Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
Me and Tozzer was lookin’ to go to Canada, or at least Montana, which we called Montan, and know the Indians the way they ought to be knowed like face front and real as us. Course, we had some problems along the way, folks steppin’ on our toes and their kids spittin’ at us bein’ us, but not them older folk, a black and a white kind of cowboy types. But we was quicker’n hell with pistols and gettin’ them outta the holsters and lettin’ loose and it showed I guess ‘cause nary a soul really bothered us, ‘ceptin’ one big bear-mouth talkin’ a whole streak o’ nothin’ right near the last camp we pitched in Ideeho under some pines and firs and had a nice fire goin’ and he blows in like he’s owned ever’thin’ he’s ever looked at, meanin’ what was ours.
But they wasn’t his no matter how he looked at them like they was and Tozzer sittin’ back against a tree twice as big and round as me and him put together like it had been right there waitin’ on him f’ever and the loud mouth makes pretend he’s studyin’ somethin’ and he’s all the time sneakin’ his hand to get Tozzer’s rifle and Tozzer noticed he had no rifle of his own so he just said, while he’s just layin’ against that tree comfortable like, “Don’t,” and loud mouth makes trick move to get it and Tozzer shot him before he even touched Tozzer’s rifle, shot him right between the big loud mouth eyes like it was an extra eye for him, but bloody as a butcher’s apron in a hotel kitchen, the kind you guess at ‘cause you ain’t ever been inside one, never mind et there.
Any way I got to tell you why we was goin’ up to Montan in the first place, beside seein’ the Indians, who was the real reason anyway. Only Tozzer liked them names they had for tribes, and he’d say them over and over so even I’d get sick of ‘em, but he could say the same ones a hundred different ways like they was in a song, all them crazy but nice names that tickled him like his pappy used to, and they rolled out his mouth like words in a song … Asssiniboine, Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Kootenai, Salish, Shoshoni, Gros Ventre and Kalispel and probably more like they was all cousins of one kind or another and would have great parties when they got a together goin’ for a celebration or a war all their own.
I was on the other end of the stick, wantin’ to know how different they looked from one another in line or fishin’ or huntin’ and lookin’ for the ladies who wasn’t in their villages and not in them teepees either, the way ladies always has a certain way of thin’s bein’ what they ain’t in the beginnin’, if you catch my bait. I wondered aloud even to Tozzer as he sang them names how 8 or 9 or 10 of them in a row, with me studyin’ them real close, could look any different from one to the next in line or the end of the line, and all wearin’ feathers and skins and beads and wolf and bear teeth and bore tusks and whatever the get up was for a night out with ladies from one of them other tribes, if that was the way it was done up there in Montan with all them Nations of Indians, if such was it.
Of course, we seen a lot of them, and the stuff they was wearin’ at special times and times not special, and Tozzer, way up when we was near some of them other territories and states and he learned some new names that plumb made his mouth go sweet with them, like Kiowa and Arapaho and Kansa and Otoe and Pawnee and Ponca and Lakota and Dakota Sioux and Arikara and Northern Paint and Palouse and Comanche and Pueblo and his eyes lit up at Apache and Bannock and Caddo like he was doin’ a alphabet and then got so nice-soundin’ for him ‘cause of Nez Perce and Coeur d’Alene almost makin’ him cry in his happy, and he’d sleep like a baby in the back of a wagon on a slow trip to wherever and them names comin’ up in the night from his songs of all them Indian names.
That’s my ridin’ pard, Tozzer, said all the time his daddy was a king of a tribe down in Aferca or someplace on a ship. He was some mad, that boy, ‘cause he never got to know any of them names from down there in Aferca, and I thought and never told him it was his own way of makin’ all them names come good for him, ‘cause I didn’t want to spoil any of his fun and songs like he never once did say what was the difference in clothes they wore if they did besides skin and teeth of all kinds that once bit and chewed away at stuff, and all that bein’ my fun of Indian thin’s, like his was names.
Once a other time in Ideeho gettin’ close to Montan where we was headed the whole trip, one of them tribesman stepped into the trail ahead of us like he was a spirit come loose from a rock of all thin’s, ‘cause that’s where he was hidin’ behind, and he holds his hand palm up like we seed before from other Indians and we know he’s a friendly sort and he touched his face with his couple of fingers and points at Tozzer and we knowed he ain’t never seen one of them Afercans before like Tozzer was, whose daddy or granddaddy was a king down there way off where a ship goes.
