Western Fiction: A Texas Ranger Captain flees from Mescalero Apaches after being ambushed.
Standing in his stirrups, reins in his teeth, the small framed half breed Indian and Texas Ranger Captain holstered two empty Colts and peered over the crest of a hill. His Lipan instinct told him not to top that hill. He wasn't concerned about taking care of himself in a fair fight, but at last count there were five angry Mescalero Apaches hot on his trail. This pause to identify his location would cost him time and possibly escape, but he couldn't ride blind over a hilltop for fear of riding into another Apache ambush.
Patting the neck of his paint horse he whispered, "Easy now Amigo, there's a-heap-o trouble aroun' here sommerse, easy feller."
Amigo knew trouble; he'd been ridden hard in battle before, but neither horse nor rider had been separated entirely from their ten Ranger Company in the past. The Texas Rangers had been pursuing the Apache war party when somehow they and their scouts had been flanked and ambushed at a small Brazos river crossing at least two miles east of where they were now.
With a sudden sense of danger, Amigo turned from the hill crest and bounded away with such speed he almost lost his rider who was still standing in the stirrups trying to peer over the rise.
Amigo reached a full run in three bounds as the agile Ranger regained balance and turned in his saddle at the same time to see his attackers. The five Apaches topped the hill on their Mustangs at a full run with bows drawn. Two arrows whizzed by, the third pierced his boot lodging painfully in the back of his right calf.
He spurred the horse through unusually thick broom weed urging him toward a small stand of Mesquite at the base of another Texas mountain a half mile away to the northwest. Giving free reins to Amigo, he held the saddle horn with his left hand while he worried with removing pain of the bouncing arrow. He jerked the arrow from his leg and pain shot up his leg and into his back. It hurt him so he thought he was going to fall from his saddle. He held the saddle horn with all his might letting his horse flee as he felt warm blood quickly filling his boot. Another pair of arrows missed, singing past his side and Amigo's head.
He was feeling faint and, for the first time that day, fear crept in as he concentrated on staying atop of his horse.
One Apache pulled along side and bumped his wounded leg. He heard an Apache war cry as the Indian slashed a 2-inch gash through his rawhide coat and into his right shoulder with a large Bowie knife.
At the same time, the Ranger let out a whoop of his own as Amigo took an unexpected leap, over a ravine twenty-feet across and thirty-feet deep. Through all of the excitement he hadn't seen the dangerous expanse, and now all he could do was hold on. The muscled steed landed the jump stumbling but safely on the other side as if he'd had wings, but the pursuing Indians weren't so lucky. Caught up in the chase, they and their horses plunged unexpectedly into the hazard hidden among the high broom weed. The Ranger heard Apache screams silenced as they plunged to their deaths into the jagged bedrock below.
Amigo, blowing hard, didn't miss a stride toward the wintering Mesquite trees. When he reached them he turned north, and slowed some along the side of the hill, his ranger swaying in the saddle from pain, and loss of blood. Amigo slowed to an easy walk, but continued northwest, determined as if directed by knowing hands.
Ranger Captain James Little-Owl Whitley, "Hoot" to his friends and fellow rangers, was unsuccessfully attempting to remain conscious. After a 20-minute ride, rocking atop his trusted horse, everything around him faded into white.
A few hours later, Hoot awoke lying on his left side. He looked toward his feet and saw a hat sized fire nearby, the flames lightly washing three rock walls and realized he was in a small cave. The fire also illuminated a young petite Apache squaw crouching quietly, looking into the darkness outside.
He wondered who she was, and why she had chosen to risk her life in order to help him. Without moving he went through a mental checklist of his injuries. Oddly, he was no longer feeling pain. He felt bandages on his shoulder and leg, the cool of the dirt floor, but he could not feel the wounds in his shoulder and leg.
He looked back at the woman and although he could not see her face, her silhouette was familiar somehow. He closed his eyes for a time remaining silent, and wondered if he was in danger, and tried to remember how he got into the cave. Eventually, he decided to trust his safety to this Indian woman who had evidently nurtured his wounds, and was protecting him, but was also concerned about the safety of his men. Not knowing how long he had been unconscious, he couldn't hear the fire and concluded he was still experiencing some hearing loss from gunfire during the short battle. A few minutes later he opened his eyes to see the squaw skinning a small rabbit.
She looked up at him with a caring smile, but it appeared that she was looking completely through him. He sat up slowly, and with a few hand signs thanked her for her help as she continued to clean the animal.
