Campfire short story written for Trish's Comprension Campfire group
| The suns rays found their way through a dark heavy storm cloud. The winds had begun their harsh gusts to stir up the barren landscape below a high ridge. Two traders sat astride their horses upon that jutting rock foundation that formed the jagged sharp base upon which their horses hooves pawed and swayed from side to side impatiently waiting.
Antoine and LaPonte knew the trade and hunting routes well. Antoine was the first to notice movement below, and reached for his long field glass and focusing in on the long line of movement below. He grinned in an almost sinister way, bringing an arm out to his side to get the attention of LaPonte.
"There they are, and It seems they are moving southwest toward the Platte river."
LaPonte quickly removed his long field glass and peered down into what was known as the badlands, catching sight of a long line snaking its way around a shallow bend, and watched their movements for what seemed like an eternity to him.
"Oui, it looks like a northern band of titowan lakota on their way to the winter hunting grounds and winter camp."
The two traders knew they would have to move down off the ridge soon, and get ahead of the moving band if they intended on trading with them. From the size of the band of indians, they both agreed that they would make some pretty good trades. Primarily in furs. They knew they could get ten times the price for them in the eastern city's once winter set in. Watching, they followed the movements and size of the band as it moved ahead. There were hundreds of warriors bringing up the back of the group, keeping their war pony's agile and moving in and out to keep the rest of the herd close together. Farther up, Antoine observed many other pony's dragging travois behind them, laden with lodge poles and neatly rolled up hides. Children dashed back and forth, running between the women who also carried their share of the family's belongings, barking dogs ran with the children, barking and playing and many of them too were laden down with paraflechs and other pouches to help move the band to their new winter camp.
Both men now picked up their horses reins, and nudged them down the incline toward the sparsely wooded river bottom. They too had several horses tethered together, along with a few mules all strapped down with their trade goods. One item in particular, they knew would be a sure trade and much money in their pockets to keep them comfortable throughout the winter months.
Staying parallel with the bands traveling speed, they both kept their pace up with the indians until the tribe wound its way through a long stretch of large boulders, gradually moving out of view, Antoine and LaPonte knew it was time to quicken their pace and reach the immigrant bridge which crossed the Platte some ten to twelve miles ahead of them. Once they knew they were a safe distance ahead of the indians, they slowed their horses down to a walk. They would wait on the south side of the Platte river knowing well enough that the band of indians would be crossing the bridge to their side at that point.
"We will set up our camp to trade about a quarter mile from the bridge, once they cross, they will think that we have been there all along and use that area for our regular trading post." LaPonte exclaimed.
Antoine nodded passively, as it was getting both colder and windier out there, he wanted to get to their trading spot, get the tent up, and a nice warm fire going as soon as possible. As far as he was concerned, they had done enough trading for the year and could easily still make it back to their cabin north of St Louis, and stay the winter until spring thaw hit. He also knew that LaPonte was the greedier one of the two, and would get in as many trading stops as he could before the plains finally seized up with the harsh, freezing, long winter night blizzards and biting winds forced them inside until spring. He also knew that at their last stop on the outskirts of Fort Robinson, they had ran into some rare luck, and traded a few hundred furs and several thick, lush buffalo robes to a southern gentleman who was looking to trade on his way home. The trade had went smoothly as the southern gentleman was up in years, and also quite wealthy, he found that on his last leg home, it was a much easier load to haul by way of furs and hides compared to the wagon load of heavy jugs full of rum.
Yes, with that wagon load of rum, they too now could settle in comfortably for the rest of the winter themselves. They knew the indian men would trade for that easily. They would be like thieves in the night, and judging from the size of this band of indians, they would get plenty in trade for that rum.
Antoine had a habit of cutting the whiskey that he acquired from other traders by pouring only enough to fill a half of a bottle with the whiskey, then filled the other half up with water. What did the indians know? Antoine knew that they would trade everything they owned for a bottle of whiskey, and this time he had rum. A drink which was harder to come by in these parts of the country and knew it would rob the indians blind. They would pack up and leave while the indians, drunken, would be passing out, or dancing and making so much racket they wouldnt notice their departure. It was going to be an easy trade to come. They both would be the ones to make out with the most in the end.
