Chapter One—Ay o lay lale lo e-la

Earlier in the year, early March…
           It was frigid, bitterly so, but a bright night, with a three-quarters moon, and countless stars shining down on the small ranch in the east-central part of the territory.  A beautiful night—although it wasn’t going to end that way for Ted and Melissa Britz.

           It wasn’t especially late, but it got dark fairly early this time of the year.  Ted hadn’t finished all his chores yet.  He needed to fork a little more hay for Susie, the milk cow, stack some more firewood next to the house, and make sure the horses had enough water.  It’ll probably freeze before morning, Ted thought, but at least they can have a drink before it does.  He wasn’t too concerned yet about the 15 head of cattle he had on the 160 homestead he and Melissa owned.  It wasn’t that cold.  But it was severe enough, especially the biting wind, that Ted was in a hurry to finish his work, and get inside the warm house to eat the supper his new bride was preparing.  He could actually smell the ham, and his stomach apparently could smell it, too, because it was growling ferociously.
             The barn, where Ted was headed, was a simple structure, but well built.  It had no loft, but part of the corral on the south side had a tin overhang where the four horses and Susie could get out of the weather.  Ted had deliberately built that overhang on the south side to protect his animals from the north wind.  Several hay bales were stacked against the back wall and there were a few chickens milling around, clucking and bobbing and picking up anything from the ground that appeared edible.  Ted had already thrown them a handful of feed so he wasn’t going to mess with them anymore.
           The water pump was next to the log house, which was maybe 20 yards from the barn.   It was right after he had filled a bucket and was headed for the barn when he heard it.  At first, it didn’t register, but about halfway between house and barn, with the bucket of water in his hand, Ted stopped.  The wind carried a sound to his ears, and it was a rhythmic sound…

           BOOM boom boom boom BOOM boom boom boom BOOM boom boom boom…

           Ted’s skin crawled as the chanting began…

           Ay o lay lale lo e-la, lay-o
           Ay o lay lale lo e-la
           el-lay o lola lo e-la, lay-o
           Ay o lay lale lo e-la…

           It seemed distant, but Ted knew sounds could be deceptive at night. 

    BOOM boom boom boom BOOM boom boom boom BOOM boom boom boom…
             Ay o lay lale lo e-la, lay-o
           Ay o lay lale lo e-la
           el-lay o lola lo e-la, lay-o
           Ay o lay lale lo e-la…

           Ted’s first thought was, it can’t be.  Not any more.  The army told us that was over…His second thought was of his wife, Melissa.  But Ted thought too slowly…
           Three men appeared from around the corner of the barn.  They took a few steps towards Ted, then stopped, side-by-side, about three feet apart.  The young rancher saw them and his eyes got huge and his heart leaped into his throat.  
           “Injuns!” he said, dropping the bucket.  It was the last word he ever spoke and the last deed he ever performed.  For less than a second later, the metal point and dogwood shaft of an arrow buried itself deep in the lower part of his heart.  Ted was dead before he hit the ground.
           Ted had a nice pate of curly black hair…but not for long…

           Melissa was in the house, humming a gentle tune, a soft, dreamy smile on her face, finalizing the ham, beans, and bread that she and Ted would have for supper.  She had a really nice surprise for him.  She had preserved some apples—unbeknownst to Ted—and had prepared an apple pie which she was going to stick in the oven as soon as she removed the ham.  They could have dessert and coffee soon after dinner.  The thought pleased Melissa greatly because she knew Ted loved apple pie.
             The two young people—they were both in their early 20s--had been married for less than six months and Melissa thought she might be pregnant with their first child—she wasn’t quite sure yet.  The government was still allowing homesteads in the territory and, right before their marriage, Ted had filed and obtained one.  And he had worked hard to improve the land so that he and Melissa could keep it.  Their range was mostly flat, but lovely, snow-covered peaks could be seen in the distance.  Melissa wasn’t an overly attractive woman, being a little short and plump, but she loved her home, she loved her husband, she loved the people of the nearby town of Arkmore, and she was looking forward to a wonderful future.
           The dream ended abruptly, tragically, and horrifically.
           Melissa had not heard any of the sounds outside, nor did Ted’s last word reach her ears, so she had no idea what had happened to him.  In fact, she never found out, though in her final moments of life she had a pretty good idea.  Three men—“Injuns”—entered, one by one, through the back door and into the kitchen.  Melissa saw them and terror filled her soul.  She didn’t get a real good look at them because they immediately doused the light in the room and were on her a second later.  The young woman screamed…and screamed…and screamed…
           And each of her screams was serenaded by….
           BOOM boom boom boom BOOM boom boom boom BOOM boom boom boom…
             Ay o lay lale lo e-la, lay-o
           Ay o lay lale lo e-la
           el-lay o lola lo e-la, lay-o
           Ay o lay lale lo e-la….

