Chapter Fourteen—The Army Takes Control

Monday morning, May 16, just after sunup
             As Sheriff Dan Harmon approached the fort’s livery, he was a little surprised to see about 25 men saddling horses, obviously preparing to leave—all under watchful eye of Colonel Timothy Einarsen.  When Einarsen saw Harmon, he spoke.
           “I have decided, Sheriff Harmon, to bring a platoon with us.”  He smiled briefly.  “A show of force, perhaps?  These troops will remain on the reservation, camped near the village, until some final resolution of this matter has been determined.  Lieutenant Fielder there is the platoon leader, ably assisted by Sergeant Woolsthorpe.”  He motioned towards two men, who both acknowledged by saluting the sheriff.
           Harmon threw them a salute in return and said to Einarsen, “Wilcox isn’t going to like it.”
           “Then let Wilcox complain to his masters.  I have sent a wire to Washington, explaining the circumstances and my intended actions.  A reply has yet to be received, but I expect full support.”  As if on cue, a corporal came running up to Einarsen and handed him a slip of paper.  The colonel quickly read it and nodded.  “From Washington.  They endorse my actions.  I can show this to Wilcox, if he has any objections.”
           “Do you have any ideas about how to get the Indians to hand over the men who killed those families?”
           “I do,” Einarsen said.  “If Fleet Fox will not surrender those who are guilty—and surely he knows who they are—I will have him arrested and brought here to the fort for detainment.  We will then use all…civilized…methods to try to extract information from him.”
           Harmon wasn’t exactly sure he liked the idea of arresting an innocent man—for the old chief could not possibly have taken part in the raids—but if Fleet Fox did know the guilty parties, then that, in effect, made him an accessory.  So Harmon didn’t complain.  It wouldn’t have done any good anyway.  Einarsen was going to do whatever he felt necessary and the sheriff couldn’t have stopped him.
           “Fair enough,” Dan said.  “Let me saddle up and I’ll be ready to ride,” and he started to move off.
           “Sheriff,” Einarsen said, stopping him.  Dan looked at him.
           “I hope you understand,” the colonel continued, “that the United States Army has now taken command of this situation.  And that, though you are a lawman, you are a civilian and thus under my authority.  Please refrain, at least on this outing, from acting on your own and submit to my orders.”
           Harmon stared at the colonel for a few moments.  Normally, Dan would have had no problem with Einarsen’s request, but something about the colonel’s whole demeanor irritated him.  Officers…worse than high-minded bureaucrats…But he had come to ask the army for help and Einarsen was finally taking the matter with some degree of seriousness.  Dan looked around at the 25 soldiers who were going on the expedition.  They were all looking at him, which Harmon found a little strange.  Some had expressions of amusement on their face, others appeared stern.  The sheriff looked back at Einarsen and gave him a wry grin.
           “I don’t think I’m in any position, Colonel Einarsen, to object to that.  Just don’t give me any orders that would force a civilian lawman to disobey.”
           Einarsen and Harmon stared at each other for a few seconds, then the colonel nodded.  “I trust we shall have a successful expedition, Sheriff.”  Then, to his men, “Platoon, mount up!”  As his command was being obeyed, the colonel looked again at Harmon.  “Yesterday, I said ‘sunup’, Sheriff Harmon.  That does not mean after the sun comes up.  My men are ready to leave.  You can saddle your horse and join us when you see fit.”  Without further aplomb, he turned his horse and shouted, “Platoon, move out!”  And the sergeant needlessly echoed the order.
           So Dan was left standing there as the troops filed out.  They would move slowly, so he could catch up to them, that wasn’t his concern.  Actually, it gave him a moment to examine the soldiers as they rode by.  Most of them didn’t bother looking at him; a few gave him glances that he didn’t consider very friendly.  What he did notice was that these men appeared to be older, hard, veterans.  There were no freckled-face youths; Einarsen was taking his best troops.  Is he expecting trouble?  Well, there ARE over 200 Indians on the reservation…I guess it’s best to be prepared.
