Synopsis: Inspired by the first season episode, The Raid; a what happened instead story.
Category: The Rifleman
Word Count: 8,060
This story was inspired by events that happened during the Season 1 episode of The Rifleman entitled The Raid. The Raid involved Chaqua an Apache warrior, his brother Artek, and several other braves, who severely injure Lucas McCain with a blow to the head as they kidnap young Mark McCain. As we learn from U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart (who is also an Apache Indian), Mark was kidnapped to replace Chaqua’s son, who had died several months earlier. The reason Mark was taken, he was the son of a man who was known to be a great warrior to the Apache.
The posse from North Fork, led by town Marshal Micah Torrance and Buckhart, head out leaving Lucas at home with storekeeper Hattie Denton watching over him. But stubborn as always and not wanting to be beholden to anyone, Lucas insists in going after his son, but the blow to his head sets the search back once he catches up with the posse.
Sam Buckhart continues on, only to be captured and despised as a ‘tame’ Apache by Chaqua and Artek. Back at camp, Lucas wakes during the night, leaving the posse as he heads out after Sam and his son. In the episode, Lucas nears the Indian campsite and is heard when a twig snaps as he crawls over it, rousing those in camp to attack him. As Lucas fights Chaqua, Mark is able to cut free the ropes binding Sam Buckhart and both run over to Lucas who has strangled Chaqua to death, all the while proclaiming, “You took my boy!” This story begins as Lucas tries to enter the camp.
A Deadly Guilt
It sounded; the quiet of the night accentuated its volume. With the snap of the twig, the crickets quieted. Lucas McCain inhaled sharply upon realizing those in the camp were feigning sleep; they knew someone other than U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart was following them…
The first yell of attack sounded when one of the Indians jumped from the ground and pulled his knife. With the pain still in his head, Lucas changed from a crawling position to a kneeling position; not waiting to sight in his rifle, Lucas fired from his hip striking the charging Indian; the others were soon to their feet. With the pain intensifying, the one thing Lucas could always count on, failed him; his vision swirled and his fingers fumbled to fire his rifle. Dropping his rifle, Lucas blindly charged the Indian directly in front of him.
Chaqua fought with the cunning of the wolf as he straddled over Lucas’ chest, hands around his neck, squeezing… squeezing. In one last desperate bid, Lucas kicked Chaqua in the side with his knee, rolling him sideways and allowing Lucas to gain the upper hand. Lucas squeezed and squeezed, all the while crying out, “You took my boy!”
Just as Lucas sensed the last of Chaqua’s fight slip away, the pain overtook him with his vision exploding into whiteness in the pitch-black, night. Artek dropped the tree branch and pushed Lucas from his brother.
From behind, Artek heard the ‘tame’ Indian running towards him. With a quickness that belied his size, Artek reached for the rifle upon the ground, turned and fired.
Beside the campfire, ten year old, Mark McCain stood, shrouded in guilt that he had not been quicker to untie the U.S. Marshal. Tears streaked his face as he watched the marshal crumple to the ground. Mark stood frozen as he watched Artek kneel beside Lucas, knife in hand. He saw Artek’s mouth moving, but could not hear the words.
Artek bent close to Lucas’ ear upon seeing the tall man’s eyes start to open, “My brother has offered the child protection, but know this, if you come again, I will kill him… I don’t care when or how it happens, if you come, I will slit his throat before you can pull the trigger of your rifle. Understand the child’s life or death is your decision. But now, he must see you die.”
As Artek thrust the knife into Lucas’ side, a child’s scream, “NO!” reverberated through the still of the night.
Artek stood and helped his brother to his feet. Side by side, the Apache brothers approached the child who stood next to the campfire, hands balled into fists, tears streaking his face.
“Apache do not cry,” Chaqua spoke as he towered over the child.
“He was my PA!” Mark cried out, fists striking Chaqua.
After draping the body of the dead Indian over his horse, those remaining broke camp, and as the sun began to rise, Artek stated, “We ride.”
Lucas regained consciousness as he felt the knife pulled from his side; his eyes opened to see Sam Buckhart, U.S. Marshal kneeling beside him, blood staining the shoulder of his jacket.
“Rest easy Lucas,” Sam spoke.
“My boy?” pleaded Lucas.
“They have taken the boy with them.”
Lucas McCain’s hatred showed bright through his pain-filled eyes as he struggled to sit up.
“Lucas, as I said before… Chaqua’s own son died, he wanted to replace him with the son of another who is known to be brave,” Sam stated as he wrapped the make-shift bandage around Lucas’ side.
“No, why didn’t they kill me?” Lucas asked, grimacing as Sam tightened the bandage.
Sam reached for Lucas’ rifle and turned upon hearing others approaching; he slumped his shoulders after seeing the riders enter the clearing.
“Lucas! Buckhart!” yelled Micah.
“We have to get Lucas to a doctor!” replied Sam.
“No, I’m going after my son!”
