Chapter Ten—Chorus

Friday, May 13…
             There wasn’t much spring in the territory that year.  The weather went from frosty in late March to a little too warm in mid May.  Rainfall had been infrequent and short, thus the complaints made at the Kinsey Restaurant (see chapter 5) were beginning to be actualized.  There wasn’t much green grass for cattle to graze on, though the watering holes would probably not dry up unless summer was inordinately hot.  And hay was already in the ground in anticipation of a greater-than-normal demand.
             Cottonwood and Matilda Doughty were a couple of those ranchers—small ones, in this case—who figured on needing some of that hay before the summer was over.  They had a section of land about eight miles from Tin Cup, where Boomer Gulf was marshal, running maybe 50 head of cattle, plus a few horses, and smaller domestic animals and a garden to supplement their food supply.  Cottonwood—named that because he was born under just such a tree—was wondering if he ought to plant a few acres of hay himself.
           “Too late to do that now, isn’t it, Cotton?” Matilda asked him.
           “I don’t know, mebbe not.  We usually get a frost in April which makes for bad plantin’, but we didn’t get that this year.  I know the farmers done got their seed in the ground and some of its already a-comin’ up.”  He scratched his near bald, 50 year old head.  “I just don’t want to be buyin’ hay, if’n I can help it, but if we don’t get some rain soon, the grass ain’t gonna be edible.”

           “There isn’t going to be any grass to eat,” his wife replied, and continued darning a pair of Cotton’s socks.  “It’s not the first time we’ve had to buy hay.  It won’t be disastrous.”
           “I know, but I still hate to do it.”  Cotton and Matilda had been ranching in the region for almost 20 years now, one of the very first couples to homestead.  They’d always gotten along well with the natives, including giving them a cow or two in hard times, so they’d been left alone during the years of Indian trouble.  They’d been childless until eleven years previous when Matilda finally gave birth to a girl, Molly.  She was their only child and they doted on her.  Since Matilda was now 48, they knew Molly would indeed be their sole offspring.
           As they talked, it was evening, nearly bedtime, and the three of them were sitting around the kitchen table in their small, but comfortable, log home.  The house only had five rooms—a kitchen, dining area which actually connected to the living room, and then two bedrooms.  Cotton had added the second bedroom when Molly was on the way.  “I don’t want no screamin’ baby in here while I’m a-tryin’ to sleep.”  He had said it with a twinkle in his eyes, but he had built the bedroom regardless.
           At the moment, Cotton was cleaning his rifle, Matilda, as noted, was darning socks, and Molly was struggling with her homework.  “Momma, I just don’t understand this math stuff.  What’s three times seven?”
           “Well, I don’t know, dear.  That’s what you’re supposed to figure out.  How many is two sevens?”
           Molly started counting with her fingers.  “Uh uh,” her mother scolded.  “You’re to do the multiplying in your head, not on your fingers.”
           The girl made a frustrated sound and threw her pencil down.  “What do I need to know all these numbers for anyway?  I want to grow up to be a rancher’s wife, just like you, and I don’t need to know what three sevens are to do that.”
           “How you gonna help your husband count cows?” Cotton asked, amused.
           “He can count his own cows.  He won’t need my help for that.  Besides, we’re goin’ to have a great big ranch, so we’ll hire a bunch of cowboys to do the countin’ for us.”
           “But what if you have more than seven kids?” her father teased her.
           “Ugh.  Who wants that many?”
           Her mother cut in.  “Molly, dear, you need to get some basic education—reading, writing, ‘rithmatic.  It’s important to get some good learning.”
           “Hmph,” the girl replied, and crossed her arms.  “I don’t know why.  Pa can’t read or write.”
           “I can so,” Cotton protested.  “I’m just a little slow at.”
           The girl giggled.  “I don’t know much, pa, but I do know that ‘Cotton Doughty’ ain’t spelled with a ‘X’.”
           “Yeah, well, I want you to be better than me, though,” her father admonished.  “So you pay attention to what Miss Henderson tells you and do your school lessons.”
           “I can’t pay attention in school,” the girl replied.  “Billy Waters sits behind me and he’s always pullin’ my pigtails.  I turned around and hit him yesterday and Miss Henderson gave me a hidin’ for it.  I was gonna whup Billy after school but he outrun me.”
