the crazy things that had happened to us, until finally Cheyenne had to leave, promising to be careful.

 

After he left, Lil brought me some dinner, Tom had arranged it with her earlier. She kept me company while I ate, and then she had to go so she could serve dinner to her boarders. Since the soldiers were helping keep an eye on the jail, Tom left to get himself something to eat as well. I laid down on the bunk, and tried to relax, but it wasn't easy. I was just starting to drift off to sleep when I heard an urgent whisper, “Yeah, White Deer, wake up! We're gonna bust ya outta here!”

 

I got up and went to the back window, to my surprise it was Padre, and he had Grizz with him. “I thought you were supposed to stay at the fort,” I told Padre, but he just grinned. “Baylor said me and Stands Alone were guests, so I guess I was free ta leave ifn' I wanted to. Don't you worry 'bout that, I'll go back soon as we get ya outta here. You don't belong in there, ya didn't do nothin' wrong! Besides, Cheyenne'll be awfully lonely tonight ifn' yer stuck in here.” While I appreciated the support, I knew that breaking out of the jail wasn't a real good idea, Tom would not be pleased. The ranch would be the first place he'd look, so it wasn't like Cheyenne and I would have a lot of time to have much fun anyway.

 

It took quite a while, but I finally was able to convince my two friends that while I appreciated the idea, I thought it best that I stayed put. Grizz muttered something about “At least Culpepper might get a good nite's sleep fer once,” as they left, but both men promised that they'd return the next night to see if I had changed my mind yet. They were crazy, but at the same time it was sweet of them to not want me to have to stay there. I laid back down and tried to rest again, it wasn't easy because while I had been talking to Grizz and Padre the baby had started kicking up a storm.

 

He finally settled down enough for me to drift off to dreamland. I saw me and Cheyenne on the ranch, I was pregnant but I didn't think it was with this one, as the twins were a lot older, and there were two other younger boys and a baby girl playing with them as well. We were standing watching the men put up a building, right where the schoolhouse stood right now. The next thing I knew, Frank was standing next to me, telling me, “See, you did get through this alright, but if you and Cheyenne don't learn to behave yourselves this won't be the only time you'll have to have the school rebuilt to make it bigger.” I did notice that there seemed to be quite a few children around, many more than I could be responsible for, and several of them were obviously either full- or half-blooded indians. I looked over towards Running Bear's camp, there were now more than a half dozen tipis standing there, and Two Birds was smiling as she walked towards us with her three children. I took the whole thing as a sign that things were going to work out ok, but I still spent quite a bit of time praying after I woke up that none of our friends would get hurt before this was all over.

 

In the meantime, Two Birds and her assigned guardians had located the spot where her brothers and Little Bird's uncle and cousin were hiding. The men didn't really want to go back to the ranch, but finally Biblepuncher was able to convince them it was for the best. When they heard what Stands Alone had said about the bad men wanting to attack the soldiers and blame it on them, they had wanted to go hunting for them. Fortunately they had enough respect for Biblepuncher that they agreed with him when he told them it would be better if they teamed up with some of our ranch hands, or even the soldiers, first. That way no matter what happened no one could place all of the blame on the them, and their tracking skills would prove useful to the white men. Sooner or later, the Marshall's friends would make a mistake, and our people would do everything possible to make them pay for their evil plot....

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We were in a tight situation, had to respect sheriff Tom's position and though I didn't care one little bit for Calico being locked up, I couldn't go against Tom. Normally, I wouldn't go against a marshal either, but I knew without any uncertainty that this marshal was bad and if I had my way, he wouldn't leave town breathing. I knew that if Tom gave the marshal and his accomplices their guns back I would be able to easily provoke the marshal, and the more I thought of it, I knew I wouldn't even need to provoke him into a gunfight.

 

Before I got back to the saloon, Blackwater came galloping into town and as he saw me he started hollering, "Boss, Boss, we found were the rest of them and where they are holed up!" After Blackwater dismounted, he filled me in on the situation. Although I wanted to handle it on my own, I knew that really wasn't the correct thing to do. First, we found Tom and told him the news, then we went to the fort to find Captain Baylor. His eyes lit up like oil lamps as he heard the news. "I knew this as hard for you not to handle on your own, and I appreciate that. But this way it will all be done right, and we won't have to worry about repercussions about disarming that marshal and his men in the saloon. I will ask for your help though, I know you and your men know that area better than anyone and I also know you'd be there whether I asked you to come along or not" the smiling captain told us. He then told us that he needed some time to prepare and as it was close to dark, we decided that an early morning raid would be best.