“Lucas, be serious,” Toomey replied.
“I am,” growled Lucas.
Resting a hand to Lucas’ shoulder, Sam said, “Lucas you asked me why they did not kill you?”
“Because while you live, your strength flows through your son.”
“But Artek said my boy was to see me die.”
“Yes, so he would no longer resist. Lucas, the lifeblood of a man flows strong through his son. To the Apache, to kill you… would weaken the child. This is why they did not kill you when they first took the boy.”
Toomey stood to one side of Lucas and Micah on the other as they helped him to his feet.
“Know your son lives, with the protection of Chaqua; no harm will come to the boy. The word of protection an Apache gives to a child cannot be broken.”
“Artek said he would kill Mark…”
“Not while Chaqua lives,” replied Sam solemnly.
‘If you come again, I will kill him,’ Lucas’ mind replayed Artek’s words.
Try as he could to walk on his own, Lucas needed the help of all his friends to make his way to his horse and get in the saddle. The original blow to his head and the knife wound to his side took their toll on the tall rancher.
Too much blood was lost and too many days and nights passed as they returned to North Fork. His friends carried a pale and limp Lucas McCain into Doc Burrage’s clinic and placed him upon the examination table. Toomey ran to fetch the doctor while Micah pushed the U.S. Marshal to sit down in a chair and wait.
The others entered the camp ahead of Chaqua and Artek, the brothers stopped on the hill overlooking their village; many teepees stretched out over the ground below them. The camp was alive with activity as the women tended to cooking fires, scraping and hanging hides, or taking care of the many young children running around the camp. On the outskirts, a band of horses roamed from the grassland to the river meandering across the land. Chaqua turned to the boy sitting on the horse between him and his brother.
“Your new mother awaits you down there,” Chaqua spoke.
“My mother is dead,” replied Mark.
Artek struck the boy across the cheek only to be reprimanded by his brother, “This boy has my protection, he IS my son. Regardless that you are my brother, this one is now closer to me than you.”
“My apologies; I felt he should not speak of Quayla in such a manner. Your wife is alive…” Artek quickly answered, hoping to hide his anger at the words his brother had spoken.
Chaqua turned to the boy, “Your name is now Shoqua.”
The three rode into the camp with the rest of the tribe gathering around them. As the sun settled behind the hills, Chaqua lifted Mark from the back of the horse he rode, and escorted him into the teepee, the flap falling behind them.
The following morning Chaqua led his son from the teepee, the boy stripped to his waist and wearing moccasins on his feet. As the boy walked beside Chaqua, his pale white skin contrasted sharply against the red/brown skin of the man. The chief introduced his son to children from the camp who would be near the boy’s age. When several started taunting Shoqua, Chaqua grabbed them by the arms and strode purposefully to the teepee of their parents.
Speaking in Apache, “You should teach your children to respect the son of the chief.” With that, he dropped both boys, turned, and walked away; ignoring the pleas of the parents.
Hattie sat vigil over the tall man whom she considered a son. With a bible in her hands she watched as his chest barely rose and fell. At times, she wiped away the beads of perspiration that dotted his pale and strained face. Tears slipped from her eyes as the days passed when she’d overhear him cry, “He’s my son!”
Though he had yet to regain consciousness, his guilt over not going after his son wore heavy on his soul. He did not hear Hattie’s voice as she read to him from the bible. He did not hear Micah tell how others were chipping in to make sure their ranch was taken care of. He did not hear Sam Buckhart tell he would send word to the U.S. Marshal Service of the boy. All he heard was Artek’s voice, ‘I’ll kill him…I’ll kill him’.
When Lucas finally woke, his friends saw a changed man; a man lost in guilt over losing the one thing that really mattered to him, a part of him…, his only connection to his late wife…, his son. As the days during his recovery passed, they pleaded for Lucas to allow the Army or the Marshals to bring Mark home; finally, in his continued weakened condition… he agreed.
Weeks had passed and the cool air announcing the appearance of an early winter in November, when Amos entered the North Fork Marshal’s Office carrying a wire address to Marshal Micah Torrance.
Micah took the note and asked, “Buckhart?”
Amos nodded and quickly left.
Marshal Micah Torrance
North Fork, New Mexico Territory
I regret to inform you, tribe moved, trail lost /stop/
Scouts from U.S. Army will keep looking /stop/
Tell Lucas, I am sorry /stop/
U.S. Marshal, Sam Buckhart
Micah refolded the note and left the office, heading in the direction of the McCain ranch.
“What are you doing here?!” Lucas bitterly demanded as he exited the barn. As time passed, a deep seeded wound festered within the tall rancher, the guilt over the loss of his son.
“I brought word from Buckhart…” Micah stated. He looked upon the rancher and reflected upon how gaunt his friend had become. Dark circles encompassed his eyes and his cheekbones shone more prominently beneath them.
“Is Mark?” briefly his eyes lightened as Lucas hoped his son would quickly be reunited with him.