           It was a nightmare that lasted…too long.  And it ended…with Melissa’s long blonde hair hanging where it was never intended to hang…

   Mary Scottsworth was Melissa Britz’s best friend.  Mary and her husband, Aaron, also owned a homestead and it was a couple of miles from the Britz ranch.  Melissa and Mary had planned to get together at the Scottsworth ranch the day after the Indian raid, but Melissa didn’t show, of course.  Mary wasn’t terribly concerned; her friend tended to be a little scatter-brained and forgetful, so she brushed it off as “Melissa being Melissa.”  Mary would ride over to the Britz house the next afternoon if she didn’t hear from Melissa by noon.
           So, when 12 o’clock the following day arrived and Mary still hadn’t seen Melissa, she had Aaron hitch up the wagon and she headed for the Britz place.  Mary still wasn’t terribly concerned.  The weather remained cold, though it had warmed up a little. Melissa had told Mary that a baby might be on the way, so Mary considered that her friend might have taken ill and did want to check on her.
           As we know, Melissa was far beyond ill.
           One doesn’t live on the western frontier without a good deal of intestinal fortitude and strength.  Still, humans are humans, and when Mary saw the body of Ted Britz lying where he had fallen—and with an Indian arrow sticking up from his chest—and minus a substantial batch of hair—she was horrified and heart-struck.  She unconsciously called out his name, then ran to him.  He was obviously dead, though in the cold weather, his body wasn’t decomposing very rapidly.  Mary’s next thought was of Melissa—and her thoughts and actions ran from dread to fear to tears as she called out her friend’s name and ran towards the house.  It took her less than a minute to find the ravaged body.  Mary shed a few tears, but steeled herself; again, the frontier wasn’t for the feeble of spirit.  She found a blanket and covered the body of her friend.  Then, figuring there really wasn’t much she could do for Ted and Melissa, she got into her wagon, heavy of heart, and hustled into the nearby town of Arkmore to tell the sheriff.
           Sheriff Dan Harmon was probably a little more qualified and capable than his present position of lawman of an outback town like Arkmore placed him.  When Mary told him what she had seen, his face hardened, but he was also a little suspicious.  The woman was obviously in great distress and Harmon thought she might not have seen things very accurately.
           “Indians, you say?” he asked Mary, when she finished her report.
           “I didn’t see anybody,” Mary responded.  “But Ted had an arrow in him, and both he and Melissa…” Mary closed her eyes, fighting back tears.  “Their hair…had been removed. And Melissa…she…her clothes…” 
           “Ok, Mary, you don’t have to tell me any more.  I’ll go out and check immediately.  Why don’t you go on home?  I’ll take care of everything.”
           Mary stood with her head down, wringing her hands.  “It was horrible, Sheriff Harmon. Just…horrible.”  She looked up at that lawman with tear-filled eyes.  “Why? I thought all the Indians…were on reservations…”
           Yes, that’s what Dan Harmon thought, too, but if some of them had decided to take a vacation….but that hasn’t happened in years. The Indians have been very peaceful…why all of a sudden…?  Dan wasn’t fully convinced yet that Indians were the culprits, though he knew Mary was a pretty level-headed young lady and probably had gotten the story correct—or nearly so.  It was a matter that obviously needed investigating—and reporting, if natives were indeed involved.
           Harmon grabbed a couple of men to accompany him; the bodies would have to be brought to town for burial.  Frank Sievers and Ben Alford were handy.
           “Indians?” Sievers asked Harmon, after the sheriff explained what Mary had detailed.  “We ain’t had Indian trouble in a month of Sundays.  Reckon it’s some young bucks who escaped the reservation and decided to go on a killin’?”
           “That’s possible, I suppose,” Dan replied.  “Let’s wait till we get to the Britz’ place before we draw any conclusions.”
           When they arrived at the ranch, Harmon wouldn’t let Sievers or Alford approach Ted’s body until the sheriff had searched around a bit.  He was good at reading sign, and he found the four sets of human tracks—moccasins—as they led from behind the barn to Ted’s body to the house.  He then saw the hoof prints of four unshod horses.  He pointed all this out to Sievers and Alford.
           The Arkmore sheriff sighed.  “It sure looks like Indians.”
           “Yeah,” Ben Alford replied, kneeling over Ted’s body.  “Look at this arrow. Colored bands.  Striped turkey feathers on the end.  That’s Cheyenne, for sure.”  Cheyenne Indians were indeed known for that sort of decoration on their arrows.
           Frank was scratching his head a bit.  “Why didn’t they take the arrow back?  I’d-a figured they would.  And why would they bring their ponies here?  Wouldn’t they just leave them about 100 yards out or so and fetch them when they were finished?”
           Dan shook his head.  “It would be mighty hard to get that arrow out.  But…who knows what an Indian will do or why.”  He looked over at the corral.  “They didn’t even take Ted’s horses.”  He thought a minute.  “Well, that makes sense, I guess.  If they came from the reservation, they couldn’t be found with branded horses or that would give them away for sure.”
             “Dan, the Big Horn Reservation is almost 60 miles from here,” Ben said.  “Why in tarnation would they come this far?”
             The lawman sighed again.  There was a lot to this that didn’t make much sense. “Yeah,” is all he replied to Ben’s statement and question.  “Well, let’s go find Melissa’s body and take them both back to Arkmore.  I’ll have to tell the army that there are apparently some naughty Indians on the prowl…”