 

The captain excused himself and gave orders to have his men in town to be returned to the fort to ready for the raid, and Blackwater and I headed back for the saloon. We discussed in detail where we would meet in the darkness of the early morning and then Blackwater returned to the rest of the men would had found the camp of the men who wanted to blame raids on the tribes in the area.

 

I continued on towards the saloon but went to the jail first and told Calico of the news, though Tom wasn't there to possible release her. I filled her in on what was happening and after a brief visit kissed her goodbye and left to go to the saloon. With the information I had, maybe we could turn some of the marshal's men against him and garner even more knowledge of who the kingpins behind this scheme were. I knew the marshal was a pawn, he was to much of a loose cannon to hold something of this magnitude together.

 

In the saloon I let Karl and the others know what was happening and then we pulled one of the men at time off to a table in the corner and told them what we knew. It took a great deal of convincing, but slowly the marshal's men turned against him, and as they did we removed them and had them transported to the fort by the troopers that were returning to it.

 

That left the marshal standing at the bar, alone, except for us. While his confidence was surely shaken he wasn't about to give us any more information that we had. Karl had come up with the idea of letting the marshal escape, and if he headed for the camp we would stop him before he could get there. If he were to make a trial in another direction, he would be followed and hopefully lead us to the culprits behind this evil scheme.

 

I had Casey go into the back and fill some bottles with tea, and then had him start giving my men drinks from those bottles. I had a few of the tea colored drinks with men and then returned to the jail to spent time with Calico, maybe Tom would not feel the need to spend the night there if I was there, hopefully.

 

As Karl and the men drank more and more of the faux whiskey they feigned as if they were getting drunker with each drink until they had all passed out cold. On cue, the marshal took a few steps at a time before he snuck out the rear door of the saloon. Prairie Dawg, who knew the plains around town better than anyone, Crossfire Brown, a respected tracker, and Gatlin Gunner, who just plain wanted to go, followed the marshal at a distance. It was obvious immediately that the marshal wasn't concerned about his men in their camp as he was making a beeline for Denver. The three men knew they would need supplies and after daybreak they stopped at ranches along the way and with promises of the Culpepper ranch to replenish anything they needed, were well supplied for their trek following the marshal.

 

Meanwhile back at the jail, Tom decided that he didn't need to watch over the two of us, or he was afraid of what he may have to watch, and he left us alone as he went to his home on the edge of town.

 

Captain Baylor would pick us up early as he and the troopers were ready and headed out for the attack on the scoundrel's camp. Calico had a hard time thinking about sleep, she was sorely disappointed that she wouldn't be able to go on the raid with us, not because of the arrest, it had been lifted when the marshal "escaped". In her "condition" there was no way she could ride that far and that hard. Since she couldn't sleep, she certainly so no need for me to waste time sleeping either.

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I was glad to find out that Blackwater had located where the other men were hiding, but disappointed when Cheyenne refused to consider letting me go along on the raid of their camp. I knew he was right, but I still didn't like it. I was the one that got locked up and threatened with hanging, I had the right to want a little revenge. Tom suggested that it would be a good idea for me to stay put where I was until all the men got back, as there would be no one left around here to protect me against any of the slimeballs who may not be in the camp that might come looking to harm me. I didn't like the sound of that either, but for some reason Doc sure did. In fact, he tried to convince Tom and Cheyenne that I should remain in the jail indefinitely, muttering something about it making his life a lot easier...I couldn't figure out for the life of me why he'd think that!

 

Tom did agree to go back to his house and let me and Cheyenne have the jail to ourselves that night, it wouldn't be all that comfortable but it was better than being in there alone. We were trying to make up for lost time when we heard noises outside the window. I heard a voice call out softly, “Hey White Deer, ya changed yer mind about bustin' out yet?” Oh great, I'd forgotten all about Padre and Grizz promising to come back tonight. Cheyenne started laughing, and yelled out, “She's kind of busy right now, can you come back tomorrow after breakfast?” I looked up to see two shocked faces staring at us through the window, their eyes wide and their mouths hanging wide open. Grizz turned to Padre and said, “I think I need a drink...or three!” Padre quickly agreed, and the two of them took off towards the saloon. I called after them, “Hey, we're married, ain't nothin' wrong with it!” Cheyenne just whispered in my ear, “Now where were we?” and it wasn't long before we'd forgotten all about the two.