Seeing the flicker of life in his friend’s eyes, Micah knew the pain he was about to inflict upon the man, “No Lucas, the tribe moved, and their trail was lost.”
“Lost!!! How does the U.S. Marshals and the Army lose track of a tribe?!” Lucas stormed towards the marshal; the anger returned to the rancher.
“Lucas, it’s not that easy. LucasBoy, I know Mark was your…”
“IS! Don’t ever speak of my son in the past tense. Don’t you EVER!!! I listened to you and to Buckhart, let the Army bring my son home.”
Had Lucas been a snake, the venom with which he spoke would have immediately paralyzed and killed a man.
“They’ll find the tribe, just give them time.”
“TIME?! Mark’s out there, thinking I’m dead!”
“Why would the boy think such?” a confused Micah inquired as he stepped down from his horse.
“He was there when Artek stabbed me.” There was no emotion contained in Lucas’ words.
“Lucas, I know you haven’t regained all your strength, from that knock on the head and being stabbed, and … but there’s got to be more to why you’ve not gone after him… It’s more than us just asking you not too…”
“Artek said he’d kill the boy if I came after him. It didn’t matter when or how… Micah, Mark’s life…” Lucas paused as he looked to his hands, guilt over the bloodstains that were invisible to everyone but him, “If I weren’t the Rifleman, if I weren’t… They wouldn’t have come after him. Micah, he has to live…”
Lucas allowed his frailty to show, he collapsed to his knees and grabbed at his side.
Micah was beside his friend as quickly as he could, he pulled Lucas’ arm across his shoulder and wrapped his arm around Lucas’ waist and when he placed his hand to Lucas’ side, he felt the blood… He hadn’t seen it because of the dark shirts the rancher had taken to wear of late. Most people had presumed it was due to mourning the loss of his son.
“Lucas, you’re not healed. Does Doc know you’re still bleeding?”
Lucas shook his head, “It won’t heal.”
At that moment, Micah realized the sweat drenching Lucas wasn’t due to exertion it was a fever.
The boy, slighter than others his age learned it would not be easy making new friends; due to his skin being a different color and he also did not know their language. Most of the other children stood indifferent to the boy, their parents had informed them not to taunt the boy but that did not stop their talks, he’d never know what they were saying.
Knowing that Chaqua and Artek spoke English, Shoqua was hurt when they would only speak Apache to him. Quayla would spend the evenings after supper instructing Shoqua in the dialect of the Apache, it wasn’t just words, but gestures that comprised their language. Shoqua took comfort in the woman’s patience as he remembered the patience of his previous teacher, Miss Adams.
Quayla was impressed with how her adopted son took to learning as Shoqua applied himself to the lessons. Other braves saw something in the courage of the boy and began to think of him as no longer an outsider and began to teach him of the land.
As the seasons changed, and as Chaqua had promised, his son’s skin turned from white to deep brown, from working and hunting under the summer skies. Chaqua was pleased with the natural ease his son showed when racing his pony with others of his age, and when he won, he was quiet in his celebration allowing his friends to be loud and rowdy.
Without complaint, Shoqua knew where Chaqua expected him to be when they hunted the great buffalo. In his eyes he wanted to ride with the braves, but an eleven year old was still considered a child and had to stay with the women, and so he stayed, unwilling to upset the man within whose teepee he was provided shelter and nourishment.
Of an evening, Quayla would tuck him under the furs and bid him pleasant dreams; and as he eyes would close, Shoqua secreted the memory of being tucked into bed by another and the gentle kiss the man placed upon his forehead, how the man would hesitate at the door to the bedroom they shared and look back upon him and smile.
Chaqua and Quayla stood in front of their teepee and watched as Shoqua and his friends mounted their ponies in ready to hunt small game for their families. Chaqua stepped to his son and placed his hand upon the boy’s forearm.
In the language of the Apache he said, “Be strong and brave, may the hunting gods grant you a successful hunt.”
“Do not worry father, we shall be triumphant!” Shoqua answered as he raised his bow above his head and gave a warrior’s cry, causing heads in camp to turn as the boy led the pack of others his age as the sun rose to the east.
Thinking to himself, Chaqua was pleased with how the boy was born a natural leader and in the four years he had been with them, the boy was becoming everything the chief had hoped he would be.
Shoqua led his band of fourteen-year old braves to where the land turned to become the mountains, he knew rabbits would be plentiful in the area, hiding in rocky burrows and scampering through the green vegetation.
By late afternoon, every pony had at least one if not two rabbits hanging in proof of their hunting prowess. The boys watched as the sun began its lazy decent in the western sky and decided to head home, but one boy was not happy with the decision, Artek’s son; he was angry that Shoqua and successfully brought down three rabbits during their day.
Artron raced his pony past Shoqua and dismounted before the horse stopped in front of the group of boulders before them, with bow and arrow at the ready, the boy made his way up the boulders in hopes of finding a rabbit from above.
