Yankton Book 3 Chapter 58 Aftermath
Mike said nothing so I let it rest. Eventually he dropped off to sleep as Jeff and I talked about the current mission, what we were going to do about the other two men, and reminiscing about our time in Afghanistan. Jeff spelled me so I could catch a couple hours sleep until shortly after dawn he gently shook me.
"Someone's coming out," I woke Mike, and while I focused on the man Mike studied him through the binoculars.
"He ain't one of the men, exclaimed Mike. Jeff alerted the others over the radio that our friends were waking up so stand by. Not long after, smoke began to come from the chimney of the dug-out, then another man emerged.
"That one of them," said Mike.
"Are you sure?" I replied. He looked again confirming his first observation. The man had taken a piss next to a tree then slowly walked down to the edge of the river carefully looking around. I had a bead on him the whole time, center-of-mass. I had also installed my suppressor on the barrel, so at this distance along with the sound the river was making no one would hear the shot.
The moment he stood up I squeezed the trigger. I could almost see the round hit him slightly to the left of his breast bone, as he fell backwards and just laid there.
I then had Mike keep a constant watch on the door, explaining,
"You've got to be ready to identify the next man out that door Mike because he's gonna see that body lying out there, then he's gonna slam that door, and we're gonna have a shoot-out on our hands." Mike agreed to the task while both Jeff and I kept our rifle scopes fixed on the door. I alerted the others as to what was happening, and to stand by.
About ten minutes later, the door opened, and a man stepped out,
"What about it Mike?" I asked.
"He struggled to get a better look as the man immediately spotted his partner lying dead on the shore. At the same time Mike exclaimed,
"He ain't the other," the man shouted, and jumped back inside the shack.
Mike felt bad for taking so long to identify him but I replied,
"It's alright son, better to be safe than sorry." Both Jeff and I knew what was coming next. Someone then broke out the window, and fired a rifle. The hit was way off as Marty's frantic voice came over the radio.
"What's going on?"
"Wrong man spotted my handi-work and ran back inside, now we've got us a shoot-out, stand by."
Someone fired a couple more times out the window but again they were way off.
"Someone's going to try and make a rush to that lean-to," I announced, "We can't do it the easy way anymore, take him out."
Moments later someone did, and together Jeff and I ended his life.
It all happened so fast, Mike couldn't make any identification, but at this point it didn't matter anymore. While Jeff concentrated on the door, I centered my fire on the window. Each of us dumped a twenty round magazine into our targets then paused to reload. Someone was shouting from inside the shack, but we couldn't tell what he was saying. Shortly the door opened slightly, and a white handkerchief on a stick appeared. Someone was shouting,
"Don't shoot, please don't shoot, I'm coming out."
I was keeping the others updated on all that was going on so moments after whoever it was began to plead for mercy Calamity and Marty crept down along side the shack rifles at the ready.
"Tom's just down a little," whispered Marty covering us." Calamity called for whoever was inside to throw out all their weapons and come out with their hands up. Three rifles, and five pistols, along with a couple knives came flying out the door as a single man cautiously stepped outside.
"He ain't one of 'em, stated Mike. We remained hidden as we covered the others. While Marty and Caleb dealt with the man, Calamity went in side, then came back out and spoke to Marty.
"She says there are two dead men inside, and one of them is the other man."
When we got back across the river, Marty and Tom had the man tied up and sitting down. He about jumped when he saw Jeff and I in our cammies, and faces painted up approached him. Mike confirmed that one of the men inside was the other man. We learned the man I had shot on the river bank was Jessup Cole; the other man which apparently was hit by one of Jeff's shots was Albert Drake. The man Jeff and I both shat was Joseph Beal and the other man was Walter Bidwell.
According to Walter, he and Mr. Beal were to take them out to a ranch up on Sixteen Mile Creek that was hiring. Beal knew Albert and was vaguely acquainted with Cole but was aghast when we told him what the pair had done back in Deadwood.
"I'm sorry your partner is dead Mr. Bidwell, but you play stupid games you win stupid prizes. You are welcome to the horses and tack but we'll be taking the guns except your pistol." Bidwell was glad he was still alive swearing he held no animosity towards us. As we were preparing to leave, I saw Mike standing over the bodies of his mother's killers.