About two hours later, following the winding river bottom up to the narrow trail that lead to the immigrant bridge, they stopped and set up their canvas tent. They then unloaded all the jugs and kegs full of the rum off of the wagon, and laid out a few blankets on the ground to cover with other items such as colorful beads, pots, knives, a few guns, some bolts of bright calico cloth. They also hung up countless items of generally no worth to anyone but the indian, like rolls of string, buttons, ice tongs, and other items they knew the women would want to trade for. Pocket watches and mirrors, those were always good trading items and always seemed to be in demand with the women and children, besides beads and pots, kettles, and notions. By the time they finished, the two traders had the area looking like they had set up camp there for months. DePonte sat on a wooden crate and kept his gray eyes in the direction of the bridge. Just as he had expected, within a half an hour, the first arrivals of the band began crossing the bridge to make their way a few more miles up the Platte and set up their winter village. Buffalo, elk and mule deer were plentiful a few miles south of the river.
Antoine moved forward to stand alongside of DePonte as the first to cross noticed them and their trading camp. Waving, Antoine made welcoming gestures to the indians as they respectfully held back and awaited their chiefs approach first. The men communicated through very broken english words and extensive sign language for about five minutes. Once some sort of trust was established, the trading began. It was a frenzied affair, and the men of the tribe traded all their furs, and many weapons just for the rum alone. Just as they had anticipated, things went according to plan, and the perfect trade alliance was under way. Throughout the afternoon, and into the evening, the indians quickly and progressively became more wild and loud, guns were being shot off just to shoot them and make more noise, as laughter, joking and a few fun spars took place between the men. The women held back, they hated seeing their men in such a state for it left them vulnerable and open to attack by any passing tribe which were no doubt enemys of theirs. It also left them to the weakness of the warriors, and even a few of their women were traded for favors just so the men could get more of the whiskey, guns, ammunition, and of course, the new fire water, rum.
Of course both Antoine and DePonte indulged in the business of trade, both in furs, women, and drunkenness. The women had already made their trades. Such as smoked venison, jerked buffalo meat, beans, tanned white deer and elk hides the women had spent days working on to get them to the soft and pliable state they were in now and were to be used through out the freezing months, along with the buffalo robes they so painstakenly worked finger to the bone to soften, tan, and decorate to keep warm under on long nights of blizzards and howling winds. Gone, everything they owned that they would need for the winter was gone. All within the course of a few hours. Once the men got a taste of the new fire water called "Rum", they did not care what they traded then. The women had traded a few hides and furs for their colored beads, some pots, or a kettle, a piece of brightly flowered calico cloth or spoons made of the white eyes metal. The women had an inner fear of the white eyed traders, who so easily took all their possessions needed, for a few strands of beads, or a pouch, or an iron pot. The men were busy whooping and getting crazy eyed from the fire water, the chief did not approve of this activity but he found it hard to put a stop to it once the men became intoxicated and danced and yelled for more. The chief and a handfull of other elders kept their vigil over the women and children, keeping them at as safe of a distance as they could from the wild men. Antoine and DePonte were no exception either, they too had indulged in the drink, figuring they would get more in trade if they appeared to be just as drunk and pushing more of the rum onto the men.
This wild rip roaring party went on until late at night. The women had pitched a few tipi's and started fires to warm themselves, the children, and the few elders including the chief, as the winds kicked up and a light dusting of snow now covered the ground. The chief and two elders decided this was enough, and stepped toward the makeshift traders tent to put a stop to the noise, dancing, and fighting going on. To their dismay, they were ignored, but then out stepped Antoine. Antoine, DePonte knew for a fact that the man would only tolerate so much noise making and drinking and would after awhile end it.
Unfortunatly the indians had become so drunk and wild on this new fire water called rum, that to Antoines dismay, the indians would have none of his say in the matter. They wanted to continue on with their drinking and merriment, and fighting, and shooting off of guns. DePonte at this time became annoyed, and also nervous. He did not know just how far Antoine could go with this particular band of indians to get them to stop for the night. Their plan had been to slip away with all the bands belongings, into the night, and head east toward their cabin for the rest of the winter near St Louis. At this point, it just was not happening. They could not stay and expect the indians to just walk away and let them take all their belongings without an argument or fight. Things were just not going their way this night. Not as they had planned. DePonte looked at Antoine nervously, and spoke with a heavy panic stricken tone.
"What do we do now Antoine? If we leave they will follow. If we make them leave, they may fight us and then take back all that we traded for here, what can we do?"
