Shadow Riders, The Southern Plains Uprising, 1873 (10 page)

BOOK: Shadow Riders, The Southern Plains Uprising, 1873

He ordered every precaution to be taken, including pegging Big Tree and Satanta out, spread-eagle with iron picket pins and rawhide, at the site of each night's camp.

“What's that Indian's problem?” asked the colonel as he placed a burning twig over his pipebowl that first evening south of Fort Sill.

“Seems a might restless, don't he, Colonel?” answered a captain.

Mackenzie strolled casually over to the patch of grassy ground where Satanta lay squirming and tossing against his taut rawhide tethers. For a moment the chief ceased his gyrations and stared at the soldier chief, hard-eyed and full of hate. But he was not about to let the white man know of his discomfort.

“Sergeant of the guard,” Mackenzie said, not taking his eyes off his prisoner.

“Yes, sir, Colonel?”

“I'm putting you in charge of something. Assign a rotation of men, two to a watch.”

“We have guards on the prisoners, sir.”

Mackenzie shook his head. “This is something else. Have the soldiers stand watch over Big Tree and Satanta through the night. I want guards swatting mosquitoes off the prisoners.”

“Mosquitoes, Colonel?”

“Good God, man! They're eating these Kiowa up alive!”

So it went for the following six nights. Until Mackenzie's Fourth arrived back at the community of Jacksboro on the evening of 14 June, and removed their shackled prisoners from the wagons, lashing the Kiowas to horses and putting a strong guard around the chiefs to protect them from a lynching. Mackenzie had to admit he was anxious about the nasty disposition of the civilians crowding into the small Texas town once word had spread the army was coming in with its prisoners. On the fifteenth, the Fourth Cavalry finally deposited Big Tree and Satanta in the guardhouse at nearby Fort Richardson and prepared to let the civil courts grind out the end to the leaders of the raid on Henry Warren's wagon train.

It was an interesting trial, albeit short and without question when it came to the matter of a verdict. District Attorney S.W.T. Lanham served as chief prosecutor, and in his most fiery summation to the jury of twelve well-armed male citizens of Texas, he pointed at Big Tree and declared, “This beast before you is a tiger-demon who has tasted blood and loves it as his food!”

As strong as that was, Lanham nonetheless saved his strongest denunciations for Satanta. Standing before the table where the sixty-year-old chief sat, the district attorney told the jury, “Before you sits the arch fiend of treachery and blood—the cunning Cataline, the inciter of his fellows to rapine and murder, an abject coward, canting and double-tongued hypocrite!”

By 8 July, Judge Soward was ready to render his sentence on the guilty verdict the jury had no trouble deciding. With the two prisoners standing before his bench, Soward told the two chiefs they now had the chance to make a statement before sentence was passed.

“I know nothing of the white man's court,” Satanta explained in his bad, halting Spanish salted with some Kiowa phrases. “I am innocent of a bad heart. I did wrong only because I was led down that bloody path by Lone Wolf, Kicking Bird and Satank. See what became of Satank? I do not want to go the way of that evil wizard!”

“Are you done?” asked Soward.

Satanta hung his head a moment, as if considering more, then replied, “If you let me go back to my people, I will never again make war on Texas. This I promise you.” Then the old chief straightened, cocking his head arrogantly for his final parting show of intractability. “But if you kill me … all of Texas will run deep in blood.”

Soward nodded once to indicate he had understood the translation, then said, “If there is nothing else, this court hereby passes sentence on Big Tree and Satanta—found guilty of theft of government property, and of the murder of seven citizens of Texas. This court finds that on one September of this year, the two prisoners are to be hanged by the neck … until dead.”

Chapter 6

October 1871

Here in this great solitude of nature we found our deepest study spread out before us, and gathered “sermons from the stones,” “books from the running brooks,” and “God in everything.” In these magnificent temples made with His hands we gathered inspiration and from this self-communion added to that breadth of knowledge and experience which come not in the life of every man, even when travelled, fully educated, and intellectually developed. Hardships, dangers, privations, and sacrifices—quiet conceits—remove selfishness and make all mankind akin.