           “Don’t make me laugh, sheriff,” Colonel Timothy Einarsen said.  “What makes you think it was Indians? They’ve been tame and docile up here for years now. You must be mistaken.”
           Einarsen was the 51-year old, Grant look-alike, commanding officer of Fort Pearson, a small-sized outpost about 60 miles from Arkmore, and about 50 miles from the territory’s Cheyenne reservation—the Big Horn.  The Northern Cheyenne had been “tame and docile” for so long now—since shortly after the Little Big Horn battle several years before—that the United States government was even considering closing down the fort and moving the troops to another location.  Einarsen hated it in the bleak hot—then cold—Montana territory, so he wished mightily to get another assignment in a more agreeable locale.  But if the Cheyenne started raiding again, even a small number of them, then Fort Pearson would remain open and the colonel would almost surely continue as its commanding officer.  So his response to Dan Harmon’s report was more in hope and annoyance than anything else.
           Harmon, who was in his early 30s with thick brown hair and brown eyes, wasn’t intimidated.  He leaned forward and dropped the arrow, which he had snapped off from Ted Britz’ corpse, onto Einarsen’s desk.  “Do you recognize one of those, Colonel?  I took it from the body of Ted Britz, the murdered man.  He and his wife had both been scalped and it was obvious she had been raped multiple times.  I found four sets of moccasin tracks at the scene and four sets of unshod horses’ hooves.  What would you conclude from that evidence?”
           Up till this last speech, Harmon had only told the colonel that there appeared to be some renegade Indians loose because two settlers had been found murdered.  That was what had elicited Einarsen’s “don’t make me laugh” response.  The arrow Harmon dumped on his desk and the subsequent explanation by the Arkmore sheriff put a little damper on the colonel’s enthusiasm that Indians couldn’t be the problem.  For sure, Einarsen had no love for Indians; but he had less love for his current assignment and didn’t want anything to disturb his possible release from it.
           He didn’t answer Harmon immediately; he was thinking of some face-saving response while he examined the arrow.  “Hmmm,” he murmured, positioning some reading glasses on the tip of his nose as if to better inspect the missile.  “Almost surely Indian.”  He looked at Harmon over the top of his glasses. “Scalped, you say?  And moccasin tracks?”
           Harmon nodded.  “And unshod horses.”
           Einarsen nodded briefly, then called out, “Lieutenant Rogers, front and center, please!”
           The orderly in the outer room, whom Harmon had met earlier in his request to see the commanding officer, and who didn’t look old enough to shave, appeared immediately.  He stood in front of Einarsen’s desk, ramrod straight, his eyes focused on some indeterminate speck on the wall behind his colonel, and he gave his lord and master a razor sharp salute that would have sliced the fur off a grizzly bear.  Straight out of West Point, Harmon thought whimsically.
           “At ease,” Einarsen ordered.  As Rogers almost obeyed, the colonel held out the arrow.  “Does this look familiar to you, Lieutenant?”
           Rogers took the broken arrow and studied it for several seconds.  He then put it back on the colonel’s desk and resumed his man of steel posture.  If he’s at ease, I’d hate to see him when he wasn’t…ruminations from Dan Harmon again.
           The Lieutenant answered his commander, saying, “I’m sure I’ve never seen that arrow before, sir.”
           The sheriff hid a grin while a look of exasperation came over the face of Colonel Timothy Einarsen.  “I mean, do you recognize the style? Who might use such a weapon?”
           Here the Lieutenant seemed a little more confident.  “Yessir. We saw pictures of such projectiles in our books at West Point.  This is definitely a weapon an Indian would use.”
           Harmon coughed—an obvious attempt to keep from laughing.  Einarsen gave him a severe glance.  “Yes, Lieutenant, thank you, for confirming that. Have we had any reports lately of any untoward Indian activity in the area?”
           The Lieutenant pondered the question a moment.  “I think one of their cows escaped the reservation a couple of weeks ago and ate some of Old Lady Anson’s daisies in Salt Creek. She was pretty upset about it.”
