Western Short Story
The Lone Grenadier
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

When the Civil War ended in 1865, Torbert Llewellyn “Torby” Gregson, grenadier extraordinaire from the 9th Ohio, headed west, a solidly trained and experienced battle veteran of several significant battles during the Civil War and in other skirmishes and fights in the west and south of the country before that big war between the states.

He knew war, did Torby, and its aims, inside-out, trained as he was by European officers with a wealth of experience in French and British armies. He knew tactics, skills, weaponry movements and provision control as key attributes in waging war, in killing enemy troops, all to push forward a cause or a curse.

Fighting was in his blood and at his hands if the cause was right, and was adaptable to his senses. What really warmed his blood was being put on guard duty at cessation of hostilities to prevent soldiers, by the droves, from leaving camp or station, (deserting is the dirty word), before discharge. The hurry-up-and-wait syndrome for the wait on official paperwork did not sit well with many of the troops, nor with Torby, who chose to let many of them go free when no one was looking: “Hell, he’d say, the war’s over now. They’ve done their bit. Let them be.”

He often mounted his distinctions with a curt turn of the words to justify those distinctions and indeed hated paperwork orders taking place of direct vocal commands from superiors in those chains of command.

Torby, it can be offered, could have been a general for President Abraham Lincoln, in as much as he hated slavery, and yet loathed death in all the extremes of battle.

That stance was evoked by his saying, “I’d as soon sign a pact as pull a trigger,” heard on several occasions in an odd company or mix of listeners, standing as he did knees-locked and straight up in place, not to be knocked from that stance by any scowl or foul interjection. He was a man of his word, or many words, and not to be ignored or castigated.

So, on one dark evening just past a soft midnight, with a nostalgic guitar sounding in the distance, he abandoned his post, his regiment, his army and headed west, all by himself, knowing he could survive under most any threats. Those threats included the group of paid snipers assigned to wait on deserters and change their destinations, forever, for a bit of folding money easily tucked away.

Torby immediately ingratiated himself with leaders of two wagons heading for Montana or Kansas, “whichever appears best,” who hired him as their guide. This action took him past any sniper action, the reality being that several innocent men had been killed for such payment. “Best be busy than be shot,” he readily admitted, in another self-convinced undertone.

In due course, the two wagons joined up with a wagon train in Pennsylvania headed by a former officer of the Ohio 9th, who had been injured and discharged from the army, Colonel Paul Stanton, warrior in his own right and a high medal winner. Torby Gregson was his kind of man and his kind of subordinate, having seen him in action, so, measuring the needs of the train, he placed him as head of scouts for the whole outfit. This was a solid move for both men, making full use of available utilities.

Two days beyond Pennsylvania, in the heart of Ohio, they were thought to be a piece-of- cake by an organized group of bandits, which were disheartened by a group of wagon riders who jumped and attacked them with sterling success under command of Torby Gregson, urging them in spectacular movements and tactics.

Stanton was proud of the small, quick group of non-military fighters under command of a military-trained leader, a sure difference in the outlook of the wagon train reaching a final destination.

In the light of that night’s campfires, Stanton saluted Torby Gregson and his crew of men. “I wish I could pin medals on each one of you, but I know you wouldn’t wear them for long, so please accept the thanks of every member of this wagon train who now realize that more such events will come our way before we see the land we want to settle. But we do have a damned good idea of what we are facing and know we have energies and talents in our midst to hopefully repel any groups wishing to upset us. Hail, I say with deepest thanks, to Torby Gregson and his crew of fighters. They are splendid members of our unit.”

The wagon train members did not have long to wait, for in the Indiana territory, the Shawnee Indians, quiet for a long while, had been riled by other bandit gangs and were in the warring mode, and popped up next on the trains schedule. Feeling a sense of too much silence in the air, Torby Gregson advised Stanton that he had spotted some Pawnee outriders, obviously scouts for the tribe, trying to keep a low profile by hiding in trees and gullies on the route ahead.

“They’re making plans at this minute, Paul,” he reported, “and I have seen their scouts trying to stay out of sight, not wanting to let us know they are afoot with plans for us. It’s a cinch they’re coming at us. Every rifle should be loaded, every man on the ready, for they’re coming, I’m convinced.”

“I agree with you, Torby. For sure they’re going to make a pass at us. I’d be doing the same thing, if I were them, but I have no idea of how or when, but I too feel that it’ll be soon. What’s the land like ahead of us? Any places favoring a sneak attack at us, or a wide-open rush for that matter?”

The two of them were measuring each other at a quick moment, noting facial messages, marks of fear or doubt, and each finding a quick comfort in each other.

Torby looked around at the encircled wagons and said, “We have to let them know as soon as we can. The Pawnee won’t wait, once they decide. None of them do. I’ve seen that by other natives all the way into Texas and Nevada and Colorado. They want to ride, and ride hard and fast, strike fast. Hell, we’re on the family grounds and we’d do the same damned thing, if we were in their shoes or saddles. For sure.”

Then, a strange idea penetrated Torby’s mind, one of those I-Won’t-Let-Go types every aware person knows and remembers, like a celebration, a classic turn of events from which one sets marks and standards in the future. He surprised his armed crew by saying, “You may not like this idea, but I can’t and won’t shake it. We are going at them Pawnees in a surprise rush. I want to scatter them, not kill them, so I do not want any casualties to be left after we leave, not a wound, not a scratch, just a thorough scattering of the tribe.”

He pointed at the crew, and continued, “I don’t ask this of you. I order it. This day may be a day to remember, so do as I say, every single one of you.”

That crew did as they were told, for in a mad, wild, noisy rush and firing of weapons mostly into empty air, they scattered the Pawnees in a sudden flight, nit leaving a single wound, not one soul of them dropped in death, nor wounded.

When the day was over, one keen Pawnee chief, Eagle Long-eyes, thought deeply about the incident and its intent, and reached the same conclusion that had started in Torby Gregson’s mind, the mind of a one-time grenadier. There was a care and a concern rarely shown to native peoples in the histories of the 17th=19th centuries in the continual spillage of people heading west.

In time, the way history gathers facts and figures and molds them all together after serious studies for the future, Eagle Long-eyes adopted a new name and became Call-to-Colors and eventually a partner with Torby Gregson in the Gregson-Colors Ranch, a long-standing example of historical Western American ranch property. In time, into this 21st century we now share, the ranch’s final heir, Juston Two-bloods, recently donated the ranch, his ranch, to become a National Park.

The visiting hours are posted on a sign that simply says: Dawn to Dawn.