           “Well, next time I see Miss Henderson,” Matilda said, apparently not at all disturbed that her daughter had gotten a “hidin’” in school, “I’ll ask her to move you to another chair so that Billy Waters won’t be sitting behind you anymore.”
           “Oh, don’t do that, ma!” Molly looked aghast.  Cotton and Matilda caught each other’s eye and smiled. 
           “Get to work on your homework, dear,” Matilda said, “and if Billy Waters gives you any more trouble, you just let me know and I’ll see Mrs. Henderson about it.  You shouldn’t be getting in trouble for the naughty things Billy is doing.”  Molly grumbled, but Matilda knew it would be the last she heard of Billy pulling her daughter’s pigtails.
           Then, Cotton opened his mouth to say something to his wife, but stopped and frowned.  He cocked his head.  “Do you hear somethin’ funny?” he asked.
           Matilda paused and listened.  She indeed heard something, but it was faint.  “It might be just the wind.”
           Cotton shook his head.  “That’s not the wind.”
           The sound grew louder.   And it became more distinct.  And what little hair Cotton had on the back of his neck began to stand up.
             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…
               Matilda looked at her husband with shock in her eyes.  “That sounds like…”
             The Doughtys then heard thunk thunk…thunk…from the roof of their house.
             “Injuns!” Cotton said, and began quickly reassembling his rifle.  “Molly, get me some of that ammo in that desk drawer over there!”  He pointed.
             The girl, frightened, jumped up and ran to a small table next to the living room sofa, where she opened a drawer and pulled out a box of .44-40 caliber Winchester bullets.
             “But…but, Cotton,” Matilda said, still a little dazed, “the Indians have never given us any trouble.  Surely they don’t mean us any harm.”
             The drumbeat and chanting continued…

             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…
           “Yeah, mebbe so,” Cotton said, loading his weapon as quickly as he could.  “But you heard about them killin’s over in Arkmore and Kinsey, and I ain’t takin’ no chances. Them sounds likes war drums to me.”  Then he stopped and sniffed.  “Fire!  They set the house on fire!”
             Molly screamed and pointed.  Her father and mother looked up.
             Entering the house from the kitchen door were three men.
             “Molly!  Run!  To town!  As fast as you can!”
             “But, pa—“
             “Now!” And Cotton pushed his daughter towards the living room and the only other exit in the house.
               The girl, whimpering, ran for the front door.  The last thing she heard and saw before she opened the door and left the house was her mother scream, her father grunt, and an arrow pierce his chest.  Molly darted outside and ran as fast as she could.  She glanced back once, seeing that the little home was, indeed, burning.  She stopped, torn over what to do, thinking she should go back and…do what?  The drums and chant continued non-stop, almost monotonously…

             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…

     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…
               Molly heard her mother scream again and was about to run back to the house.  But just then, she saw two men coming out of the front door.  One of them lifted a bow and pointed at her.  The girl’s eyes got big and she heard the arrow shaft as it whizzed by her.  It thunked the ground about ten feet behind her.  That settled Molly’s decision.  She turned and ran…and ran…and ran….crying the whole way…
            But it was several minutes before she could no longer hear…

            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…

               After missing his first shot, the man who had fired the arrow at Molly started to notch another one and shoot again, but his companion stopped him.
             “But she’ll get away,” the thwarted shooter complained.
             His partner nodded.  “Yes.  That is exactly what we want her to do.”  He looked at his partner in crime and smiled.  “After her report, there will no longer be any doubt who is doing this…”
            The other man smiled back and watched the running form of Molly, who was not almost out of sight in the darkness.  “Yes…no doubt at all…”

           Molly came to the road that border her family’s property, but she had the presence of mind not run in the middle of it, fearing that the men who had attacked her house would find her there.   So she followed the road about 25 yards in, continuing to look back in case of pursuit.  Twice she stopped and cried bitterly for a few minutes, sure of her parents’ fate, but she knew she had to keep going, so she would pick herself up and continue on.  She did not need to go all the way into Tin Cup, for about five miles from her home—nearly three miles from town—lived Jules, Harriet, Brooks, and Carol Henderson, the latter being her school teacher.  The Hendersons also owned a small ranch.  Brooks, a 21 year old young man, helped with the ranch chores, but Carol worked in town, of course.  She was only 23 years old and had only been teaching in Tin Cup for a little over a year.  Still lived with her parents, she figured that beat paying rent somewhere in town.
