They saw a pack of Mexican Red Wolves, wearily watching their approach on the distant horizon. They stopped and watched them for a moment before kicking their mounts as they climbed upward. The wolves turned and scampered into the sage and Creosote bushes that lined the vista and disappeared.
They were cotton-mouthed and dusty, sweaty, and growing weary when they stopped to water their animals. They hadn’t seen or tasted water for a long time.
Shoots Plenty felt he had something important to say.
“This is the land where the shunkaha is lord.
“Why don’t you speak English so I can understand what you are saying, you old squaw? What is a shunkaha?”
“You should know our language, Wasichus. The white eyes call him wolf the Mexicanos call him Lobo, but he is shunkaha to the Lakota. But even he is disappearing because of your people, Wasichus.”
“Are you sure he just ain’t hiding because of this heat you’ve been complaining about?”
“I am sure because now we see many more coyotes. They have moved in where the shunkaha used to be. The coyote is smart. The white eyes will not make the coyote disappear. He is too smart for the white eyes.”
Esben absently nodded his head as he scanned the horizon for any movement. Shoots Plenty had been talking for the past month about how the white man drove the Lakota from their ancestral land. He silently agreed with just about everything Shoots Plenty said, but he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of letting him know.
“I dreamed that I was back in Paha Sapa and I was with Gray Grass and she was braiding my hair. Do you dream, Wasichus?”
“No, I don’t have time to dream. Dreams are just a waste of good sleep.”
“When our Creator sleeps his sleep is filled with dreams of His creation.
My people tell of the time He saw strange things in His dream. He saw animals crawling on four legs, some on two. Some flew with wings, some swam with fins. There were plants of all colors covering the ground. Insects swarmed everywhere. Dogs barked, birds sang. People called out to each other. Everything seemed out of place. The Great Spirit thought He was having a bad dream. He thought nothing could be this imperfect.
When the Great Spirit awakened, He saw a beaver nibbling on a branch. He realized the world of his dream became His creation. Everything He dreamed about came true. When He saw the beaver make his home, and a dam to provide a pond for his family to swim in, He then knew everything has its place, and purpose in the time to come.
We must not question our dreams, Wasichus. They are our creation.”
“Why are you dreaming of Gray Grass? You have been spending a lot of time with Carmen.”
“I dream of both women but not at the same time. That would not be wise.”
Above them Esben noticed a falcon circling, looking for a meal.
“You see that, Shoots Plenty?” he said pointing to the sky. “It’s not too hot for that Falcon to come out and look for food.”
“He probably smelled your one-eyed mule and thought it would make a tasty meal.”
At that moment they saw movement behind the plateau in front of them. They looked at each other. Shoots Plenty motioned with his hand in the direction of some Pinyan bushes.
“We are being watched, Wasichus.”
Esben kicked his mule, “Let’s ride.”
Outside of Tornillo, they came upon the bodies of a family of six Anglos. They were scalped and their eyes were poked out and they were all stabbed up. Their throats were cut too, and they were full of bullet holes. The woman’s breasts were cut off and they all were butchered between their legs. The odor of rotting flesh was overwhelming. Flies were everywhere.
“Reckon they killed everyone or did they take the rest prisoners?” Esben asked.
“I do not think so. Why take prisoners? It is not the way for the Tuintsunde Mescalero, who you call renegades.”
“How far are they ahead?”
“I would say they are here and they know we are here.”
After burying the six Anglos they continued toward Tornillo. When they got there it was deserted. They both glanced down at the dust below them and were shocked at what they saw. There were tracks of at least a dozen rigs, buckboards, wagons and carts as well as horse tracks, all shod, headed in the same direction – east.
“People left for a reason, Wasichus,” Shoots Plenty said, gazing in the direction the tracks led.
“Afraid of something.”
“Tuintsunde Mescalero Apaches. That’s who they are afraid of and who we came looking for. The people of the town have not vanished into thin air, they made a sudden frightened panic-stricken rush to get away.”
“I feel evil in this place,” Shoots Plenty confessed.
They looked over the desert toward the mountains while a lonely dust devil danced around them. Nothing met their eyes save an unbelievably vast stretch of desert.
“The Tuintsunde Mescalero are getting bolder and are on the warpath, burning, killing, maiming. The people of the town fled like sheep. Let’s get ready.”
Shoots Plenty didn’t argue. They tethered their animals in the trees near the shady spot they found. They loaded their rifles and Colt .45’s along with the Winchester ‘73s they took from Max Bentley and Wilson Kerrick and opened boxes of ammunition and then lay out, Esben lighting up a cheroot.
“Those small smoke sticks smell almost as bad as your one-eyed mule. You should only smoke Kinnikinnick.”
“I want to see the Tuintsunde Mescalero when they come for us, not some narcotically induced ghost.”
“When the renegades smell your smoke stick they will know you are a white eyes and think you must be a mule skinner because you smell so bad. That is why you should smoke Kinnikinnick it smells better. The Mescalero will think you are their people when they smell it and then we could ambush them.”
“Once you told me, Silence is the mark of respect; so, respect me.”
Before long they viewed a band of renegade Tuintsunde Mescalero appear over the horizon. There were twelve of them heading their way at a gallop.
As soon as they were in range, Shoots Plenty picked up his Henry rifle and began firing off as fast as he could aim, getting off five quick rounds.
Soon four Apaches lay dead on the ground and a fifth was dragging himself with his hands toward some brush, attempting to escape.
Esben rolled out three shots, all of them hammering into a Mescalero’s chest and throwing him backward off his horse.
At the same time, Shoots Plenty fired from behind a barrel at the front riding Mescalero. One of the slugs smashed the Mescalero’s elbow; the second tore his throat out. He went down with blood pouring from the wound. It looked more black than red in the fading afternoon sun.
One renegade had rapidly fired his gun at Esben but missed with every round. He was desperately thumbing fresh cartridges into the cylinder as Shoots Plenty and Esben were firing at the rest of the Mescalero’s who were falling around him. He snapped the weapon closed and lifted it, grinning as he aimed it at Esben.
It was Esben’s gun that was empty now. He couldn’t do anything as the renegade thumbed back the hammer of the old Army Officer’s Colt .44 revolver.
When the renegade was about to pull the trigger, Esben left his feet in a dive, snatched one of the Winchester’s from the ground as he rolled over, and came up firing. There were two shots left in the rifle and he put both of them into the Mescalero who was firing at him. The renegade went over backward and twitched a couple of times, and then lay still as a dark bloodstain spread over the front of his shirt.
When the dust cleared Esben and Shoots Plenty stood over ten renegade Mescalero’s dead bodies while they watched the last two riding hard toward the Rio Grande and back into Mexico.
Shoots Plenty, holding the scalp of the renegade who had crawled for cover in the surrounding bushes, said, “How will your Captain Smith know that these Mescalero are the renegades that he wanted us to kill? All us Indians look alike to you white eyes.”
“He’ll know. Let’s get these bodies loaded on the horses that were left behind and get them photographed and sent off to the captain. We got more work to do.”