           If something did happen…Dan had fought Indians a few times himself, and decided he was glad Einarsen was taking experienced troops.  Though he wondered if 25 would be enough…
Tuesday, May 17, mid-morning…
             Given the distance from the fort to the reservation—about 50 miles—and Einarsen’s need for comfort and service—it wasn’t until Tuesday morning that the platoon arrived.  For the most part, Dan had kept to himself on the ride to the reservation, and the troops had largely ignored him.  Sergeant Woolsthorpe, however, had made sure that the sheriff had what he needed.
           It was clear day, with a brilliant high, blue sky, though cool and windy.  Nobody was expecting what they found at the Big Horn village.  Dan was shocked.  “Looks like somebody has already been here, Colonel Einarsen,” he said, as they rode in tandem at the head of the column.
           Since Schafer and his men had struck Sunday night, the Indians had had a day to clean up and try to bring some semblance of order back to their camp.  It didn’t look like they had done much.  Most of the houses had been burned down and there were men and women sifting through the rubble, trying to locate anything that might still be useful.  Yet, when the soldiers rode into the village, all worked ceased and everyone watched them. 
           Einarsen’s countenance was stern as he looked around.  He finally replied to Dan’s statement.  “Yes, it appears you might be correct, Sheriff Harmon.”  He held up his hand for “halt” as he pulled up in front of the burned-out shell of the Indian Agency office.  “I wonder where Wilcox is,” he murmured, looking around. 
           Not spotting him, he spoke to a nearby Indian.  “Where’s the agent?”
           The Indian just shrugged.
           “Where’s Fleet Fox?”
           The native threw a finger in the direction of Wilcox’s house, which Schafer’s men had not torched.
           “Go get him,” Einarsen ordered.  “And Wilcox, too, if he’s there.”
           The Indian just stared at him for a moment, then slowly shambled off in the direction of the house.
           “We might as well dismount, men,” Einarsen said.  “Stretch your legs.”
           “At ease!” Sergeant Woolsthorpe shouted.
           Dan dismounted and his eyes searched the village.  People were starting to move around again, shuffling burned boards around, seemingly almost aimless in their actions and purposes.  A defeated people…Nobody would meet his eye, except for one young man, about 100 feet away, who was wearing a torn white undershirt with grey suspenders holding up baggy britches.  His hair was short, but he was wearing a red bandana around his forehead, Indian-style.  His eyes flamed with bitterness and malice.  This was Swift Current, of course, though Harmon didn’t know his name.
           “What happened here?” Einarsen said out loud, to anyone in general who might want to respond.  Nobody did.  When he got no answer, he spoke to Dan.  “Do you think it was some internal catastrophe or that this was deliberate?”
           “It could have been internal, I suppose,” Dan replied, “but my guess is this was a premeditated, calculated attempt to destroy the village.”  He walked over to one of the nearby ruined homes and examined it for a moment.  “It was a couple of nights ago.  The wood is all cool now.  I hope nobody was hurt.”
           “Well, they have nobody to blame but themselves if anyone was hurt,” the colonel answered.  “Confound it, where is that mouse, Wilcox?”
           The mouse didn’t appear, of course, but within a few minutes, Fleet Fox came ambling up.  He looked at Einarsen, then at Harmon, and nodded briefly to the latter.  The sheriff also noticed, from the corner of his eye, that the young man with the red headdress had come closer, though still standing about 25 feet away.
           Einarsen spoke first.  “What happened here, Fleet Fox?”
           The old Indian was silent for a moment or two.  Then, “white men come.  Burn the village.”
           “Two nights ago.”
           “After dark?”
           A nod.
           “Then, if it was dark, how do you know it was white men?  Did you see them?”
           “I did.”  Everybody turned.  It was Swift Current who had spoken and he came closer.  “Five of them.  They carried bottles full of oil, with wicks.  They lit the wicks, threw the bottles against the houses.  The fires started and the wind did the rest.”
           Harmon once again observed the young man.  He was about average size for an Indian, but well built, with deep, dark, intelligent eyes.  A young man of no fear…and much anger…
             Einarsen was also inspecting the Swift Current, looking at him through the tip of his nose.  “You saw all of this?”