"C'mon Mike, time to go," called Caleb.
We moved a ways down river before Jeff and I changed clothes and washed the face paint off. No one was in the mood to say much, even Martha was unusually somber, the job was over, now it was time for the long ride home. This time we followed the Yellowstone taking Clark's Fork south. I told Martha we wanted to make a swing by the Little Bighorn battlefield site on the way home. One night as we camped near Columbus, she asked me about all the strange rifles and gear we were packing.
"Ain't never seen anything like it before, where did you fellows get it all?"
I then sat down next to her by the campfire and told her.
Martha, Jeff and Marty, along with myself are from the future, ask Tom and Caleb, they have been there and will confirm it."
"That's all you really need to know, and probably want to know. However I want you to remember this one thing. Whatever you think of yourself, or what you think others think of you, you're name is in all the history books. Folks for years to come will know your name. Not only you but Wild Bill, Sheriff Bullock, Charlie Utter, Deadwood, even that rat Swearingen. Now normally I don't do this but I think I owe it to you. When your time comes, you will join Bill on Mount Moriah, of that I can say no more." She looked at me for the longest time then quietly said,
"I always knew there was something special 'bout you Mr. Yankton. Once I asked Seth 'bout you but he clammed up and wouldn't say nuthin."
Later I told her that I had approached Mike about living in Purgatory.
"Caleb really like him, maybe it's because he shares a similar life story. Anyway we'd love to have him, and it certainly would beat an orphanage any way you cut it. I could see tears starting to form in her eyes as she said,
"Like I said, I knew there was something special 'bout you Mr. Yankton. His ma would be real pleased that a man like you would take him in. I'd love to but you know me, I ain't no fittin mother." I smiled at her,
"Martha your problem is that your just a hundred years ahead of your time."
It had been four years since the battle had taken place but there were still bones, both human and animal scattered around the battlefield. We had roughly followed the Little Bighorn River as it twisted and turned it's way south. I had brought a park brochure to assist in orienting myself to where everything was. There were several grave markers to be sure but only after standing on last stand hill, could I get a general idea of the situation at the time. I had only been here once before as a kid. Dad had made a stop and as I recall we spent a couple hours here trying to get the feel of a battle that had taken place well over a hundred years before. I remembered little from that time, so I had to go entirely on the map. We rode south along the general direction of battlefield road to the approximate location of Medicine Tail Ford. I pointed out to everyone where the Indian camp was and where they had been routed. As we were making our way towards Weir Point, Caleb spotted the remains of a flattened bull's-eye canteen. Not long after, Marty found the remains of an army colt still cocked. Surprisingly, the wooden hand grips were mostly intact.
Up on the Reno-Benteen battle site, the crude trenches were still very visible, with Mike finding a rusted plate, and the remains of a hardtack box. Further poking around revealed a regulation tin cup marked US on the handle. I also found a Springfield trapdoor carbine with a definite bullet hole in the stock that had split the stock with only the butt plate keeping it together. Tom found another pistol, and Caleb found another carbine, this one with the breechblock open and what looked like a round still in the chamber. These would be relics to add to my collection. As we moved east Tom spotted a collection of bones in the grass isolated from all the others. Dismounting we discovered the bones to be human and mostly together. There were still remains of blue cloth and rotted pieces of leather. Marty discovered the remains of a leather courier's case with a pistol inside as well as what must have been documents. Digging around I found the remains of a Spencer carbine that was pretty far gone.
The stock, while grey and cracked was still attached. On a whim, I took the shovel we had packed and dug a grave carefully placing the bones into it along with the remains of the case and uniform and boots. Apparently whoever had shot him had no doubt intended on returning but never did. Unfortunately there was nothing to indicate who he had been so covering the grave I stuck the carbine barrel first deep into the soil as a marker. Tom said a few words over the grave, then Jeff, myself, Marty and Tom removed our hats and stood at attention saluting this unknown soldier for a full minute. Before mounting up I took some compass bearings as best I could for later referral before hitting the trail for home.