The young lieutenant, less than a year and a half out of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, sighed as he kneaded the back of his neck, rereading those last few lines he had just penciled in his journal by the evening meal's firelight. Soon enough Robert Goldthwaithe Carter knew he would have to cash it in and put the leatherbound lap-journal away in his saddlebag. Colonel Ranald Mackenzie would not allow any of these men with the Fourth Cavalry to build the fires higher once full darkness descended upon them here on the Staked Plain.

Carter and the rest of Mackenzie's troopers were again in enemy territory, this time stalking the elusive Comanche.

The muscles along Carter's spine ached from the pounding of the saddle on their endless march across a land hard-baked beneath a relentless sun. So he strained now, hunched over his journal, to capture many of the thoughts he had clambered to remember throughout the long day of following Mackenzie's Tonkawa trackers who led the soldiers a little west of north, out of Fort Concho, on the trail of the Kwahadi warriors who had long scorned the white man and all his gifts and annuities, a band that proudly scorned signing the great treaty made at Medicine Lodge Creek four years before.

The light was going, and still there was so much for him to get down, after brooding through much of the day on religion and God and the profession he had chosen for his life's undertaking.

It has been said in ecclesiastical circles that soldiers and sailors are neither atheists nor infidels but always cling fast to the hope of the immortality of the soul. Yet, by such close contact with nature, and sleeping perhaps for years under the canopy of heaven, they accept pretty largely the theory of the
God of Nature
and leave the mere theology of religion with all the various beliefs, creeds, etc., etc., to be taken care of by religious quacks and scientists who are lacking in their own service experience.

Rubbing his eyes, Carter put the pencil away in a pocket of his tunic still damp from the day's sweat, now cold against his skin with every insistent nudge of the breeze.

Indeed, the army was the lieutenant's religion. With God Almighty the Supreme Commander, the President and all the rest were only officers positioned in the chain of command.

Born in Maine and later moved to Massachusetts with his family, Carter volunteered his service to Lincoln's shaken Union as soon as he was old enough. For most of the war, he served with distinction in the 22nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an outfit possessed of a blood-soaked reputation by the time Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Young Carter celebrated the end of the “Great Rebellion” by informing his family he had chosen to make the military his life, and would be seeking an appointment to West Point.

Following his graduation in June of 1870, Carter married his Massachusetts sweetheart in Boston. By November he and his young bride, Mary, had traveled halfway across the continent to report for duty with the Fourth U.S. Cavalry in the wilderness of west Texas—Fort Concho. The following February of '71, the newly appointed colonel of the Fourth reported for duty at Concho: Colonel Ranald Slidell Mackenzie. A slight, morose man, Mackenzie had much in common with Carter—both ate little, slept even less, and neither cared much for cutting a dashing figure in uniform, as did a few of the gilt-braided and strutting peacocks of that same frontier Army of the West.

Carter and Mackenzie were both true loners. Neither comfortable in the company of their wives, nor in the company of their fellow soldiers.

He thought now a moment on Mary, and those early days back at Fort Concho before Mackenzie moved the regimental headquarters northeast to Fort Richardson, remembering how they both had laid in that canvas tent at night, listening not only to the howling, ever-present Texas wind and the yipping of nearby coyotes lurking close to the slaughter yard, but listening as well to the distant laughter and tin-plated plinking of out-of-tune piano keys across the river in the crude settlement of Saint Angela, that fleshpot so like many others just beyond the fringe of every military reservation on this frontier.

Licking the drops of cold coffee from his thick mustache, Carter shoved a hand through his light-colored hair, listening to the musical snoring of some of the men already asleep in their blankets. Autumn was clearly here, this ninth day of October, and the nights grew cool all too quickly.

Carter turned at the footsteps, recognizing by shape the form of his colonel, even before Mackenzie stepped into the dimming, crimson light of the coals.

“Dawn still comes early this time of the year, Lieutenant,” the colonel's voice declared quietly in the starlit darkness. “Especially after I've pushed every man of you so hard today.”