 

The next morning, Grizz and Padre did come back, along with Stands Alone, Captain Baylor had suggested that the three of them escort me home and stand watch over me there. He said it was better than making me wait at the jail, so Tom agreed to let me go home. Cheyenne for some reason was yawning a lot as he prepared to go meet the soldiers and our hands that were going on the raid. Biblepuncher had sent word that he and the four warriors would meet everybody at the gate of the ranch, which was on the route the other men would have to take anyway. Cheyenne and the others would be riding fast and hard, me and my escorts didn't need to hurry as much, and I couldn't really go that fast anyway. Padre had also brought another friend of his along, a young feller that had stopped by the fort to water his horse the previous day and decided to hang around for a while.

 

Padre introduced his pard to me as Evil Dogooder, and I wasn't sure what to make of him. He seemed nice enough, but more than a little strange. Oh well, one extra guard on the way to the ranch wasn't such a bad idea, and since Padre vouched for him, I didn't object to him riding along. When we got to the ranch, the kid looked around and stated, “Nice place ya got here....but don't it ever snow around here?” I told him it did, we just didn't happen to have any right then, but were expected that to change any day. “Well, I can hang around till the men get back, but once they're home I think I'll head for the high country. Not enough of the lovely white stuff around here....” he replied. Well, that proved it, the kid was crazy, but as long as he was willing to stick around and help protect me for a few days, I was willing to put up with him.

 

In fact, it was Evil Dogooder who raised the alarm when he saw a buggy approaching the house. I had gone upstairs to see my twins, when I heard him shout. Going downstairs, I quickly realized that it was most likely a friend rather than a foe, bad guys usually didn't arrive by buggy. As the buggy approached I saw that it was our lawyer, Winchester, and with him he had the judge that had signed off on all of our adoptions done in Denver. It turned out that the two of them had gotten the head of the US Marshall's office in Denver to agree to release me, and had only found out when they got to Fort Collins that it was no longer necessary. I was glad that they had gone through the trouble though, if things hadn't worked out the way they did here it would have come in handy.

 

Since they had already made the trip out here, I asked if they could go ahead and get the paperwork drawn up for us to adopt Sally, might as well make that one official too. The judge just laughed, and asked me just how many children did we intend to end up with. I had to admit, I didn't have an exact number in mind, just that Cheyenne wanted a large family, and adopting them was a whole lot easier than having them. All the men seemed to get a good laugh out of that, but I personally didn't see what was so funny about my comment. Maybe they should try getting pregnant sometime if they thought it was so humorous....

 

I spent the rest of the morning with Cora, the other ladies, and the older kids. We couldn't do much to help the men and the soldiers, except for praying for them, and that's what we did. Grizz and Padre joined us, but Evil Dogooder and Stands Alone volunteered to continue to keep watch, one at the front of the house and one at the rear. Before excusing himself to go to the kitchen, Stands Alone told me, “I can watch and pray to the Great Spirit at the same time, try not to worry about Soars with Eagles too much.” That was nice of him, but I was still nervous....

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We rode hard until we met up with the rest of the men, who pointed out the draw that the, I guess you could call them outlaws, because I couldn't think of a despicable enough name for them. We decided not to surround them, only to block the exits of the draw on each end. They would either have to stand and fight, or try to go up over the high bank beyond them, which would make for easy shots for those of us with Sharps. Or, they could surrender, if we let them.

 

Captain Baylor and I got into a position that we could see into their camp, as we first saw them they had mounted and were getting ready to move out. Captain Baylor looked at me with a surprised look on his face, "Those are Utes and Cheyenne down there!" I handed him my Sharps and told him to look threw the glass and then said, "How many Utes or Cheyenne have you seen using saddles?"

 

I looked at the Captain and told him, "Are you going to sound attack, or do you want the first shot?" The captain smiled, raised the Sharps to his shoulder, picked out the lead man, took a deep breath, let out a little air, set the trigger, and then squeezed. His shot was a little low, hitting the man in the leg, the bullet must have gone through it and into the horse's spine because the horse collapsed trapping the man's leg under it. You could tell we had taken them by complete surprise because they just sat there on there horses, trying to figure out where the shot had come from.