Shoqua followed and called the boy to come down from his perch, announcing if they did not leave for the camp, they would bear the wraths of the fathers for arriving home after dark. Artron argued that he knew what he was doing and their was no way he was leaving until he equaled the number of rabbits that hung from Shoqua’s pony.
In the language of the Apache, Shoqua called, “This is not a competition to see who can gather more, if you are so desperate to have three, take mine.”
The boys who followed Shoqua could not believe the generous gesture, knowing they would not have made the same offer.
Shoqua climbed the boulders, with the intent of forcing Artron to come down and return to camp with them. As he surmounted one last boulder, he found a small path filled with underbrush that led to where his friend stood but before he stood within fifty feet of his friend, he heard the grunts, the shrill scream, and something crashing through the brambles.
“ARTRON!” Shoqua screamed.
Artron turned and saw the massive wild boar bearing down upon him, his eyes drawn to the long tusks protruding from the beast’s mouth.
Shoqua saw his friend unable to move and ran towards him, thrusting him over the boulder. The tusks ripped into Shoqua’s right leg as the boar charged past him. It took time for the boar to slow and turn for a second pass at the young brave. With tears in his eyes, Shoqua pulled an arrow from his quiver and strung it taunt in his bow. He waited, and waited, the beast began its charge. Ignoring the pleas from his friends below, Shoqua waited and finally released the arrow, striking the boar at just the right angle that it pierced through its chest and straight to its heart. The animal came to a rest within ten feet of Shoqua.
Slowly, Shoqua rested back against the boulder and tried his best to still the thundering beat of the heart within his chest. By the time he looked up, his friends were surrounding and prodding to make sure the beast was dead, the boys sent up a massive whoop as they realized the meaning of what had happened.
Shoqua stood straight and climbed down to where Artron stood with hatred in his eyes, begrudging the beast should have been his.
In the language of the Apache, Shoqua asked, “Are you hurt?”
With steely eyes of hatred the boy pushed away the hand of friendship and got up on his own.
When Shoqua returned to where they had left their ponies, he was surprised to see the other boys had dragged the boar down from the boulders and were discussing how to transport it home. Shoqua removed the blanket from the back of his pony and with help, positioned the boar on top of it, together the young braves lifted the beast to the back of his pony. Taking strips of rawhide they had brought with them, the boys tied them end to end and made a rope to secure the beast.
Before the boy mounted his pony, he remembered the injury he had received, a small price to pay for saving the life of his friend. As camp came into sight, the red, orange and purple hues painted the sky and his friends raced to their teepees to show their catches and to brag of the boar. Shoqua would have smiled as his friends raced home, but the incessant throbbing of his leg would not stop.
Artron did not race home with the others, but continued to ride in silence next to Shoqua. As they rode, he realized his actions had caused the injury to his friend and his guilt kept him from racing into their camp with his other friends.
“Your leg still weeps,” the Artron offered.
“I don’t feel so good,” Shoqua spoke as he slumped forward and almost fell to the ground.
Artron’s hand was there to steady his friend, forgotten was the animosity from earlier, now only worry remained. Worry for his friend… Worry for how Chaqua would react.
Artek stood in front of his teepee as his son rode by and continued to the teepee of their chief, Chaqua. Shoqua fell into the worried arms of his father.
“Chaqua, I am ashamed. Shoqua saved my life and for that, I turned my back on him. He killed the beast that lies behind him, but not before it struck a blow to his leg. He killed the beast to save my life when I… I froze in fear. I was angry he had hunted more rabbits than I. I should have helped my friend before we returned to camp. He is a true friend; he did not turn his back on me, when I turned my back on him. Forgive me…”
Chaqua motioned for Quayla to take the boy from his arms, and turned to find Artron running towards the tent of their medicine man.
As the sun rose the following morning, Shoqua moaned and thrashed in his furs as the fever waged a battle inside his young body. The morning would be a harbinger of what would come for the next four days.
Four days had passed with Artron sitting in front of the teepee, four days the boy refused food or water, telling others, “If Shoqua cannot eat or drink, then I cannot.”
Quayla sat beside her son, wiping cooling cloths over his forehead and across his fevered boy, all the while listening while he whimpered, “Pa.”
The morning of the fifth day, when the parents were certain their son could not continue, they accepted the words of their medicine man and returned to their teepee; grieved to know they were soon to lose a second son.
As the sun entered through the flap Chaqua lifted, two small slits glowed as they reflected the morning sun. The parents watched the fur move as a hand made its way out from under and reached towards them.
“It is good to see you have returned,” Chaqua spoke as a smile pressed itself on his lips. “No longer are you a boy, but a young man.”
Two days later, a weakened Shoqua walked from his teepee with Artron by his side.
While tracking the great herds of buffalo, the camp continually moved, only the last time, they moved farther North, into the mountains. They continued to live their lives as dictated by the seasons, traveling as nomads, and keeping far from any white man settlements.
