Valley of the Thunder Wheel

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A century old feud comes to a head.

Council Chief Weeping Sky pulled the blanket tighter. The chill of autumn was setting in on the long valley of the Thunder Wheel. The snows would soon begin to fall. It is then that the cold would penetrate all the way to his old and weary bones. Stoically, Weeping Sky took that as an affirmation of life. He figured that as long as he could feel discomfort, it was proof that he wasn't yet dead.

Stretched out on the bench seat of his 4-wheel drive pickup truck, the council chief hoped for a good night's sleep. He would need all his strength and his wits, particularly his wits, come morning. Having tracked the Night Rider for two days, he was certain an encounter was imminent. He needed to be on his toes when he faced down the armed and potentially dangerous trespasser.

Such an arduous task would probably better be left to a younger man, but Weeping Sky was one of only a handful of officially commissioned police officers covering hundreds of square miles of tribal lands. Plus, he had the least to lose. His wife had died the previous year, and his children had long ago moved to the big city in pursuit of their own dreams. If things went bad, he wouldn't be leaving behind a widow to raise a young family.

The feud between the Goosalaikka Nation of Native-Americans and the African-Americans of the Buffalo Soldier Brothers had a long and tortuous history. During the early period, the conflict had been violent. In more recent times, however, the fighting had become less lethal. The last shooting that ended in a fatality was now 40 years in the past. Nevertheless, both parties were armed, and any slight misunderstanding could lead to gunplay given the bad blood between the two groups.

How the feud began is a matter of dispute, depending mostly upon which side is telling the story. Even the exact date has been lost in the retelling from generation to generation. The most reliable and least biased version claims it all started on Thanksgiving Day in the year 1919.

Ignatius P. Dejoie, a history student at Xavier University in New Orleans, had gone west to do field research on the Buffalo Soldiers. They were the African-Americans who served with distinction in the U.S. 10th Cavalry during the Indian Wars of the 1870s. During a time when black history was virtually ignored in America, Mr. Dejoie had hoped his studies might eventually lead to a master's thesis or even a doctoral dissertation.

On Thanksgiving day, two men found him roasting a suckling lamb over his camp fire. Being sheep ranchers, the Goosalaikka braves accused him of being a rustler. Mr. Dejoie insisted that he had bought the sheep and produced a receipt of the purchase. What happened next is crux of the matter.

According to Mr. Dejoie, the illiterate Indians, unable to comprehend the writing on the paper, beat him up and left him for dead. According to the Goosalaikka, Dejoie pulled a gun and shot both men before they could react, leaving them for dead. In fact, nobody died as a result of the fight, but the feud had been spawned.

Back home, Ignatius Dejoie nursed a grudge. He was determined to have justice. He would extract his revenge by eating a Goosalaikka lamb sometime during the Thanksgiving - Christmas holiday season annually for the rest of his life. To add muscle to his scheme, he founded a secret society called the Buffalo Soldier Brothers and enlisted several upperclassmen to his cause. His willing compatriots viewed the annual trip west as more of a fraternity prank than a vendetta, but dangerous pranks sometimes lead to tragedy. Over the decades, several men from both sides had been shot. A few of them had died.

Over the intervening century, the nature of the feud has evolved in unanticipated ways. The Buffalo Soldier Brothers are now mostly third and fourth generation, middle aged businessmen experiencing mid-life crises. The bloom of youth having worn off, the Brothers now seek to prove to themselves that they still have what it takes to be men. They seek the thrill of wild adventure, and sometimes they let their fantasies get the better of them. When that happens, it can lead to serious consequences.

The sheep rustling has also become ritualized and quite bizarre over time. Now, instead of a bunch of Brothers invading tribal territory, they select one man every year as their champion. He is called the Night Rider. He dresses in a hood and robes very similar to Ku Klux Klan garb, only his outfit is jet black. He wears whiteface makeup. A Catholic crucifix is tied around his left wrist, and he wears a Colt .44 single action army revolver just like the cavalry soldiers of the Indian Wars. When he lets his imagination run away with him, the Night Rider can be a very dangerous man.

Three days ago, the Night Rider rode out onto the long valley of the Thunder Wheel from a secret location just after dark. His job was to cut out one lamb from the herd and return it to the Buffalo Brothers camp just outside tribal land. In order that he not be accused of theft, he was to drop a brightly covered package on the plains containing $1,000.00 and a duplicate receipt for one sheep. He was expected back by midnight. When he didn't return after 24 hours, the Brothers filed a missing person report. 

Hearing the news, Council Chief Weeping Sky pinned on his badge, loaded his Winchester Model '94, strapped on his Glock .40 cal. automatic and gassed up his truck. He too then rode out onto the long valley of the Thunder Wheel.

Weeping Sky found the Night Rider's horse on the afternoon of the first day. The stallion was placidly eating grass alongside a few stray sheep. Finding the horse unharmed and content, the chief decided to let him be. The animal would do just fine on his own for the time being.

Real life is nothing like that depicted in the old cowboy movies. An Indian scout cannot tell a man's height and weight from a single bent leaf of grass. The best the chief could do was backtrack the horse's trail for a little way in order to get a general idea of the direction in which to search.

The second day passed without event. Council Chief Weeping Sky pulled the blanket tighter and drifted off to sleep.

Just after dawn on the third day, even before the frost burned off the grass, Weeping Sky spotted his quarry. The Night Rider's black robes flapping in the breeze were a dead giveaway. Approaching with caution, the chief ordered the man to raise his hands. Nothing happened. Drawing closer, he observed that the Night Rider was quaking uncontrollably and jabbering incoherently. It was a sure sign of advanced hypothermia, a deadly condition out in the open.

The chief wrapped the rider in blankets and brewed some hot chocolate on a portable stove. What the man needed most desperately was warmth inside and out. Then too, the rush of sugar nourishment would boost his metabolism. It was touch and go for a couple of hours, but it was the best than could be done under the circumstances. There is no ambulance or medevac helicopter service in the long valley.

Three days later, dressed in appropriate clothes and sans makeup and weaponry, James Hobbs, this year's Night Rider, stood before the magistrate in county court. Upon the recommendation of Council Chief Weeping Sky, the trespassing charges were dropped. Mr. Hobbs was fined court costs and set free.

Outside, Weeping Sky met with the Brothers of the Buffalo Soldiers. He handed out his business card to all concerned. "Look guys," he said, "this is got to stop. Why don't you give me a call next Thanksgiving. You can be my guests at the lodge. We can have a long weekend party. You can can have all the sheep you can eat. We can pass around a moderate amount of firewater and argue about who shot whom way back when. You can even bring your wives and kids along and let them take selfies with a genuine Injun Chief. What say you? Deal?"

The first snow began to fall just as everybody nodded in agreement. The cold penetrated all the way to Weeping Sky's old and weary bones. Never before did it feel so good to be alive.

Copyright © 2014 W.C. Bell; All rights reserved.

Submitted: December 10, 2014

© Copyright 2021 Whiskey Charlie. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:


Blaine Arcade

This is a nice little tale that does a good job demonstrating the pointlessness of most conflict. The only tip I can offer is for you to watch the tense you're writing in. Most of the story is written in past tense, so when you say 'the nature of the feud HAS evolved in unanticipated ways', it makes it seem like the chief's gesture failed and the feud continues to this day. (unless that was your intent, which is entirely possible)

Fri, January 9th, 2015 6:06pm


I'll check it out and correct it if necessary. Consistency in tense is one of my failings, however, the "s" and "d" keys being adjacent are also a constant source of error.

Fri, January 9th, 2015 12:12pm

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