 

Then the order to fire was given, unleashing a barrage of fire and brimstone on the hapless men pretending to be Utes and Cheyenne braves. It didn't take long for them to make a run for the ends of the draw only to be turned back by another barrage of hot lead and burning smoke as if they had entered the gates of hell. They returned to where we had first fired on them and then having no other direction to try to escape, they tried to go up over the ridge behind them. The Winchesters that I had give the men at Fort Collins were paying dividends as the troopers continued their barrage, if they didn't hit the outlaws they hit their horses which sent the men rolling back down into the draw. One man had managed to crest the ridge and as he did I brought the Sharps to bear down on him, I noticed the man's horse as I did, a magnificent beast, black with a large white splotch on his forehead. I moved the glass back onto the man, put the hairs on the back of his neck and sent a chunk of hot lead searching for it's target. I must have pushed the shot a little high because the man's head disappeared into a red mist.

 

After my shot Captain Baylor had the bugler sound charge and with sabers glistening in the sun the troopers rode into the draw and laid waste any of the men that had survived the barrages of hot lead and smoke that smelled of brimstone.

 

I rode after the stallion with the white splotch, it would soon be Christmas and what better present for my lovely wife.

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Gonna be a red splotch on that horse now too...

 

Just sayin...

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Everything was fine until right before lunch, when I heard Evil Dogooder call out that a few men were approaching on horseback. Padre and I went to take a look, Grizz was too busy talking to Clara. The kid insisted that it was indians coming, but Padre and I both shook our heads. “No, white men tryin' ta look like indians, and doin' a lousy job of it!” Padre told him, and I had to agree. We didn't get much more chance to talk about it though, the four strange men had pulled out their rifles and were preparing to fire on the ranch house.

 

“Get the kids upstairs, now!” I shouted to the other ladies, and they quickly grabbed the twins, Rose, and Tommy and headed for the staircase. Laura and Sally came up to the front of the house, they had been trained to reload both rifles and pistols quickly, so that the rest of us wouldn't have to. Stands Alone called out that he would stay in the kitchen to make sure no one snuck around back, unless we really needed him. I didn't think we would, as it was four on four and we had two helpers. Plus I knew that Eddie and Little Flower would have a clear shot at at least two of these yahoos from their front room, provided the two of them weren't busy or something.

 

As we were waiting to see what these men were going to do, we all heard Clara call down from upstairs, “Grizz honey, don't you dare get yourself shot now, ya hear? I might have to get awfully mad at you if you do!” Grizz turned bright red, but Padre, the kid, and me all just laughed. Those two were going to have to work out some sort of compromise, it was obvious that there was some strange attraction at work there, and it didn't seem right that they'd let something like Clara wanting to run a dress shop in town come between them. After I quit laughing I told Grizz to keep his mind on what he was doing, that the sooner we took care of these fakes the sooner he could go back to talking with Clara. He just growled at me, “Pay attention yerself, I don't need two old bats sniping at me!” That was a hoot, Grizz had to be at least twice my age!

 

It was crazy for these men to think of attacking the house, as they had no cover but we sure did. They seemed to be waiting for something, we weren't sure what until we heard a loud yell from the kitchen, “Dang it!” Then we heard the sound of two rifles open fire from the back of the house, my friends all looked at me but I just said, “Cora....must have grabbed a rifle and came down the back stairs. You all stay here, I'm going to go see if they need any help.” Just then the men out front started their attack as well, so my friends were too busy returning fire to say much. I didn't think they needed me, especially since Eddie and Little Flower would most likely already be grabbing their rifles, so I headed for the kitchen.

 

By the time I got there, they had already dispatched the three men that had snuck up from behind the house, so there wasn't anything for me to really do. Stands Alone said that he and Cora would stay put in case any more bad men came around, so I headed back up front. By the time I got there, the four men outside were already dead, I wasn't sure who made the kills but I could see Eddie and Little Flower coming out of their house, they were going to make darn sure the men were dead and not just faking it. I was more than a little bummed out, I hadn't been able to go on the raid, and now our home was attacked and I hadn't even got one shot off and it was over. Plus we'd be having to have a couple of windows replaced, for now I needed to remember where Karl kept the extra plywood, that would have to do until we could get new glass.

 

Everyone else around was in a good mood, all the outlaws were dead and no one inside had even gotten the tiniest of scratches. I suppose I should have been happy too, but I was disappointed, it seemed like I never got to have much fun any more. Oh well, I guessed that maybe when Cheyenne got home maybe we could have a little fun.....