           Swift Current pulled something from his pants pocket and tossed it at the feet of the army colonel.  It was a piece of glass, obviously broken from a bottle.  “Smell it,” the Indian said.
           Einarsen didn’t bother picking up the glass, but Harmon did, and he did as Swift Current suggested.  “Whale oil,” he said.  “Wouldn’t take much of that to light up the place.”
           “And, before you ask,” Swift Current said, “whale oil is not part of the ‘blessings’ the Great White Father bestows upon his humble red children.”  The sarcasm was evident in his voice, as evident as the anger in his eyes.
           “Who are you, young man?  Are you the chief here now?” Einarsen asked.
           “No, Fleet Fox is still our…respected…chief.  My name is Swift Current.  Or ‘Elbert,’ as Mighty Mouse Wilcox named me.”
           Harmon almost couldn’t help but laugh.  The name “Elbert” didn’t fit this young man at all.
           The young brave continued.  “I am son of Bear Claw…cousin of Summer Rain.”  He spoke with a deep, almost historic, pride.  He’s an impressive young man…
             If Swift Current thought either of those names would mean anything to Einarsen or Harmon, he was disappointed.  The colonel spoke, looking at Fleet Fox.  “Speaking of Wilcox, where is he?”
           Einarsen was taken aback and even Harmon stared at the old Indian.  “Dead?” the colonel echoed.
           Fleet Fox merely nodded.
           “How?  What happened?”
           Fleet Fox shrugged.  “Old man, baby, Mighty Mouse die in attack.”
           “How was Wilcox killed?  The fire?”
           “Knife in the heart.”
           Einarsen and Harmon glanced at each other, the colonel’s face stern.  “Who did it?”
           Fleet Fox shrugged again.  “Fleet Fox didn’t see.”
           “Do any of your people know who killed the agent?”  Einarsen asked, and then turned his head towards Swift Current.
           Fleet Fox answered.  “I have not asked if anyone knows who killed the man mouse.  We have been busy…”  He let the thought drift.
           Einarsen spoke to Swift Current.  “Do you know who killed Wilcox?”
           Swift Current slowly shook his head.  “No.  But I wouldn’t tell you if I did.”
           Einarsen’s face clouded up.  “Did you do it?”
           Swift Current turned sarcastic again.  “I told you that I didn’t know who did it.  If I had done it, I would know it, wouldn’t I?”
           “Yes, but you said you wouldn’t tell.”
           “Then why did you ask me a stupid question?  Is this the kind of intelligence they teach in American schools?”
           Harmon could see Einarsen’s blood beginning to boil, but the colonel controlled himself.  He turned back to Fleet Fox.  “I am sorry about your village, Fleet Fox, and the people who were killed.  If white men did it, then we will do all we can to bring the guilty persons to justice.  But that is not why I came.  There have been six whites killed now, ranchers, in the manner that has been described to you before.  We now know, because of an eyewitness and other irrefutable evidence, that Indians are the ones who have been committing these murders.  The closest Indians to those crimes are in this village.  It is almost certain that the fire started here two nights ago was in response to the killings of these innocent white families.  I am quite sure you know everything that goes on in this village, and thus I am asking you, for the sake of your people and mine, that you give into my custody those Indians who committed those crimes.  They will get a fair trial in a civil court.”
           Harmon heard Swift Current snort at that.
           Einarsen shot him a glance, but continued to speak to Fleet Fox.  “More white deaths, Fleet Fox, will only result in the strong possibility of more Indian deaths.  Neither of us wants this.  I ask you, chief to chief, to hand over to me those who are responsible for the white deaths.”
           Before Fleet Fox could respond, Swift Current spoke up again.  “Are you going to give to us those responsible for the deaths in this village two nights ago?”
           Einarsen turned to him.  “I told you, they will be caught and punished, and done so according to the laws of this territory.”
           Swift Current looked away, obviously not impressed by Einarsen’s assurance.  “That’s comforting to know,” the young man murmured.
           Einarsen spoke again to the Indian chief.  “Fleet Fox, who has been killing the whites?”