Her face... somehow, he knew this face though his memory was cloudy. She placed the animal on a rock that bordered the fire. He searched his mind and watched as the smoke grew slowly in the mouth of the cave covering her almost completely from sight. She stood and walked toward him with the same smile, looking deep into him... through him. Then she whispered gently as though a fresh breeze were tipping dew from the bowl of a buttercup. It was Apache tongue and he did not understand but again she whispered and suddenly he remembered. It couldn't be! She whispered once more and he understood somehow, "You are rested and healed my son."
Her image paled slightly as she knelt beside him placing her motherly hands onto his leg, painlessly removing the wrapped bandage in one motion, which disappeared as it was discarded against the rock wall.
"Ma?" He whispered.
Fading further into the cave's darkness she touched his shoulder releasing those bindings as well, which fell silent to the ground and also vanished.
"Ma, don't go!" He spoke louder, but her apparition faded into the smoke and darkness of the cave's cool climate.
Standing, he shouted, "Ma, come back!" There was nothing to see, and no answer only a faint echo.
Alone now, standing still, he realized he was hearing someone else yell, a man's voice.' "Hoot! Cap'n Hoot, whur the devil are yew?"
Baffled by his recent mysterious vision he called out, "Sarge, I'm in this here cave!"
"The one yore shoutin' inta you fool!"
"I ain't shoutin' inta no cave, whur are yew?"
The Ranger Captain looked around for his Ma one last time seeing nothing but smoke from the small fire. Pa said she'd died during childbirth, just after giving him life. She was the one who'd named him Little Owl. All He'd ever seen was one picture. He picked up the cooked rabbit and ambled through the smoke toward the darkness of outdoors.
He was outside in the blink of an eye, but it wasn't darkness he'd walked into, it was daylight. Sitting on their mounts before him, were eight of his ten Rangers looking away from him down the hill. Sergeant Taylor was holding Amigo's reins.
"What are ya'll looking at?"
Startled along with the rest of the men, Sergeant Taylor turned quickly in his saddle. "Mah God Cap'n Hoot, whur'd yew come from?"
"Right outta that cave!" Hoot insisted, turning and pointing to an extremely large and obviously solid granite boulder. In a stupor, he stood staring at the towering two-story cabin-sized rock.
"Where'd ya git that rabbit Cap'n Hoot? Ain't no fires 'roun here. How'd ya cook 'im?"
Mystified, Hoot looked down at the rabbit in his hand, back at the rock, then slowly over at the horizon and the red sun. "Sergeant Taylor, Is it dawn?"
"Sunday we just got ourselves ambushed 'bout five hours ago-"
"Yessir Cap'n uh... yew al-right? I see your coats cut an so-"
"Yep... I'm OK."
"Cap'n? Why wuz ya hollering fer your ma?"
"Sergeant, you wouldn't never in a hundred years believe me if I told you." Changing the subject he asked, "Where's Shorty 'n Joe?"
Suddenly talkative, Taylor answered. "They bought the farm today Cap'n Hoot. We couldn't find you so we burreed 'em down by the Brazos where we'uz bushwhacked. How'd ya fake all five of them Injuns into that ray-veene? We kilt four of'em others in that band, ten turned tail 'n got away but your five's a mighty big days work for one feller, even fer a Cap'n. Ya know it was a powerful purdy day before we... "Taylor kept rambling. It was said that he talked the ears off of the Devil which is why snakes don't have ears.
Hoot was studying his clean pierced denims that the arrow had cut while the sergeant kept jabbering. He reached down and pulled up his pants leg slowly and saw a hole in the back of his boot and a fresh scar on his calf. So I was arrowed!
Kicking his pants leg back down he made a quick decision interrupting the sergeant's oral dissertation. "Men I don't know what happened to me today but I don't never won't to talk about it again after I turn in the report, got that? Today didn't never happen! I don't even believe it my own self. At least I don't think I do."
Hoot mounted Amigo and turned east spurring toward Fort Worth. "Let's go get a drink." Then mumbling, "I'm needin' three fingers of whiskey. Hell, I might need a whole bottle, who knows? Fort Worth's Half Acre cain't be no more dangerce than what we done today; no more strange either..."
"Cap'n you ok? You look like yew done seen a ghost er something-"
Hoot handed the rabbit to the Sarge, "Why don't you shuddup and eat this varmit... of a sudden I ain't too hungry..."
"Shore I'm hungrier than a sprang-time bear. Whur'd-ja git that medicine bag that's around your neck anyway, 'n how'd-ja cook this here varmit? There ain't no cook fire 'round here... This here rabbit is good tastin' rabbit! Yew ain't never cooked rabbit like this here. Whar in tarnation did yew git this... "
Hoot still thinking......arrow wound healed, knife wound healed almost immediately... "Cave!"
"Cave? What'er yew talkin' bout Cap'n there weren't no cave roun' there...
"I thought I told you to eat and quit yer jabbering." Cave in a solid granite rock...