Glancing over his shoulder at the thin rind of a moon rising off the purple horizon, Carter nodded. “Yes, sir.” Around the sliver of moon clung a wispy haze, a sure sign of a change in the weather. And at this time of the year, a change meant one thing—cold coming.

“Why don't you get into your blankets? It's been a helluva ride we've had us,” Mackenzie said, holding his bare hands over the writhing, red coals. “And now the Tonkawas say the Kwahadi aren't all that far ahead of us—camped a ways farther up Blanco Canyon.”

“We've got the horses double hobbled, Colonel. If they hit us tonight—they won't get away with much,” Carter replied, glancing northwest, toward the route White River took to cut through a hidden part of the Staked Plain.

It was here that Blanco Canyon buried itself from view across this flat, austere tableland. Mackenzie had ordered bivouac made in the narrow defile of the canyon, a camp bordered on one side by the river and on the other by a line of sharply defined bluffs.

They were friends, these two, compatriots of a sort, even though Carter no longer served as Mackenzie's field adjutant this trip out. On this campaign the young lieutenant was back among his fellow fighting men.

“I've ordered out a double picket, Lieutenant. Time to grab some sleep while you can.”

“Thank you for the suggestion, Colonel. Good night, sir.”

As the wind came up, biting now with the presage of the coming cold, Lieutenant Carter sank against his McClellan saddle and pulled the gray army blanket over his shoulders, his fingers groping into the saddlebag one last time for the reassurance of the leatherbound journal. He smiled, thinking how alike he and Mackenzie were: although they served in the cavalry, both men possessed a passionate distaste for horseback riding. Yet, like the colonel himself, Carter rode well and stayed in the saddle just as long as the job required. And for the past few days, that meant mounting up before the sun came up, along with staying planted in their McClellans until the light began to seep out of this prairie sky at dusk.

It had been much like that for almost as long as Mackenzie had been commander of the Fourth Cavalry—vigorous, soul-hammering campaigns against the elusive horsemen of the Llano Estacado. At least since last May, when Carter had served as field adjutant to the colonel and together they had set off after those Kiowas believed responsible for the deaths of Henry Warren's teamsters. Half a year gone now: all those baked, shimmering alkali flats that burned at a man's eyes, powdery, stinging dust stived up by the horses' hooves, caustic to a man's nostrils and torture to his lungs. Finding graze for the mounts was an ordeal in itself every twilight in these chases—everything gone brown by this late in the year. What hadn't been seared in the oven of a relentless summer on the southern plains was now made brittle by the drying autumn winds that sucked moisture right out of every horse soldier plodding along behind Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie.

For the better part of a month they followed—drinking water that made them sick, and if not sick then at least the rest sat on a sore, much-abused part of their anatomy. By necessity Mackenzie cut the regiment to half-rations, then quarter-rations, far too little for a man and his mount to go on as they tumbled down one steep ravine and clambered up the rocky side of the next. The heat grew unbearable through the late summer months of tracking Kicking Bird's band, thought to be somewhere out on the Pease River.

Mackenzie never found them.

A fruitless search they made that May—the Kiowa had disappeared, or more likely slinked back onto their reservation to disappear among the others. No one had given any serious thought to the notion that the chiefs would own up to their part in the butchery and slaughter.

And now it was October.

Carter closed his eyes, thinking how he had asked Mackenzie upon making bivouac earlier that evening if they'd ever find the Kwahadi Comanche, or if the warriors would simply disappear like the Kiowa had done the previous May.

Mackenzie had chuckled in that tight, nervous way of his, a humorless grin crossing his fair face ornamented with deep-set, sensitive eyes and a bushy mustache. “We'll find them, Lieutenant. Or they'll find us. Either way—I'll have my fight of it.”

There was no apprehension in Carter, least of all anything that could be called fear; fear at the possibility they would run across the most intractable warriors on these southern plains—the Kwahadis. And like Mackenzie, a serious, businesslike military commander, Carter believed there to be but one way to stop the Indian raids on Texas settlements and civilians.

“Ride those goddamned warriors into the ground if we have to,” Mackenzie had said time and again, “and then whip them soundly.”

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