As the years passed, Shoqua had grown into a strong brave, continuing to prove himself a strong warrior. The braided rope around his wrist was given to him by his father upon his successful killing of a wild boar. As the wide braid prevented the sun from reaching his skin, the skin began to change color, ultimately returning to white. The braided rope acknowledged that Shoqua was soon to be one of the warriors, but to Shoqua, the braid came to stand as reminder to him of something else, the truth of who he was, the truth he remembered during his fever, the truth of the real father he had lost, the truth he was really white. Shoqua kept his feelings to himself, not knowing how the others would react to his memories.
A harsh, late March snowstorm brought disease and much death to those in Chaqua’s camp and his refusal to move the tribe sat sour with his younger brother, who convened his own counsel.
“Our people die while we sit here, good hunting grounds are but three days ride. Chaqua’s too afraid to travel for fear of leaving trail, all because he fears the white man will find us. I say kill the reason we are here! Kill the white man’s child that has brought this starvation and death upon us. If he continues to protect the child, he too shall be reunited with his ancestors.”
Artek’s words rallied the other braves into action, they were determined to do what was necessary to save their families.
Chaqua heard the braves of the tribe approaching and stepped from his teepee, “What is the meaning of this?”
“We come for Shoqua, if he is truly your son, let him defend himself as all braves have. He is of age for ritual.”
“I and I alone determine who walks through ritual.”
“Then you fear your son is weak. He is not your son!” Artek proclaimed. “Your son died four years ago. He is white! He is not Apache!”
Shoqua returned to camp from standing watch upon hearing the arguing voices; trepidation caused his heart to skip a beat as he realized who was arguing.
Quayla slipped from the teepee and ran to where she knew her son stood watch, “Shoqua, you must go!”
“It is as I have long feared, Artek is here to kill my husband and my son…” The woman cupped her hands to the face of her son. “Please you must live, go down the mountains towards the rising sun, go to the post of the white men, tell them your true name. I know you remember, you are too strong to have forgotten the past.”
As she finished speaking, she pulled back the braided rope from Shoqua’s wrist and revealed that she remembered the truth. Quayla forced into the hands of her adopted son a water skin and pushed him away.
“Please my son, you must live.”
When he saw his mother turn to return to camp, Shoqua ran to where his appaloosa grazed, he looked back upon hearing Quayla’s scream pierce the night. As the braves started yelling, Shoqua swung up to the back of his pony and kicked it forward into a gallop.
The young man spared his pony from breaking a leg by returning him to a walk when he was well out of sight of the camp.
Days and weeks passed as the young Indian made his way down from the mountain and to the flat lands, where it stretched far beyond one’s vision. He hunted at dawn and of an evening, traveling by the light of the moon and resting during the day. He was thankful for the grassland, as he grazed his horse and chewed the grasses himself when he could find no game to hunt.
The slender young man became thinner with his ribs showing the hollowness of his belly as game became scarce.
Forgetting how many times the sun had traveled the sky, the young Indian succumbed to the slumber from which he didn’t wish to wake. Though he had found shade, as the sun traversed the sky, he ultimately slept under the full fury of the afternoon sky.
“Major, there seems to be a stand of trees over there, and possibly that means water,” the Sergeant stated as he twisted in his saddle.
“Among the Apache, there is known to be land, what you would call an Oasis,” U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart stated as he removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow.
“You got kinfolk out this way,” the Sergeant asked.
“No, though I am Apache, I am one. I have no tribe other than the white man’s law.”
The Cavalry unit neared and spotted a horse curled up and lying on the ground, curious as to who the horse belonged to as they recognized the rope bridle the animal wore.
Raising his arm slowly, the Major motioned for his men to dismount and approach the oasis with caution.
“Why it ain’t nothing but a boy,” the sergeant stated as he knelt beside the sleeping figure. “Cain’t be fourteen, fifteen years old. Ain’t nottun but skin and bones.”
“Corpsman,” called the Major. “See if the boy is alive.”
The corpsman ran and knelt next to his sergeant, pulled a stethoscope out of the satchel he carried. Placing it to the boy’s chest, he quietly listened.
“He’s alive sir, but barely.”
“What’s wrong with him,” asked the Major.
“From his appearance, I’d say he’s suffering from exhaustion, and lack of proper nourishment. The sergeant is right, he’s got no fat reserve to sustain him.”
“Why would an Indian brave be out this far, all alone?” the Major worriedly asked Buckhart, “Could this be a trap?”
“A trap to what? The land stretches for miles with no place to hide,” Buckhart responded.
Buckhart and the Major turned to watch the sergeant and the corpsman tend to the young man, as another soldier encouraged the horse to rise to its feet.
“Men, we’ll set up camp here for the night. Erect a shade lean too for the boy and tend to the horses.”
The sergeant returned to stand next to the Major and the marshal, and commented, “Sompen’ ain’t exactly right about that Indian.”
