Chapter Eleven--Echo

The next night, Sunday, May 15…
           It was a little after midnight when five men stopped and squatted about 300 yards west of the Indian village on the Big Horn Reservation in southeastern Montana territory.  They had left their horses about half a mile, prepared for a quick escape.  The men surveyed the scene from a small rise.  All was peaceful, and quiet in the village.  A few crickets chirped, the moon was a sliver, and the night had a little chill to it.  But best of all, a slight wind was blowing, enough to spread the fires the visitors intended to start.
           “What’s the plan, Odas?” Hobart Hendley asked, and a little too loudly.  He, Carlo Hand, Colby Weaver, and R. J. Torrance had joined Odas Schafer on their expedition to wreak some havoc in the Cheyenne dwelling.  They were totally unaware of the deaths of Cotton and Matilda Doughty two nights before.
           “Shhh,” Odas scolded in a whisper, “keep yer voice down, you pig-brained oaf.  We don’t want to announce to the world that we’re comin.’”  He looked back at the village.  “Here’s what we’ll do.  There’s more houses there on the south side than there is on the north, so three of us will circle around and approach from that direction and the other two from the north.  Hobart, you and Colby do the north side, and me’n, Carlo’n, R. J. will burn down the stuff on t’other side.  Don’t light yer ceegars till ye’re ready to throw yore firebombs.”
           Each of the five men had a sack with five small bottle of oil inside.  Every bottle had a wick.  The idea was to light the wick and throw the bottles as hard as possible against the side of the house, splattering the oil and setting the structure on fire.  If all 25 “bombs” exploded effectively, and if the wind helped shove the fires around, then within an hour or so, the whole village would probably be nothing but ashes.  At least that was the strategy.  By the time the Indians quit trying to put out the blazes, Odas and his men would be long gone.
           He continued with his instructions.  “Start at the far end and work this way.  Throw a bomb at ever’ other house or so.  When you finish, high-tail it back to the horses and wait for ever’body to rendezvous at last night’s campsight.”
           Because the men had come from Arkmore, it had taken them two days to get to the village.  Tonight they had made camp at a small stream just off the reservation, about eight miles from the village.  “Once ever’body gets back to the camp, we’ll head on back to Arkmore a ways before we stop fer the night.  I think that’d be best in case some of them Injuns take to tryin’ to follow us.”
           “But how can they follow us?  They ain’t got no horses, do they?”  That from Colby Weaver. 
           Odas shook his head at Colby’s denseness.  “Colby, how do you think them Injuns got from here to Arkmore and Kinsey to kill the Britz’s and Johnstons?”
           “Hmm,” Colby muttered, “I reckon they have horses somewheres.”
           “Yeah, I reckon they do.  So, once we’re finished, let’s get as far away from this place as we can.”
           “Are we gonna try to find their horses and take ‘em?” Hobart asked.
           “Nope.  We’re gonna burn the place down and run.”
           “Reckon some of ‘em’ll die, Odas?” R. J. Torrance asked.  He seemed a little squeamish about the thought.
           “Well, if they do, it’ll be their own fault,” Odas retorted.  “If they ain’t got sense enough to git out of a burnin’ house, they deserve to die.”  He then looked directly at R. J., and although Torrance couldn’t see Odas’s face very well, the latter’s tone of voice had an edge to it.  “Is it gonna bother you if some of ‘em do die, R. J.?  After what they done to the Britz’s and Johnstons?”
           R. J. knew that not every Cheyenne on the reservation was guilty of murder, and yeah, it bothered him some that innocent people might die.  But he was outnumbered, so he just said, “I reckon not.  Let’s just it over with and git outta here.”
           “Good idea,” Odas replied.  He looked around at his men.  “Any other questions?”
           “You gonna burn down that big, white house you told us about?   The one the Indian agent lives in?” Hobart asked.
           “Naw, no need to do that.  Too far away, anyway.  Let’s take care of these Indian shacks.  That’s what we’re bein’ paid for.”
           “Who’s a-payin’ us to do this, Odas?” R. J. asked.
           “You don’t need to know that.  Just do what you’re told and you’ll be $50 richer.
           “That’ll be great.  I don’t hardly make that in two months.”
           “Well, then, you can start yereserlf a savin’s account at the bank.”
           R. J., not overly endowed with intellectual acumen, was puzzled.  “Why would I wanna do that?  Save it fer what?”
           Odas replied, “Oh, shut up, R. J.”  Then, “you fellers ready?”
           “Let’s do it,” Hobart said, and the men started off.