Tozzer picked that right up, as he’s as smart as they come with folk havin’ color in their skin and most like I thought had seen the question afore, so Tozzer touched his own face skin first and then reached to touch the other gent’s face who steps back and whips up his spear and soon as breathe he’s lookin’ right down the barrel of Tozzer’s pistol like it appeared outta the same hidden air the Indian came from, and he was a whole lot of surprise that red-faced Indian, who thought best to put down that spear of his and be nice to a gent who had skin almost like his on his own face. So, quick as he got that pistol ,out of his holster, Tozzer gets it back where it was, and they had smiles apiece them two with me lookin’ on and appears he only wanted to touch Tozzer’s black skin and then ask us for some whiskey which we had none of on that long trail to Montan or even past to the Canada.
But we had coffee with him of which he might have had afore and liked enough to empty our little firepot of dented tin. Then this redman wonderin’ about a black man sat down and drew in the dirt a couple of peaks he pointed out for their realness and pointed his finger in between them he drawed on the map on the ground and shook his head and held his spear like he had throwed it a hundred times, and Tozzer said right off, “Well, Tug, ‘cause that’s what he called me all the time he wanted my attention, we ain’t goin’ up in there ‘tween those two peaks ‘cause we prob’ly ain’t comin’ out the other end.” And Tozzer patted that Indian on the back like he was an old friend at a party and the Indian patted him back the same way and then the two of them in their own colors shook hands like we did at home and I swear it was the only time I ever saw red and black shake hands even in the middle of a rainbow, if you know what I mean.
I’m glad I made that trip with Tozzer ridin’ beside me all the way, just like he was a rabbit’s foot or a lucky charm from some snake lady back home or a old man so old his skin crawled in layers on his neck under his chin sayin’ how old he was and smart and knowed thin’s I never knowed ‘bout charms and good luck pieces and poor dead rabbit’s foot wonderin’ if that rabbit ever made it to be a good meal or a stew for some hungry gent like we was sometimes on that trip until we got to Montan. All that way Tozzer was liked by all them tribes and he kept singin’ them names and I gotta admit a couple of times that singin’ a names got us a free way with some had us dead to rights with a lot more arrows ready to fly than we could shoot bullets back at ‘em.
Thin’ is all them red ones liked him and his face color and his long fingers so quick on gettin’ his gun outta his holster and they saw the tricks he could do and it was like he was in a carnival for them, which they never had saw anyways I bet. They plain liked Tozzer like I did and we did get all the way to Montan as we had begun to call it and point out our way to all the Indians we met with them pretty names and after a lot of while I got so I could match a name with what a Indian was dressed up in, just like I had a name under a picture of him with skins and teeth on a string on his neck or what kinda moccasins he had made for himself outta a tough pelt or his woman did the makin’.
So we evened thin’s out for Tozzzer and me and found a valley in Montan looked like what we thought heaven would look like when that time come to us down the trail someway, or up the trail as Tozzer was always sayin’, knowin’ we was headed there all the time.
This place we found ‘cause another redman pointed it out for us, who prob’ly liked Tozzer as much as me, and it was perfect and had some wild horses in it and some cows got loosed from some herd and lots of good huntin’ game for other meat food, and we built a lean-to at first we lived in ‘til we made us a log cabin for just the two of us ridin’ pards all the way up from Oklahom and other places, and one day we found a Indian girl with a broke leg on the grass and her horse dyin’ after steppin’ in a hole and throwin’ her on top of a rock in the middle of the grass like it was planted there for her to break her leg on and we took her to our cabin for two which now was a cabin for three and she fell in love with Tozzer who fixed her leg for good and took extra care of her and I just had to get up early one mornin’ and get outta there on my own and head for Canada places ‘cause she loved Tozzer as much as me and him her.
One time later on I met a mountain man who knowed about Tozzer the black man with the redskin girl and they was friends of his and I sent a message to them sayin’ I hoped they was happy still and the mountain man says they was happy and had a baby he saw only a few months past and it was as white as me and then he knowed why I left there in the first place but I was pretty sure he’d never tell anythin’ to nobody.
But you knowed how that is I bet when one turns one way in a tight little space and someone else turns exact the same way and those little thin’s can’t be helped much from happenin’.
So I, Tug by name, send this to Tozzer my friend who can have all I left and ever owned just in case I get kilt out here, which might be my luck without my pal Tozzer and his foot off the lucky rabbit who must have been plumb unlucky in the beginnin’ but got changed some.