“What do you mean?” the Major asked.
“Ask Buckhart, he would know, he’s one of ‘em. I mean he’s wearing the clothing and the feathers, but he don’t just look what an Indian looks like.”
Buckhart walked over to investigate the comments made by the sergeant. As he knelt beside the boy he looked intently upon him, noticing how the skin sunk between his ribs, how the skin appeared to stretch across the boys face, but there it was… The face, not the nose one would expect to find upon an Indian, but maybe he was a half-breed. To most, the term half-breed was a term of disrespect, something vulgar to call someone, but to Buckhart, it spoke the truth, a boy torn between two nations, one white and one red.
But still, there was something else about this boys features, “Major, how long before you need to return to Fort Stanton?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I think we need to further investigate this boy, if we cannot stay here, we need to take him with us.”
“Are you out of your mind?” asked the corpsman. “It’s bad enough I’m tending to him, but you want this heathen to travel with us.”
“Enough!” the Major ordered. “Buckhart, what are you getting at?”
“He is not Indian, nor do I believe he is a half-breed.”
“You’re thinking he’s a captive?” asked the sergeant.
“I am not sure, if he is, I cannot understand that.” Buckhart pointed to the chest plate the boy wore.
“What’s that mean?”
“The beads on his chest plate indicate he is of importance, a chief’s son.”
“If he is, then why’d they leave him out here?” asked the Major.
“Major, I do not think he was left out here.” Allowing old memories to refresh themselves, Buckhart stated, “If he is who I think he is, we must ride for North Fork.”
The raven haired woman returned to town from visiting a friend and drove the buggy past the cemetery, she halted the horse upon seeing someone walking among the tombstones, stopping and looking at each one, before continuing to the next. Horrified, the woman urged her horse onward when she recognized the clothing worn.
“Milly, what brings you to my fair office?” Micah asked as he poured himself a cup of coffee.
“Micah, I was returning from the Porter’s…”
“How are they? How’s their little boy?”
“Getting better, I think… Micah, that’s not why I’m here.”
“Micah, there’s an Indian at the cemetery.” Her eyes pleaded her fears.
“He was looking at each grave marker. Micah, today is the first Saturday of the month and Lucas always comes to town… you have to get that Indian away from town. You know how Lucas is, any time he sees an Indian.” Her voice tinged with regret. In the two years she had resided in North Fork she knew the heartache and hatred Lucas felt.
“I know Milly…”
Micah reached for his scattergun as he escorted Milly from his office. With an air of urgency, he half walked/half ran to the cemetery, only to find no one there. Looking to the path, Micah knew Milly was right, there on the ground in front of him were the unmistakable imprint of moccasin footprints.
“Well, at least he’s gone before Lucas rode by,” Micah commented as he returned to town.
The clock on the wall in the Marshal’s Office struck noon as he looked out the window to see Lucas McCain reining his horse in, he stopped in front of the General Store and stepped from the saddle. Without acknowledging the people hurrying to get out of his sight, he pulled his saddlebags down from behind his saddle, stepped to the boardwalk, and carried them inside. The other patrons quickly paid for their orders and left; the brooding man cast a pall over the pleasantries the town’s folks exchanged.
Lucas exited the General Store fifteen minutes after he arrived, slipping his filled saddlebags behind his saddle and the bags tied with string over his saddle horn, he swung up into the saddle. Without a word, he turned his horse to leave.
Milly stepped to the boardwalk to wish Lucas goodbye, knowing the man would never return the greeting. As she turned to enter her store, she stopped and looked away from the direction the tall rancher rode, in hearing a commotion coming down the main street. A crowd of men were struggling, some yelling “Get a Rope!”, others yelling “Murdering Injun!”.
Micah stepped to the street and fired his scattergun into the air, causing the crowd to stop.
“What’s the meaning of this?!” Micah demanded.
“We found this Injun sneaking around town,” someone yelled.
“We stopped him from scalping and murdering someone!” someone else yelled.
“Bring him here!” ordered Micah.
“We’re gonna serve justice!” someone in the crowd yelled.
“We’re gonna string up this good for nothing Injun!”
“You’ll do no such thing!!” Micah yelled, as he again fired his scattergun into the air. As he opened the breech of his gun, he pulled out the two expended shells and inserted two new ones.
Hearing the word ‘Injun” Lucas turned Razor and approached the crowd; from his vantage point, he saw the Indian in the middle of the crowd struggling against those who held him. Anger and hatred blinded Lucas as he stepped from his horse, pulling his rifle from his scabbard and gripping it tightly, he seethed hatred. One by one people of the mob stepped aside, knowing today would be the day they would help Lucas avenge his son.
“What’s the meaning of this?!!!” demanded the Major, upon leading a column of soldiers into North Fork.
“We’re gonna hang a stinkin’ Injun!” someone yelled.
“In the name of all that’s holy, you will stand aside!” the Major ordered.
“Ain’t nothing holy about this heathen!”