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It took us a while to load all of the outlaws into the wagons, collect all of their firearms, and to round up their horses. I have to say this, the outlaws were well equipped, new Winchesters, and the new Smith and Wesson bop break revolvers. To bad they weren't better trained, well for their sake anyway, but for us it sure was good luck. All of the booty would go to the fort, it seems that they were always short of supplies, and always behind in the latest equipment. Even the horses, except for the one I had claimed for Calico, would go to the army.

 

After we had rounded up the horses we headed for the ranch, but the question remained, who was behind all of this. It was either a wealthy man or a group of men determined to see an all out war between the army and the tribes in the region. Hopefully Prairie Dawg and the other men trailing the marshal would be able to find out more than we knew now.

 

But, for now we were a very happy bunch, only a few horses were lost from gunfire and just three troopers had been wounded, and we would have them treated at the ranch by Doc Eels before the troopers returned to the fort. We were all pretty hungry too, the Captain had forgone having a chuck wagon along on the foray because it was supposed to be a one day outing, and he was right, but dang I sure was hungry, and sleepy. A smile came across my face as I remembered why I was so sleepy, and hungry.

 

It took us an hour or so to reach the ranch and fortunately there was plenty of food, Hop Sing had figured that we would be returning and had been preparing all day.

 

to be continued..

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Calico had come running from the house as we approached, what a welcome sight for tired eyes. The wounded were taken to Doc's place where he quickly treated them so they could come back to the house for food. The Captain and the judge had quite a long talk, with each laying out who they thought might be responsible for the raids. I tried to listen, but with little if any sleep the night before I could hardly concentrate, much less the sweet odor of her perfume.

 

I excused myself and Calico and I went upstairs for a nap, I certainly wasn't any good in the conversation the judge and Captain Baylor were having. Though that wasn't exactly what Cali had on her mind. I finally did get to go to sleep and didn't wake up until the next morning. By then the troops were long gone and everything seemed back to normal, and Calico was already out examining her Christmas present. "How did you know I always wanted one just like this?" she asked me as I approached the corral. "Oh, I pay attention" I lied.

 

I got a good look into her eyes and knew for sure that I had done good, even if by dumb luck, but I sure wasn't about to admit it!

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My, but that stallion was beautiful! It was so sweet of Cheyenne to catch him for me, and I looked forward to riding him. I wouldn't be able to for very long, so I would have to settle for making friends with him other ways until after the baby was born. It took me a while to come up with a name, but finally settled on Rascal. The name seem to fit, he was sweet for a stallion but had a mischievous side to him, riding him could prove to be interesting. We couldn't really do much about finding whoever was behind the attacks until Prairie Dawg and the others got back, but I came up with another idea for getting to take Rascal for his first ride.

 

The kids had been wanting to get a Christmas tree, so I convinced Cheyenne that while we were waiting for the men to get back from chasing the Marshall, we should go fetch a tree. Karl had some men hitch up two wagons, one to haul the tree back and one for the kids to ride in. Our lady guests all wanted to go as well, and strangely enough Grizz volunteered to go as well. I didn't think he had any interest in the tree, he just wanted to spend time with Clara. Cora didn't really want to go, so she offered to stay with the twins, but the rest of us bundled up and headed out to find the nicest, prettiest evergreen we could. Karl, Ike, Danny, and a few of the other men came with us as well. Evil Dogooder asked to ride along with us for a while as he was heading for Leadville, a new silver mining camp up in the high country that promised much more snow for his taste than what we had here.

 

It was a beautiful day for an outing, and we were all enjoying ourselves. Rascal lived up to his name, but I didn't have too much trouble handling him, he seemed to realize that he could only misbehave so much, and he didn't want to throw me. We headed for a nice stand of trees a little ways into the foothills, and started hunting for the perfect one. It had to have nice, full branches, but not be too tall, as it needed to fit inside the parlor. Evil Dogooder said his goodbyes, and rode off towards the southwest, looking for the white stuff he thought was so wonderful. It took a while, but after about half an hour it was Tommy that finally found the tree we all agreed we wanted, and Cheyenne, Eddie and Grizz took turns with the ax to chop it down.