           As Schafer had instructed, the men circled wide around the village to advance from the eastern side.  Their angle of approach actually brought Carlo, R. J, and Odas fairly close to Wylie Wilcox’s house.  Carlo whispered, “You sure you don’t want me to toss a bottle or two at that place, Odas?  I never have liked government people.”
           Odas was actually tempted, but then thought better of it.  “No, it will make the Injuns more mad if their places are burnt up but his ain’t.  And that’s what we want.”
           The three men crept to within about 50 feet of the first house they were going to firebomb and knelt down.  Odas looked at his watch; he had synchronized timepieces with Hobart; he wanted them to start their work at the same time, though Odas would toss the first bottle.  When they saw the initial fire, that would be Hobart and Colby’s cue to start throwing bottles as well.
           A couple of dogs began barking and Odas cursed.  “That could ruin everything.”  It was still a couple of minutes before the agreed-upon time to begin, but being afraid the dogs might awaken someone, Odas decided not to wait.  “Let’s go,” he said, and lit his cigar.  The other two men did the same.  Odas then rose up and ran towards the corner house, Carlo and R. J. heading for the next two.
           They were immediately spotted by an insomniac Cheyenne.  “Hey, watchu doin’?” the Indian cried out.
           Odas lit the fuse on his bottle and threw it.  It smacked against the side of the house and made a small explosion.  And, with a whoosh, a fire immediately broke out.  Within two seconds, fires erupted at the next two houses as Carlo and R. J. also chucked their first bombs. 
           The Indian shouted again and ran towards Odas, who was headed for his next target.  Schafer pulled a gun and fired at the Indian, who was about 50 feet away.  The Cheyenne went down, but Odas didn’t know if the bullet had struck him or not.  Moving on, he paused just long enough to light his next bottle and throw it.  Another satisfying explosion, and another house was in flames.  Another man appeared in Odas’ path, but appeared befuddled at what was occurring.
           By this time, many of the Indians were stirring.  They didn’t know what was happening, but the gunshot had awoken them.  Those who came outside first saw that dwellings—on both sides of the village street now—were ablaze.  Odas had hoped that, in the confusion, it would take a little too long for them to figure out what was happening and where the menace was coming from.  He had figured correctly, but not by much.  By the time he and each of his men had tossed their last bottle, a few of the smarter Indians had discerned the pattern.  One of those was Swift Current.
           “They are going that way!” he called out, and ran after the whites, but others called upon him to stop.
           “Help us put out the fires!”  
           The young Indian brave was almost beside himself.  He hesitated a moment, then almost took off after the white men anyway, but what made him turn back was seeing his friend, Live Spirit, trying to assist an old squaw out of a burning shack.  They both were coughing severely.
           “Help us, Swift Current!” Live Spirit cried.  And immediately, the son of Bear Claw went to their aid.
           So, the perpetrators escaped, running as fast as they could back to their horses.  Hobart and Colby were only about 30 seconds behind the other three.  As they galloped away, chortling gleefully, Odas looked back and saw the orange glow in the night sky.
           “Ha ha ha ha!” he laughed.  “Take that you savages!  I hope ever’ last one of you burn to a crisp here and in hell!  Ha ha ha ha.”
           The five men rode as fast as their horses allowed for a few minutes. 
           But there was no pursuit.
           They stopped about an hour and a half later to rest the horses and sleep for the night.  R. J.’s conscience was still working on him.  “You reckon any of them Injuns died?”  He asked that question to Hobart Hendley out of earshot of Odas Schafer.
           Hobart just shrugged.  “Don’t know.  I kinda feel like Odas.  If they did, they deserved it.”  Then he looked at R. J.  “Was that you that fired that shot?”
           “No, that was Odas.  Some Injun hollered at us and started runnin’ towards us, so Odas pulled his iron and fired.  I didn’t even know he had a gun.”
           “Did he hit ‘im?”
           R. J. shook his head.  “I don’t know.  I saw the redskin go down, but I’m not sure if he was just duckin’ or if the bullet got him.”  He sighed.  “I hope this is the end of it, Hobart.  I don’t mind defendin’ my land and people, but I don’t want to be killin’ no innocent people, neither.”
           “Nah, don’t worry, R. J.  Them savages’ll get the message that we ain’t gonna tolerate them killin’ no more white folks.”  He grinned and even in the low light R. J. could see the gaps in Hendley’s yellow teeth.  “Just think.  50 bucks of whiskey and women.  Ain’t this worth it?”
           R. J. returned a wan smile.  “Yeah.  I reckon it is…”
           By morning, it was evident that about 80% of the houses in the Indian village on Big Horn Reservation had been either partially or totally destroyed.  Three people had died.  An old man.  An infant.
           And Wylie Wilcox.  Found behind the burned down Indian agency building.
           With a knife buried in his chest.