The major turned and ordered his squad to disperse the crowd. Slowly the people of North Fork stepped aside, but not before someone threw a rock, striking the Indian in the temple, dropping him to a crumpled heap on the dirt road.
“We have a right to protect our own,” snarled Lucas standing alone, defiant against the Major.
“Yes, you do have that right, however, this person was granted our protection. My protection!”
“Person? You hear that,” someone yelled from the boardwalk. “They called that filthy Injun a person. They’re animals! Ain’t no redskin gonna live to step foot out this town once they step in!”
“ENOUGH!!! I hereby declare this town under Martial Law! Anyone who does not comply with my orders, either direct or by one of my officers, will be jailed until such time as I see fit to release them.”
Two soldiers approached the Indian, lying in the middle of the street, each one grabbing an arm, and placing it over their shoulders; they lifted the Indian from the ground, and carried him back to where the Major stood. Quiet enough for only his command to hear, he ordered and pointed the way to the doctor’s office they had passed on their way into town.
Lucas stood and watched the soldiers carry the Indian, toes dragging, into Doc’s. He quietly made his way to the livery and climbed the ladder into the hayloft, where he waited.
Doc Burrage stepped from the back room upon hearing the bell over his door ring.
“How may I help the Army…” his words died on his lips as two soldiers carried the unconscious Indian inside. “I don’t help their kind.”
“Under my orders, you will treat this young man or you will face contempt of Martial Law and be jailed.”
“Then jail me, I can’t treat him if I’m in jail.”
“Doctor, this young man is in my custody, and you will treat him. All is not what you see.”
“An Indian is an Indian. Not one Indian is allowed in this town; the Marshal sees they’re all run out as soon as we find out about them.”
“You would allow this young man to die, even having sworn your Hippocratic Oath? To do no harm?”
“I can’t do any harm if I don’t touch him. My oath didn’t say anything about Indians. And if you knew this town and what happened four years ago, you wouldn’t have brought that Indian here.”
“There is the fact that you would harm him by an error of omission. And, we didn’t bring an Indian here. From what we’ve ascertained, this young man you’re refusing to treat is, a white man.”
“Looks like an Indian.” Doc Burrage commented.
“Looks can be deceiving… Do you not remember my first visit to North Fork?” asked a man wearing a U.S. Marshal’s badge who entered behind the soldiers. As he removed his hat, his long black hair cascaded down his back.
“You’re different, Buckhart,” Doc Burrage answered.
“Because I went to Harvard? Am I not an Indian?”
“You’re not the one who took Mark from Lucas.”
“No, but I was the one who brought Lucas back home, without his son. I was the one who promised Lucas I would see his son home safely. Those who lost track of Chaqua’s tribe, were under my orders… So in a way, I was the one who allowed Mark to be taken.”
Doc’s attention saw drawn towards the young man lying on the examination table as he began to moan.
“You say under all this filth is a white man?” Doc asked.
“I say under all the filth is Mark McCain,” answered Buckhart.
Doc reached for the Indian’s right arm, and spat upon the forearm, rubbing away the dirt to see the tell-tale birthmark.
“How?” Doc asked, unbelieving.
“Chaqua moved his tribe in order to keep the boy hidden. Last winter was harsh on them, a number of them dying from disease and starvation,” Sam answered. “We found him in the dessert, half starved, half dead.”
The major continued the story, “When he regained his senses, the young man struggled to remember how to speak English, and with Buckhart’s help, he eventually told us of the ensuing argument and how the wife of Chaqua sent him away. How he traveled alone for several months, keeping from any white settlements, until we encountered him a week ago. We wired the Marshal Service and received orders to return him to North Fork. We made camp last night outside of town, evidently he slipped away during the night,” the major took a moment to remember he still needed to reprimand the soldier who was supposed to be on guard. “He said though he lived as one of them, he always remembered who he was, he wore the rope around his wrist to remind him.”
The doctor needed more confirmation; he cut through the braided rope around the boy’s wrist and saw the white skin.
“Mark?!” Doc Burrage gasped in recognition of the truth lying before him. Laying the palm of his hand upon his patient’s forehead, he stated. “He’s running a slight fever.”
“Infection?” asked the major.
“More so his body trying to survive as malnourished as he is,” Doc answered. “Give me time to treat his injuries then we can discuss getting him fed once he’s awake. You’ll probably want to talk to Micah.”
Nodding, Sam Buckhart and the major left the doctor’s office.
Gathering his wits, the doctor set about tending to the laceration and swelling where the rock had struck the boy. He continued to examine the boy and was appalled at how emaciated he appeared. He cut the rawhide string that tied the chest plate around the back of the boy’s throat and around his waist. Next, he pulled the rawhide pants from the boy and noticed the long, ugly scar along the right leg. Shaking his head, Doc Burrage wondered about everything that had happened to the boy since he had been taken.