 

All three of them spent some time showing off for the ladies as they worked, though Eddie only had eyes for Little Flower and Grizz was mainly interested in Clara. Cheyenne however, was flirting with all the ladies, I didn't mind as I knew he didn't really mean it, and it sure made all of them laugh. We stopped laughing though, when Grizz took the final whack with the ax and the tree started falling towards Cheyenne, who wasn't paying any attention. I tried to yell a warning, and Cheyenne starting to run, but didn't get far before the tree came crashing down. Thankfully the main part of it missed him, but he still got conked pretty good with one of the branches, and went down unconscious.

 

I ran to his side, terrified that he was seriously hurt. Kate came running up too, pulling a pack of smelling salts from her reticule as she knelt down beside me. She waved the smelling salts under Cheyenne's nose, and it was only a few seconds before he came to. Fortunately he didn't seem badly hurt, but he did seem a little confused. There was no recognition in his eyes as he looked at me, and he seemed more than a little agitated to see all of us staring at him. He shook his head, and then asked in the Cheyenne language, “Who are all of you? What have you done to me? I have done you no harm, leave me alone!”

 

Only a few of us understood the words he said, and none of us understood his meaning. How could he not know who we were, who I was? I tried to ask him that in English, but he acted like he didn't have a clue what I was saying. I repeated what I had said but in the tongue of his mother's people, and he told me, “I do not know you, woman, why do you claim to be my wife? And who are all these others, why do they stare at me? Why have you captured me?” In shock, I slowly translated his words to my companions that didn't speak the language, while tears were forming in my eyes.

 

Danny started to grab for the reins of his horse, while shouting, “Eddie and Ike, you two go find Running Bear, or if you can't, get Lone Wolf! I'm going to get Doc Eells!” While Danny swung into his saddle and started riding off, Eddie and Ike went to grab their horses as well. Cheyenne didn't seem to pleased with the three of them leaving like that, so Little Flower tried to explain to him that they were going to get his cousin and a medicine man. That calmed him down a bit, but all the same I was very upset. Just what was wrong with him that he didn't know me....how much damage had that dang tree branch done?

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I woke up to some awfully bad odors and tastes in my nose, throat and lungs. Who were all these strange people looking so intently at me? My head hurt too, I felt where the pain was coming from and found a knot the size of a goose eggs. Which one of these people hit me? What was I doing out here in the woods in the first place?

 

I looked around to see who had hit me with what must have been a club and noticed that I was surrounded by beautiful women. One of them even claimed to be my wife! Wife, mind you, I wasn't even married and had never had intended on getting married. Though as I looked around me I was thinking that I'd like to have everyone of these fillies in my corral! And, this one claiming to be my wife, she'd be easy prey! They was she was pulling me into her bosom I knew I was half way there already!

 

I was getting concerned though, just what was I doing out here anyway? But then again, as I looked around me, what better place to be than surrounded by beautiful women who were all concerned about me, easy pickens they would be for sure. I just lay there with no intent of trying to get up enjoying the sweet fragrance of the one who claimed to be my wife. I was certain that I was going to enjoy this, and I'd let this one called Calico show me that she was my wife.

 

This could turn out to be very interesting!

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Ol' Grizz hadn't seen the tree fall on Culpepper and couldn't rightly understand what they were all fussing about over yonder. Yeah, he'd mashed a finger and it was bleeding pretty good, but he wiped much of the blood off on the ax blade before he finally walked over to where Calico was kneeling by Cheyenne.

 

What in the heck are ya fussin' over him for Grizz boomed holding up the blood covered ax with his bloody hand, I'm the one what got hurt!

 

Cheyenne saw the bloody ax and got a wild look in his eye before letting loose a blood curdling war cry and fighting his way out of Calico's grasp.

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I was feeling pretty good about the situation, yea my head hurt, but I was surrounded by beautiful women who seemed really interested in my well being. This was going to be good I thought; until, the shortest yeti I had ever seen came screaming at us all with a bloody ax! It took me a second to react because this yeti was sooo short and clothed, but there was no doubt that he was a yeti, and an angry one at that!

 

I jumped up to reach for my knife but found my hand full of a revolver. That took me back as I never carried one. I hesitated again, my mind seemed so foggy I just couldn't react as quickly as I knew I should. I was trying to find the sight on the pistol when I felt the one who said she was my wife put her arms around me again as she was trying to tell me that the yeti was a friend. I did notice that the yeti had stopped and even was taking a few steps back, and he had gotten real quiet and white as a ghost.

 

I threw the knife down and breaking the woman's hold on me I bolted, but I didn't know where to bolt too, there were horses and wagons, but which was mine and where would I go?