           Einarsen didn’t trust himself to look at Harmon this time.  “Nothing worse than that?  No missing braves, raids, anything of that sort?”
           “Oh, no, sir.  If I had gotten a report like that, I would have brought it directly to you.”
           “Yes, of course you would have, Lieutenant.  I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t forgotten or overlooked anything. Dismissed.”
           “Yessir. Thank you, sir.”  Rogers’ salute this time would have killed a grizzly if it had hit one.  He turned on his heel and left the room.
           Einarsen pointed to the arrow, took off his glasses, leaned back, and spoke to the lawman.  “If you are right—and I said, if, I’m not ready to conclude yet that this truly was Indian handiwork—but if you are right, sheriff, do you know what it means?”
           Harmon didn’t necessarily consider himself overly bright, but he didn’t necessarily think he was stupid, either.  He sort of shrugged, made a face, and replied, “Well, it means we’ve got some natives who killed some whites.  Beyond that, I won’t hazard a guess.”
           Einarsen answered sharply.  “It means, Sheriff Harmon, that there are some barbarous Cheyenne who left the reservation and went on a killing spree.”
           I thought I said that, Harmon mused.
           The colonel continued, “If that’s the case—and, again, I only say if--then perchance news of this gets out, there could very well be vigilante responses by whites. Which could elicit an equal response from the Cheyenne.  Which could then escalate into a brutal, bloody, and tragic reprisal by the army on people who have caused us no difficulties for years.  We must have firm evidence, Sheriff, that Cheyenne are indeed guilty.  And if this was an action by four renegades, then it would behoove the law of the territory to apprehend them, as quickly as possible, before said escalation and tragedy occurs.”  And before the U.S. government finds out and decides not to close this dump of a fort….
           Harmon sighed inwardly.  Einarsen’s words seemed to imply that the mess was going to be plopped into the sheriff’s lap.  “Isn’t it the army’s responsibility to rein in wayward Indians?”
           “Yes, it is,” Einarsen said, “but you have not yet convinced me that Indians are the culprits here.  Or if some Cheyenne are guilty, that this is more than a single, isolated event that requires a massive response by the United States military.  One does not use a cannon to kill a fly, Sheriff Harmon.  And especially if there is no fly in the first place.”
           “Colonel Einarsen, I have a town to protect and police—“
           “It was two of your citizens who were killed, was it not?”
           “Yes, but by people who are under the army’s jurisdiction.  I can’t be chasing Indians to hell and gone.”
           Einarsen stood up and hitched his britches.  It was obvious to Harmon that the discussion was fixing to come to a close.  “You are begging the question, Sheriff.  Prove to me that Indians were the perpetrators of this crime, and that more such actions are contemplated, and I will act. But until I have that proof…”  He looked at Harmon.  “I have a territory to protect and police, and I cannot spare the men to do your work for you.”
           Now I remember why I always hated officers…Harmon stood up as well.  With a little acid in his voice, he replied, “What other kinds of evidence do you need, Colonel Einarsen, besides an obvious Cheyenne arrow, and Indians sign all over the scene of the crime?  Do you want a signed confession?”
           The colonel’s eyes blazed a moment, but he controlled himself.  “That would be nice, yes.  But let me just reiterate, Sheriff Harmon, we have had absolutely no disturbances, for years, from the Cheyenne.  I simply must have some rationale, some motivation, some further verification that they have broken their covenant of peace and once again are bent on some kind of chaos and mayhem in this territory.  My superiors will not be convinced by a single arrow and a few footprints.”
           For all his irritation, Harmon could see Einarsen’s point.  One isolated raid does not a rebellion make.  And any human—white or Indian—operating within his county could be considered the responsibility of the sheriff.  So he nodded. “All right, Colonel Einarsen. I’ll do some further investigating and see what I can discover.  Let’s just pray that this was a one-time event and that it’s not repeated.”
           And the sheriff hoped the Good Lord was not taking a nap when that prayer went heavenward.