Micah welcomed Sam Buckhart and the major into his office, where he sat down heavy into his chair upon hearing the news that Indian at the clinic was Mark McCain.
“Are you sure?” Micah hesitantly asked.
“As sure as we can be; it will be up to the boy and to Lucas to confirm. Micah, will you ride with me to Lucas’, to inform him?”
“He was in town earlier this afternoon; he hasn’t left because Razor is still tied in front of the saloon.”
“Then why hasn’t the boy’s father made his presence known?” asked the Major.
“You met him earlier; he’s the one who stood up against you about… He wouldn’t?!” Micah breathed, as a horrible thought entered his mind. He stood to his feet and ran from the office, down the boardwalk to the clinic.
The Major and the Marshal looked to each other before deciding to follow.
Micah tried turning the doorknob, only to find it locked, “LUCAS!” he yelled as he pounded on the door.
As Sam and the Major caught up with Micah he said, “Lucas doesn’t know… He’ll kill him!”
As he approached the Indian lying on the table, Toomey’s words from so long ago echoed through Lucas’ mind, “The boy’s lost to you. He’s dead.” As his hatred shown brighter in his eyes, he heard his own words repeated, “You took my boy!” and wrapped his hands tighter around the Indian’s neck, “You took my boy!”
The Indian before Lucas woke at finding strong hands around his neck, he tried to claw and scratch the man, he pulled his legs up and tried to push the man off him. His lungs burned with fire as he struggled to breathe, his vision and what little strength he had faded as the strong hands wrapped tighter and never relinquished their hold…never relinquishing the hatred.
Lucas heard but ignored the door behind him crashing open and felt arms pulling him away from killing his hatred. He struggled against those who fought to restrain him, yelling, “I’ll see him dead! They took my son! They killed Mark!”
“Lucas he is Mark!” Micah yelled, tears blinding filling his eyes and he fought to pull Lucas’ hands away.
“He killed Mark!!” Lucas yelled in a blind rage squeezing his hands ever tighter around the Indian’s throat.
“Knock him out!” Micah ordered.
Sam drew his gun from his holster, striking Lucas over the back of the head, before he slowly returned the weapon to his hip.
Micah stared at his friend as he crumpled to the floor and looked to the young man lying dead on the table.
Lucas regained consciousness and heard himself whisper, “Chaqua is dead!”
“No Lucas,” regretfully Sam answered, “You killed Mark.”
Lucas woke in a cold sweat, and swung his legs over the side of his bed, as he looked upon the still body of his teenage son, peacefully sleeping in his bed on the other side of the room, he realized it was only a dream. Lucas closed his eyes as he exhaled, thankful the original ordeal was over but wondered, how long would the nightmare continue to haunt his dreams?
Lucas opened his eyes at hearing, “Pa?” and seeing his son lift himself up upon his elbow.
“Pa? The nightmare?”
“Go back to sleep Mark.”
“No, not this time.”
Lucas was about to admonish his son, but stopped upon seeing the look in his son’s eyes as the boy continued.
“Pa, I remember what today is. Pa, I’m almost fifteen years old. Won’t you tell me about your nightmare?”
“Son, it’s my guilt to bear.”
“As it is mine, I was the one who didn’t fight harder against Chaqua taking me. I wasn’t brave enough to figure out a way to escape when they didn’t tie me up. I wasn’t strong enough to quickly cut through the ropes that bound Sam… I…”
“Mark…” Lucas hesitated and thought, ‘Maybe this is why the dream keeps coming. I’ve never told anyone.’
Lucas waited for his son to sit down before he sat down next to him on the porch of their home. Casting his eyes over the landscape bathed in the soft moonlight, Lucas inhaled deeply and exhaled.
“Son, I want you to know, you have nothing to be guilty about. You were only a ten year-old boy when Chaqua and Artek took you from me.”
“Mark, let me finish. After I… As we rode home, do you remember falling asleep in my arms?”
“No, sir, I don’t.”
“Well, you did, and Sam told me after he was taken Chaqua’s captive, how brave you were trying to be as they took you farther and farther from me. He told me how you struggled to cut the ropes that bound him. Mark, I wouldn’t expect any ten year-old boy to be able to cut through those ropes any quicker than you were able too.”
“Yes, sir…” Mark answered, lowering his eyes, still feeling guilty.
“Mark, you have to understand, you were only a child up against grown warriors, you did as you should have in not fighting them.”
“I don’t feel so sure about that, you’re still having nightmares…”
“Mark, I was the one who killed Chaqua, I could have subdued him and brought him back to stand trial, but my hatred and fears wouldn’t let me…”
Lucas proceeded to tell his son of his nightmare. Mark listened as Lucas told him the details; and how since he bore the deadly guilt of having killed Chaqua, his fears twisted his dreams into something far worse… “My guilt turned my fears of losing you, into a nightmare that ultimately caused your death… by my hands.”
“But… it was a dream.”
“I’m thankful it was only a dream,” whispered Lucas.