One thing I'll say for the route we took out to Bozeman, we ran into very few people, not so on the return. We crossed paths with all sorts of people, cow punchers heading up to Montana, freight wagons, another army patrol, and a Crow hunting party who took a dim view of Marty. Unlike last time, Tom was here to speak for him along with offering a couple bow strings, some ammunition as well as some beads he had thought to pack anticipating just such a situation. Because of this, we didn't stop for the night preferring to keep moving in case they changed their minds and decided to come back. We roughly traveled the route future US 212 would take down towards Belle Fourche. I made sure we made a wide birth of Alzada, remembering previous problems there. Camping south of there along the Missouri, we could finally relax knowing home was very close now. I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing; we had ridden with history and worked out well as a team. On our last night out, as we sat around the campfire, where I asked Calamity about Hickok and the rumors as well as her storied life. It took a little coaxing but I got her to open up. Most of what she sold us I already knew, she recounted that fateful day in the Nuttal and Mann's saloon where Bill lost his life.
"I was waitin' for Bill to finish his game," she said. "He had a horse he was thinking of buying and he wanted me to give it a look-see to make sure it wasn't gimp or sick. I was standin' at the bar talkin' to a fellow that drove for Charlie when this little fellow stormed in. I'd seen him around town before and didn't think nuthin of it. Anyway, he came up to the bar and bought a drink then started whisperin' to another man at the bar. I continued to talk to my friend when next thing I know McCall was standin behind Bill watchin' him play. I turned back to the bar to order another drink when there came a shot. I turned around and my Bill was lyin on the floor. I immediately went to him but he was dead. Some say I called the little fellow a dirty rat but I can't really remember what I said, if anything, my Bill was dead."
She took a deep sigh, and took a swig of whiskey,
"Someone told me they caught the fellow and I think I went outside to see if they was gonna string him up. Sheriff Ike showed up and swore there would be a trial. I think at that point I just went back inside."
I asked her again about her and Bill but all she would say is,
"We was just good friends, Bill had a wife somewhere. I thought a lot of him, I really did, we kind of looked out fur each other." I thought seriously about telling her about Mt. Moriah but decided against it. I did tell her that Bill's hand of card along with his chair still existed and were hanging on the wall of Saloon Number Ten.
"The place has moved from its original site but visitors to Deadwood can look up on the wall and see them." She looked at me and snorted,
"Funny what folks think is important." Both Jeff and I each got nice autographs and the next day I secretly got a nice picture of her looking at something off in the distance.
I assured her once more, we'd look after Mike, which I think took a lot off her mind.
"I don't want him to end up in no orphanage; they make children mean and hateful."
"I'll tell him what I told Caleb when I took him in.
"Son, I can never be your pa, or ma, and I won't even try. However, I'll make sure you never go for want. I'll never beat you, or be mean. I'll be firm but fair. It seemed to work, he's been with us going on three years and he's really going to be a solid young man, I'm proud as hell of him."
Finally the adventure came to an end, we got into Purgatory around late afternoon, I managed to talk Calamity into spending the night, Montana let her have one of the empty rooms upstairs, but Martha certainly took advantage of my free drinks offer. She also spent a great deal of time playing cards with Montana along with Miss Linstrom's beau, who was back, as well as a whiskey salesman, and a professional gambler. It was the sort of card game I kept a close eye on, because in a group like that anything could happen. We put Mike up in the last empty tent cabin in which Caleb offered to stay as well as he showed young Mike the ropes. Miss Linstrom's boyfriend Clayton O'Keefe was the first to cash out of the game, citing the fact that he had reached his limit. He also told us he was rather surprised by Calamity's skill at cards.
"I think she's going to win that game," he casually stated. He also told me that I was owed an apology.
"I took your advice Mr. Yankton, I spent some serious time riding around up in the hills taking a good hard look, and am forced to change my mind as to where the tracks should run. You were right, while most of the purposed route could easily accommodate standard gauge, there are many places, critical ones, mind you that would be cheaper running narrow gauge. There are grades and elevations that are the equal of anything found in the Rockies."
He was soon joined by Miss Linstrom who quickly changed the subject.