             As Molly neared the house, she saw a light in the window, and running up to the front door, she banged on the door as hard as she could.  “Miss Henderson!  Miss Henderson!  Oh, please, open the door!  Please!  Oh, Indians have come…they’ve…oh, they’ve killed...“
             At this point, the door opened.  It was Brooks, but the rest of the family was right behind him.  Brooks didn’t immediately recognize Molly, but Carol did.  “Molly!” she said.  “What are you--?”
             The girl, crying in earnest now, ran to her teacher and wrapped her arms around the young woman’s waist.  She couldn’t speak for a few moments…tears of sadness for her parents, tears of relief for her own safety—the whole gamut of emotions flooded Molly tender heart.  Carol held on to her until Molly could finally speak.
             “What was she sayin’?” Jules looked at Brooks.  “Somethin’ about Injuns?”  
             Brooks, who was a tall, slender youth with greasy black hair hanging over one side of his face, but nonetheless, a solid young man, quickly scanned outside the door.  “Yeah, I think she said Indians.  Get the rifles, pa, just in case.”
             Carol and Harriet were trying to calm Molly down.  “Come over here and sit down, dear,” Harriet said, taking the girl by the hand.  Molly was still weeping but she allowed herself to be led to the couch where she sat down.  Carol sat next to her and held her hand.
             “Oh…oh, it was so horrible,” Molly said.  “We…were at the table…just talkin’…and all the sudden....we…we hear these drums….Boom boom boom boom…and then some singin’…it was Injun singin’, those…chants they do.  And then ma screamed and some men came into the kitchen.  Pa was gonna shoot ‘em, but…” and here she started crying again…”one of them savages shot him with an arrow.  He told me to run.  I heard ma scream…one of them shot at me…they were burning the house down….”  She couldn’t continue and buried her head in her hands and couldn’t continue for a few moments.
             The Henderson family all looked at each other.  “Brooks,” Jules said, “go get our horses saddled.  We’re goin’ into town and roust up the marshal.  We’ll go out to the Doughty place with ‘im and see what’s happened.”
             Brooks gritted his teeth.  “It sounds pretty obvious what happened, pa.  The same thing that happened to those folks over in Arkmore and Kinsey.”
             “Yeah, but we gotta make sure.  Shake a leg, son, we need to get goin’.”  Brooks left the house, heading for the barn.  Jules spoke to the two women.  “Take care of her.  We don’t need her to go with us, but the marshal might want to stop by an’ talk to her.”
             “Oh, no, Jules,” Harriet said, and she gently stroked Molly’s hair.  The girl was still crying, curled up against her teacher, who had an arm around her.  “Don’t make the girl have to repeat any of this.  It must be horrible for her.”  Harriet shook her head.  “Why?  The Doughtys were such wonderful folks.”  A tear came to her eye as she looked up at her husband.  “Why are they doing this again, Jules?  I thought the Indian trouble was all over.”
             Jules sighed.  “Well, apparently it ain’t.  But this time, somethin’ will be done.  We ain’t gonna let the army sit around and twiddle its thumbs any more while them savages kill us off one by one.”  Taking his rifle, he headed for the front door.  “We’ll be back as soon as we can,” he said.
             “Be careful, dad,” Carol said.  “They may still be out there.”
             “Well, if they are, they better watch out for us.  I aim to shoot any Indian I see, and I ain’t gonna bother to ask him to smoke no peace pipe with me first, neither…”
             Deputy Walter Kyle was in the marshal’s office.  He pulled the 9 PM to 9 AM shift while Marshal Boomer Gulf worked the days.  Kyle was an older man, nearing 60, but he was still tough enough to handle what few rowdies Tin Cup had in an evening.  Gulf usually stayed up and helped him on Fridays and Saturdays, but by the time Jules and Brooks Henderson arrived in town, the marshal had gone home.
             Jules told Deputy Kyle what Molly had reported.  Kyle grimaced.  “I don’t reckon there’s any chance the girl was just havin’ a nightmare?” he asked.
             “She was an awful long way from home, Deputy, to be sleep walkin’.”
