Western Short Story
Old-school, blustery Kirk Gibbs, Sr., sent his new-school son, Kirk Jr., on his 17th birthday, out on a trip to buy some horses for the ranch, getting ready for a new cattle drive to market. The father sent off his son with a pat on the back and a satchel with money for the upcoming purchase, it was 1888, most wars long over, including many skirmishes with members of Indian nations surmounted by the Sioux nation led by Red Bow whose son is well-known as Red Bow Feather. The Sioux had governed much of the open plains, for centuries upon centuries they had sustained themselves on what they could reap of its goods.
Somebody on the Gibbs’ ranch, the KGJ spread, must have shot off his mouth, because only two nights out, at his early night campfire, young Gibbs was pummeled, trussed and robbed of his buying power. And they took his guns, boots, belt, and his sombrero, like hat to foot, for that matter.
Sore, discouraged, his very soul stung by the loss, it took him three days through three towns of celebration by the robbers to come upon them and their noisy stupor at a campfire site on the open plains, the fire visible for miles. Kirk Jr., really quick with his guns from his father’s instructions, shot dead two of them, wounded the obvious boss man, trussed him with rope, mounted him on the man’s own horse, and took him to the nearest town after retrieving his money, or what was left of it, rom all three thieves.
The sheriff, Knox Middlehouse, said, “Well, well, Lingo, what have you got to say for yourself now, and I don’t care if it’s in American, Spanish, Irish, Scottish or Indian, Makes no difference to me ‘cause you got brought in by some shrimp of a kid if you was to ask me” He turned to young Gibbs, looking like a 14-year older, and said, “It’s a payday for you, my boy. I got a poster on Lingo Harndy and when we lock him up in my jail, you got $500 coming your way from that bank across the road there,” where he pointed. He added, “Of course, it comes through my hands, if you know what I mean. New-school Kirk Gibbs was learning fast, out there in the whole world.
$400 was better than nothing, certainly making up some of his losses, him realizing losses come with a variety of dimensions and other measurements that one can appreciate.
He slept that night on a soft bed in a room above the saloon, the door bolted, a chair propped under the doorknob, and one pistol hanging in his holster on the post of the bed and the other pistol under his pillow. He didn’t respond to the soft taping at the door as he was about to fall off to sleep; a more important night of pleasant dreams creeping upon him with a secure grip.
The next day, the sheriff, Knox Middlehouse, had some new words for him. “You got a helluva start on your trip, son, and keep your eyes and ears open at all times. And I can direct you to a spread where you can buy yourself some horses. Gent by the name off Holly Majors runs the whole she-bang out there maybe a dozen miles or so, at the Majority Ranch. He always has a string of horses that he’ll let go at a good price, which will include enough hands to drive them all the way back to wherever you want them to go. The man’s good as gold and I’d trust hm with my soul, he’s that honest. I don’t know another man like him.”
It sounded like the testimony the ages. Yet he shook his head in reality’s exasperation.
“Thanks for everything, Sheriff,” offered the youngster, “and for this lead to Mr. Majors. He. sounds like we’ll get along real good.”
“Well, son,” replied the sheriff, “you can count this end of your trip practically done and wrapped up.” He presented a happy and satisfied countenance for a general observation.
“So,” the next day said Holly Majors to young Gibbs, “the sheriff sent you to me to buy some of my horses, and I tell you, son, I got horses galore. Just this week we rounded up some beautiful animals that swelled my herd almost a half more, a gorgeous haul by my crew. They must have worked a couple of days getting this flock together, absolute beauties the whole bunch of them. Those boys got the best horse eyes of any crew I ever had, right down to the newest man, not much older than you, I’ll bet. The rest of the boys call hm Kitten but don’t let that fool you one bit. He’s kind of a Tiger, if you ask me, and knows horses from the day he was practically born on the back side of one of them critters wild out there on the plains, by the scores of them. The only ones know ‘em any better is them Injuns been living with ‘em forever and then some more, Most of ‘em around here are Sioux, them and their horses in the mix I bet for centuries before we come along, the late-comers we are, and them for years we ain’t begun to count yet. Them’s the real horsemen of the plains. I wish to god I knew what they know about those wild horses out there on the loose, herds of ‘em there ain’t no counting to.”
A sadness, thorough and real, floated its sensation across his face, like a man in the midst of his riches and not knowing it.
Kirk Gibbs, Jr. was still learning the ways of the world, at least the western world of America, the wide and wild plains, the stretches of rugged mountains, the rush of rivers and streams, the peoples of it old and new, and yet no true way for him to study and count the history of the west.
He made the deal with Holly Majors and was exhilarated with the herd of horses now his and his father’s property. Some of them had to be broken in, for sure, but some of them were majestic beasts of the plains, proud, strong, handsome, obviously of a long lineage of the land going in every direction which seemed measureless the longer he looked at it. It would be good to get home, to turn this gallant and handsome herd over to his father, make him proud of entrusting his son to do a good job of buying a herd of horses, become a young man in a matter of weeks. Pride indeed filled his chest, almost burst in him, it came so strong, so quickly, so close to completion.
It was at such a moment of personal glory nearly swamping him, when one of the riders approached him and said, “Boss, there’s a Sioux Injun out at the edge of the herd who’s saying we have one of his horses in our remuda, been part of his family for a long while, was his father’s horse and I kind of get the impression that his father ain’t around anymore. He carries a real serious look on his face, like he’s hurting inside, but he doesn’t have any weapons on him that I can see, and I admit I wouldn’t want to go hand-to-hand with him in a tussle, looks strong as a bull and quick as a snake..”
“What’s his name?”
“He says his name is Red Bow Feather and I can’t figure any more than that, except he keeps pointing at that great hunk of a black stallion we been taking about off and on since the boys run that last group in here. That’s some kind of an animal.”
Kirk Briggs Jr. said, “Bring him in. Can’t hurt to talk to him.”
The Sioux called Red Bow Feather came at a slow pace, but his eyes kept in constant surveillance of all about him and the young man with whom he would be discussing ownership of one horse.
Young Briggs said, “What makes you think have a horse that belong to you? There’s a hundred horses out there in the corral.”
Red Bow Feather, in a strong voice, said, “I could prove it in minutes by just walking into the corral, and induce the acceptance I would receive from the stallion. Like a papoose joined again with its mother, an immediate recognition. But I would rather tell you about the horse. His name is Sky Walker, and to state the truth, he is not my horse but he is my father’s horse. He belonged to my father, Chief Red Bow. That pure black stallion of the Great Plains brought my wounded father back to our village from a confrontation with rustlers so that my father could get ready to meet the Chief of Chiefs,’’ at which announcement he acknowledged something of the Here-after, or the Eternal, by pointing directly overhead.
Kirk Briggs, Jr., suddenly realized the unity of all life and knew he had a tale, an unforgettable tale, to tell his father: the trade winds had blown well.
He tossed a nearby loop of rope to Red Bow Feather, “Take him home with you. And I will tell my father what this trip has taught me. He has no idea of what I have learned.”
A Sioux warrior and a young rancher shook hands in the middle of nowhere.