           The old Cheyenne shook his head, but would not look at Einarsen.  “I do not know.”
           “Yes, you do,” Einarsen countered.  “Come now, Fleet Fox, I know you wish to protect your people, but I also know that you realize the gravity of this circumstance.  Sheriff Harmon has told me that the people of his town are angry and thirsting for revenge.  Apparently, some have already struck.”  He motioned with his hand towards the devastated village.  “It will only get worse.  The only way to stop it is for you to surrender to me those who are guilty.  It is the only way.”
           This time Fleet Fox did look at the colonel.  “I do not know, Colonel Einarsen, who killed the white farmers.  It was no one from this village.”
           “Fleet Fox, it has to be someone from this village because you are the only Indians within 500 miles of here.”
           The old Indian was stubborn.  “It was no one from this village.”
           Einarsen gave him a disgusted look, then turned to Swift Current.  “You are a hothead.  Are you one of the renegades who has been killing whites?”
           Swift Current gave the colonel a sickening sweet, sarcastic smile, but said nothing.  To Harmon, there was something familiar in that smile, but he couldn’t quite place it.
           Einarsen looked around.  “I see only about 100 people here, Fleet Fox.  Where are the rest?”
           “None have left the reservation?”
           “No.  Where would they go?”
           It was a simple, but good question, and one for which Einarsen had no answer.  “All right, Fleet Fox.  Here is my decision.  I and my men will stay here on the reservation tonight.  Tomorrow morning you will hand over to me the four braves who are guilty of murdering the white ranchers, plus the person who killed Wiley Wilcox.  If you refuse to do this, then I will place you, personally, under arrest and you will be taken back to Fort Pearson and held in custody.  You will be tried as an accessory to murder.”
           Fleet Fox’s face was impassive, but Harmon could see Swift Current’s eyes blaze, his jaws tighten, and his fists clench.  Einarsen saw it, too, and the colonel spoke to the young Indian.  “I’m sure you, too, know who killed Wilcox and the ranchers.  In fact, I highly suspect you were in on it.  But I won’t arrest you.  I’ll just let you live with the knowledge that your chief has been arrested and will probably be hanged.  For something you did.  Can you live with that?”  Still, looking at Swift Current, but now speaking to Lieutenant Fielder, Einarsen said, “Lieutenant, let’s spend the day searching as much of the reservation possible for unshod ponies.  We’ll camp near the village and leave tomorrow.”
           “Yes, sir,” the Lieutenant said.
           “Sheriff Harmon, this is an army matter now,” Einarsen said.  “If you wish, you may return to Arkmore.  I will keep you abreast of happenings.  Please try to keep your civilians under control.”
           Harmon, frankly, could see no reason to stay.  Einarsen had indeed, in the name of the United States government, taken command, and the sheriff was, at the moment, no longer a player in the game.  At the moment.  So, he nodded and said, “All right, Colonel.  I would appreciate you letting me know what is happening.  The people of the territory will need to know.”
           “I’ll wire you soon,” Einarsen said, and walked off.  Fleet Fox sauntered off towards Wilcox’s house.
           Harmon was still looking at Swift Current, who was staring at him.  “It won’t work, you know,” the sheriff said to the young brave.
           “What won’t work?”
           “More killing.  More savagery.  More terror.  I’m sorry, but your ways are past.  The white man is here to stay.  All you’ll do is get more of your own people killed.”
           Swift Current sneered.  “You sound like my cousin,” and he turned to walk away.
           In that moment, Harmon knew, but he thought he’d ask anyway.  “Who did you say your cousin is?”
           Swift Current looked back.  “Summer Rain, the daughter of Winter Wolf…and a white woman.”
           Harmon slowly nodded.  “She has the devil’s eyes, doesn’t she.”
           Swift Current smiled, a wry smile, and one that didn’t touch his eyes.  “Yes, white eyes sheriff, Summer Rain has been…cursed…with the devil’s eyes.”  This time when he walked away, Harmon didn’t stop him.
           Summer Rain…
           Allie Summer…