Antoine unsteadily sat down upon a wooden crate and ran a hand down through his unruly beard watching what he had started here, seeing now that the rum was not such a good idea afterall. He pondered for a few moments, slowly shaking his head he gazed out into the pitch black prairie ahead of him.
"I am not sure, and there is no one to help us within a hundred miles from here. If the soldiers at Ft Robinson find out what we are up to, we will be thrown in jail. If we do not find a way to leave soon, and take with us the furs and robes, meat, and pouches of food, we may end up dead."
Antoine was now beginning to pace, he knew the chief and the few elders of the tribe had tried to intervene. Why didnt they do more? stop them, or make the band move toward where they will set up their winter village? He now noticed that the elders and the chief had already predicted this would happen, and decided to just let itself ride out instead of stopping it. No, this was not working to the traders advantage now either. It would have to be up to them now, to start something, and he knew that those who were not passed out from too much drink, would end up getting shot or knocked out, for he had to do something or all would be lost. All their trade goods including the most important one, the rum would be gone, and they would have no profits to return home with for the winter. That was not supposed to be how this was to work. He then looked over to DePonte and muttered under his breath as the melee continued just as loud and strong as it had been earlier.
"You know now what must be done, prehaps shoot one of their elders, to draw their attention to them instead of us? If that does not work, steal a few of their women, they are too drunk to care. Or, we both end up with nothing and go home poor."
DePonte nodded cautiously, for he was well aware of what could and most likely would happen if they shot an elder of the tribe, or even a warrior or two for that fact. Stealing a few women would be the easiest way out for them now, and they could be rid of them once they got back to the ridge from where they started from.
(indent}He nodded to Antoine, and motioned with a hand in a slight gesture to just move casually out of the group to not attract attention, and knock out a couple of the women to take captive. Everything they had traded for earlier was already packed and on the backs of the horses and mules. They had even traded a barrel of rum for a travois to help them carry the extra hides and furs. All they had to do was hide the women after knocking them out, then hook up the travois to one of the horses, and slowly walk away with the women bound to the travois under a robe or two, yes, they could get away with it if they were careful. He rose to his feet, and the plan was now under way.
Most of the women were sitting in small groups talking quietly to each other, the children were sleeping, the elders were asleep except for the old chief and one other elder who he was speaking with. As Antoine and DePonte approached a small group of women, they watched silently around them to be sure they were not detected. Grabbing two young women who sat apart from the other groups, was an easy enough task, and with two swift blows to the back of their heads to knock them unconscious, they quietly dragged them toward the trading tent.
Several sets of dark eyes watched in silence from behind the trading tent. Four of the tribes scouts had returned to report any trouble which may lie ahead for the tribe as it journeyed toward their new village site along the Platte. What DePonte and Antoine did not count on, nor see arriving in the black of night, nor heard approach due to all the noise made by the drunken warriors, were the four scouts. With several more on their way back also from their scouting trips ahead of the tribe earlier that day.
As they drug the women to the back of the trading tent, and dropped them down to bind them up with rope and gag their mouths so no sound would be heard from them should they awaken, the whisper of a soft click was heard behind them. Antoine instantly looked up at DePonte. DePonte jerked his head up to look behind Antoine, and before any sound could be heard from his gasping throat, came a loud crack of a gun report, then another. As Antoine looked at DePonte, and DePonte stared at Antoine with a dropping jaw, each seen the others blood splatter upon the other. Both had been shot in the back by the scouts but neither had seen a thing. Antoine fell immediatly forward, as DePonte watched through blank dead eyes, right before he too fell on top of Antoine. The trading days were brought to a swift and abrupt end within a seconds time.
The chief and two elders came up behind the scouts, and folded their arms across their chest. They could now see the plan the two traders had in mind. The one thing the two traders did not know was to make sure you got every indian drunk at one time. This they did not do, and assumed the whole tribe had been present. The chief and the elder both nodded to the scouts, who then dragged Antoine and DePonte out into the open prairie, and left them there.
As the women packed up their horses, and also took the traders goods and horses already packed with all of their worldly goods for surviving the winter, and the men sobered up quickly after drinking some hot sage tea. As the early morning twilight moved in and the sight of the morning star came into view, they mounted up and somewhere off into the distance they heard the howl and cry of several coyotes and their familys, getting ready to enjoy an early morning breakfast themselves. The indians silently rode off to their new winter village carrying and hauling all their worldly goods, and then some.