Western Short Story
The First Schooner Brigade, Westward Ho
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

It was in Idaho’s tall range of hills that the schooner brigade made its first and only appearance after the Civil War, whether you believe the pundits or the historians writing the books for money or name, or for both enterprises, businesses being what they are.

And it was Luke Somerby who ran it all together from a bunch of stories that old timers loved to tell about their part in helping Abe out with his war. Stories carry more truths about war and battle than the so-called historians and students of battle brought up in ink, if you want to know the full measure of war.

But Luke Somerby was a veteran of battle in his own right, and not a kid playing around death. He could count on experience in 1877’s Nez Perce War against the noted Chief Joseph who almost got his people into Canada on an erstwhile flight, and then in The Sheepskin Indian War in Idaho, which proved to be the last big and significant campaign against our Native Americans.

This was in the same general area where some brigand tribesmen had resumed their own piecemeal effort to raid people of their gear, weapons, ammunition, camping gear, food stuff, and anything worth grabbing for flight. Scouts had advised him of a local but temporary village where the brigands had set up their teepees, assuming that nobody would come looking for them.

He gathered some of the older men of the wagon train he was leading, advising them of what might be coming their way, and what measures they ought to take in order to protect their own numbers against a suspected quick raid.

One man said, “Why do we have to go looking for trouble? They may not come our way. Maybe they don’t even know we’re here,”

Luke said, “If we know where they are, they know where we are. They’ve obviously checked us out and know what we’ll have to defend ourselves: men, guns, and what else comes to mind.” His argument was sincere and strongly delivered, slapping his side arms more than a few times to strengthen his stance, let them all in on what might land atop them before they realized it was coming. Nothing like single graves to keep eagles aloft or ground nuzzlers of any pedigree.

His final words were tossed into the argument in the last threat: “They’ll be thinking of women too. So, we have to think of them getting caught up in the threat. There’s no way to think otherwise.” He set his eyes alternately on men who had daughters, wives in their wagons.

Another brawny soul spoke up. his words coming with a fierce determination. “Why the hell do we sit around and just gab about it. If you’ve got a plan, Luke, and it sounds like you’re ready to spring it on us, well, hell and high water, fire away. We’re all big boys here, or we better be.”

He stood tall and straight and his hands on his hips as if ready to assail any one of them speaking up in derision or denial of their circumstances.

Luke, having counted on someone in the group taking such a stance, said,” Thanks, George, glad there are a few if you on hand, not afraid to stand and be counted. And try to sweep us into one armed force one more time. We’ve had a few skirmishes, but I want to break this threat to our people as quick and as thorough as we can.”

George leaped in again. “Let it go, Luke. If we ain’t ready now, we’ll never be ready.” He threw his hands in the air as his final word.

“I heard about a “schooner brigade” from an old Civil War vet who it sounded as silly and as stupid as Hell until it rolled into the midst of a Southern camp, caught them by surprise and wreaked havoc in their midst and the schooner losing only one man. It was novel, I guess, is the word, and never tried again, but it did the job that one time and I’m willing to try it again. I don’t think any of the party waiting on us are aware of such a maneuver.”

George jumped in again. “Go on, Luke. It’s gettin’ to sound interstin’.”

“We load up one wagon with 8 fully-armed men on each side of the wagon, under cover of the canvas that has to be rolled up in a hurry when the time is ripe, and pour out a stream of firepower they’ve never faced before.”

“How do we get right in the middle of their village? Walk in like we’re invited, say hello, howdy do, glad to meet you, and kill them dead?” The speaker was almost laughing, when he added, “and we lose a team of mules, a wagon and 16 good men?”

Luke squared up, looked them in the eyes, as many as he could, and said, “No mules, and we roll it downhill, front end locked so it can’t be turned away from its target, and right into the middle of surprise, and 16 guns firing away.” He accented the count, “16 guns firing away in a display of firepower they’ve never seen before and will never see again. That I can just about guarantee, after seeing their village, the downhill slope directly in front of them and right in the route that we have to take to approach them.”

He swiped noisily the palm of one hand across the palm of his other hand, offered a guttural “swish” and stood tall and straight waiting to be castigated or hailed for his proposal.

There came a silence, the doubters and nay-sayers gone mute. The brave or heroic or dreamers in the group stunned by the possibilities that might come their way. Some looked across the circle of wagons at wives, daughters, youngsters at play.

The hush continued on both sides, the preposterous gaining for the moment a validity because there was no screaming about idiocy.

Luke Somerby broke the silence, “Any volunteers?”

George stood immediately, as did a few counterparts, and then slowly, by inner or outer measurement or comparison, 16 men, including Luke Somerby, were standing, smiling at each other, some wondering if it might also be the last time they were so grouped.

They prepared the wagon, got it to a point of final thrust, the front wheels locked into position, canvas set to be fully and as quickly released/rolled up. the small but lethal armory of automatic rifles at the ready, prayers coming in a near hush, or near short of breath, as the wagon started downhill, looking like a stray, lost wagon from a lonely wagon train, on the loose, running downhill without its mule team, and gaining a sudden element of speed as it neared the village of the brigand natives.

Without a twist or turn of its wheel direction, the wagon rolled into the midst of the teepee village, when the canvas rolled up into the top of the wagon, and a lethal spread of firepower poured from 16 men at their automatic rifles.

It was devastation delivered by courage, ingenuity, a one-time claim on history that was never repeated, not to this day.