             “Yeah.”  Kyle scratched his ear.  “Well, let’s go round up Marshal Gulf.  He’ll want to ride out there with us.  We ain’t gonna be able to see much at night, but we can find out if Cotton and Matilda’s alive or not.”
             The marshal was already in bed and wasn’t especially happy about being woke up, but he was more angry about what the Hendersons told him.  “If this is another attack…we’re gonna catch hell…”  He sighed.  “Let me get my britches on and we’ll ride out there.  Walter, you stay in town in case you’re needed.”
             An hour later the three men pulled up at the Doughty house—what was left of it.  The place had been burned to the ground.  There were still some small patches of fires and embers burning in a few places, but for the most part, everything was destroyed, including the farm and outbuildings.  The corral fences had been pulled down, but Gulf found it interesting that the horses were still nearby.  “They didn’t take the horses,” he murmured to himself.  “But then, Dan told me they hadn’t taken them before.”  He shook his head.  “Who can figure an Indian?”
             He sat on his horse and the Henderson men took their cue from him.  “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to find much at night, in fact, I don’t really want to disturb anything.  I’d like to be able to see if I can find some Indian sign and if we all go stompin’ around the place, we might mess everything up.”
             “We gotta at least see if we can find Cotton and Matilda,” Jules Henderson said.
             Marshal Gulf nodded.  “Yeah, although I think it’s pretty obvious that what the girl told you is true.  You two sit your horses and I’ll go scrounge around the house a bit, see if I can spot anything.”
             He dismounted and walked over to the still smoldering ruins of what had once been a nice, tidy home.  There wasn’t much moon, so it was hard to see, but he carefully picked his way into what had been the living room; the rocks of the fireplace were still standing.  Gulf then worked his way towards the kitchen; there were burnt logs and ashes everywhere.  He shook his head.  “I just can’t see well enough to see if there are any bodies in here,” he called out to the Hendersons.  “Let me go out back.”  He carefully managed to navigate the kitchen and then left the house where the back door had been.  He stood on the back porch—what was left of it—his hands on his hips, looking around.  There was nothing to be seen.  He shook his head and started back through the house; he didn’t want to walk in the yard lest he wipe out some tracks of the killers.  As he turned back into the kitchen, he saw a faint light on the floor in what had been the dining room.  Walking over carefully, the marshal realized it wasn’t a light—or hadn’t been, he couldn’t see it any more.  A reflection of something off the moon…  He walked over to where he had seen the light and knelt down.  He grimaced, then sighed.  Reaching down, he grabbed a necklace—a cross, warped from the heat, but still distinguishable—that was resting loosely on some ashes…ashes of what were clearly a human form.  Gritting his teeth in anger, the marshal stood up and left the house.
             “Find anything, Marshal?” Jules asked him as Gulf walked over to him and Brooks.
             Gulf showed him the cross necklace.  “Obviously this belonged to Matilda.  Nothing but ashes.”  He beat a fist against his saddle.  “That buffoon Einarsen better do something now.  This has got to stop.”
             Jules and Brooks had been at the town meeting in Arkmore a few weeks before.  Leaning against his saddle horn and staring down at the Tin Cup marshal, Jules Henderson said softly, “You know, Boomer, that feller at that meeting mighta had the best idea o’ all.”
             Gulf looked at him. “What idea?”
             Henderson raised up and took hold of his horse’s reins.  “Get a bunch of us and go down to that reservation and give ‘em a good lesson in manners.  Send a few of ‘em to the devil and that’ll let ‘em know we ain’t gonna put up with this no more.”
             The marshal mounted his horse.  “Jules, let’s hope this gets the army moving so it won’t come to that.”  He turned his horse.  “I’ll come back out here in the morning and check everything out, then ride over to Arkmore and talk to Dan Harmon.  One way or the other, something is going to be done this time.  I guarantee that.”
             Marshal Boomer Gulf didn’t know how right he was.  But what happened wasn’t what he expected, either.
             Gulf arrived back at the Doughty ranch just after sunup the next morning.  There were still a few embers with little trails of smoke rising from the burnt-out shell of the house, but for the most part the worst had been done.  The whole place was in ruins, of course, with all the building burned completely to the ground.  The horses that Gulf had noticed the night before were peacefully munching on some grass a couple hundred yards from the house.