 

Standing at the horses I stopped and looked back at the group of women, I noticed a few children among them and the one who said she was my wife was obviously with child. What in the world was going one here?

 

I turned back to the horses and noticed a white one with a scabbard covered with beads, I was the only one here that it could possible belong to so I leapt on it. Suddenly I was really dizzy again and the next thing I knew I was falling, falling down from the sky, my wings were melting, the ground was coming up all to quickly....

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I thought I had Cheyenne calmed down a little, then Grizz came over with the ax, and Cheyenne went nuts. He jumped up and grabbed his pistol, but seemed a little confused by it, and had trouble bringing it up to try and shoot Grizz. I grabbed him in a big bear hug, and tried to tell him that Grizz wasn't going to hurt him, but he just dropped the pistol and twisted out of my grasp, running towards his horse. He stopped and looked back at me for a second, then leaped up on the stallion. Oh great, he didn't know who I was but he knew which horse was his? If he turned out to not be seriously hurt, he still would be but by my hand!

 

I almost regretted that thought when I noticed that Cheyenne wasn't staying in the saddle very long, he had already started falling off the other side. I rushed over to him, and realized he had passed out again, thankfully this time landing in a snow bank that cushioned his fall. Karl, Grizz, and Grumpy managed to pick him up and carried him over to one of the wagons, carefully laying him down in it. “Dang but he's heavy!” Grumpy Old Man said, stretching his back out, “Just what you been feeding him?”

 

“Nothin', ifn' he's lucky!” claimed Grizz, who then stuck his tongue out at me. Someday, somehow, I was gonna prove to that man I could cook....maybe once I learned how. But for now I needed to tend to Cheyenne until Danny returned with Doc. This time we skipped the smelling salts, hoping to keep him unconscious for awhile, out of worry that he still wouldn't remember who we all were. We didn't need him to try and take off again and maybe hurt himself worse. Me, Clara, Lizzy, Jenny, Kate, Ella, Little Flower, Laura, and Sally all climbed into the wagon and sat down next to him, half of us on each side of him. That way we'd have him surrounded in case he woke up and tried to get away again.

 

Karl parked himself on the end of the wagon, and Grizz and Grumpy started helping Tommy and Rose make a snowman, to keep them occupied for a while. It wasn't long before Cheyenne started coming to, and I gently picked up one of his hands in mine to try and keep him calm. He still didn't seem to know who any of us where, and he still didn't seem to understand English, and I was hoping that Doc would be here soon. I thought that maybe it would help if Cheyenne felt the baby moving, so I tried to put his hand on my belly to feel it. That didn't work real well, because as soon as I let go of his hand he started trying to move it farther up, in front of everyone! I grabbed that hand pretty darn quick and moved it back to my stomach, but held onto it this time. He looked rather disappointed, then told me, “I thought you claimed to be my wife?”

 

Then he started leering at all the other women, asking them “Are all of you my wives as well?” The only ones that really understood any of what he said was were me, Little Flower, and Laura, and the girls were more than a little embarrassed. He was really starting to worry me, why was he acting like this? Did he really think that he was a Cheyenne brave that we had captured? How long was this going to last? Danny had better get here with Doc soon....

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I had been falling out of the sky when I suddenly landed in a tall pine and as I perched there the sweet smell of the pine filtered through my senses. I was at peace sitting there surveying all that was good and smells of the forest comforted me. A sudden burst of wind jolted me and then I was laying in the back of a wagon surrounded by those same beautiful women as before, and to my pleasure the yeti was gone.

 

I tried to take measure of the situation, but it just didn't make sense, how had a bunch of white women taken me captive, then a pleasant thought hit me, maybe they wanted me as their captive, I could live with that for a while anyway. That thought didn't last long, another thought quickly replaced it, where was the Fair One, had I failed my pledge? Had something happened to her? I could feel my heart start to race as I tried to think through what was happening.

 

The one who called herself my wife, took my hand and placed it on her belly, ok, I thought, this is a step. My hand with a mind of it's own went for her breast but she was quick and I never felt the warm smooth flesh that I knew was there. I looked into her eyes, there was something familiar about her. Was this the Fair One's mother? But she had died in the fire. My eyes darted among the other women, were they my wives too, no? Nothing was making sense. Was the child in this woman's belly the Fair One, and was I getting a glimpse into her life before I first saw her? Ah, but these beautiful women were bound a determined not to let me go, oh the thoughts that were going through my muzzy brain.

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