             With a sigh, the Tin Cup marshal dismounted and started carefully searching around.  He wasn’t a supreme expert on reading sign, but like most lawmen, was capable of interpreting most of what he saw.  There were moccasin tracks coming from the other side of the barn, and then the hoof prints of some unshod horses.  Because there were a lot of both, and they were scattered throughout the yard, Gulf couldn’t determine exactly how many men or horses had been involved, but it was obviously more than one.  Probably the same four as before…Having made that deduction, he then re-entered the house through the kitchen.  From what he could tell, this was direction from which the assailants had come.  The marshal made his way back into the dining room where he had found Matilda’s necklace and, in the light of day, saw some scraps of clothing and shards of human bone—in two places, indicating two bodies.  He knelt down beside what had been Cotton Doughty’s body, and with a grimace on his face, reached down and snatched an Indian arrowhead from the burnt-out chest cavity.  Gulf gritted his teeth and squeezed the arrowhead in anger, then feeling a little sick to his stomach, got to his feet and left the house.  There was nothing else he needed to see.  When he got back to Tin Cup, he’d have Walter Kyle make some arrangements to bury the ashes of Cotton and Matilda and to see that Molly was cared for, though Jules Henderson said that his family would provide for the girl until something permanent could be decided.
             But the first order of business for Marshal Boomer Gulf was to ride over to Arkmore and talk to Sheriff Dan Harmon.  Conveniently, the Doughty ranch was in the direction of Arkmore, so Gulf arrived there about mid-morning.
             Harmon was in his office.  He nodded when Gulf walked in, but then frowned at the expression on the marshal’s face.
             “Howdy, Boomer.  Is this a social call?  Have a cup of coffee, if you want one,” Harmon said, and motioned to the pot on the stove across the room.
             Gulf replied, “Thanks, Dan,” and headed for the coffee, “but, no, this isn’t a social visit.”  He poured a cup then looked at the sheriff.  “They hit again.”
             He didn’t need to identify “they.”  Angry and frustrated, Harmon said, “Last night?”
             “Cotton Doughty.  Got his wife Matilda, too, but the girl, Molly, escaped.  Do you know them?”
             Though the Doughtys had lived closer to Tin Cup than Arkmore, they did ride into the latter town occasionally because it was larger and had a few more provisions, mainly foodstuffs and clothing that Matilda liked.  So Harmon nodded his head.  “Yes, I know—knew—them.  But Molly got away, you say?”
             Gulf briefly outlined the details as he knew them.  “I haven’t talked to Molly myself.  Jules and Brooks Henderson came into town and told me.  But from what they say she said, and what I saw out at the Doughty ranch, she had the story pretty straight.”
             Harmon was thoughtful.  “I wonder how she managed to get away.  Maybe they just didn’t see her.  That would be interesting to find out.”
             “Yes, it would, but I imagine the poor girl’s in shock at the moment and will be for awhile.  I don’t really want to be questioning her.”  Then, he paused for a moment.  “Dan, this will be all over the area before the day’s out and the fat’s fixing to hit the fire.  The people around here aren’t going to stand for this.  The army’s got to do something now.”
             Harmon nodded.  “They sure do.  And you say all the sign around the Doughty place pointed to Indians.”
             “I’m not as good at reading sign as you are,” Boomer answered, “but there were moccasin tracks and unshod pony hoof prints everywhere.  Oh, and I found this in Cotton’s charred body.”  He reached into his pocket, pulled out the arrowhead, and tossed it on Harmon’s desk.
             The sheriff picked it up and looked at it.  “You’ve got more moxy than I do if you reached into a dead body and pulled this out.”
             “It was nothing but ashes, Dan.  Yeah, it wasn’t especially easy, but it was evidence that I thought we needed to have.”
             “You’re right, Boomer, and that’s good work.”  The sheriff set the arrowhead aside, sighed, and rubbed his eyes.  “I’ll ride over the fort the first of the week and talk to Einarsen again.  He can’t keep ignoring this.”
             “But how long do you think it will take Washington before they authorize him to do something?”
             Harmon looked at the marshal, the skepticism obvious on his face.  “Well, maybe he can do something on his own.”
             Boomer grunted.  “Yeah, but will he?”
             Harmon’s face turned hard.  “He’s better, before it’s too late.”
             But, unbeknownst to the good sheriff, it was already too late…