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Authors: Stephen A. Bly

Beneath a Dakota Cross

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There will be six books in this series

FORTUNES OF THE BLACK HILLS

by STEPHEN BLY

Book #1

Beneath a Dakota Cross

For a list of other books by

Stephen Bly

or information regarding speaking engagements

write:

Stephen Bly

Winchester, Idaho 83555

© 1999

by Stephen A. Bly

All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America

0-8054-1659-5

Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers,

Nashville, Tennessee

Editorial Team: Leonard G. Goss, John Landers, Sandra Bryer

Page Design and Typesetting: TF Designs, Mount Juliet, Tennessee

Some images © www.artoday.com

Dewey Decimal Classification: 813

Subject Heading: NOVEL

Library of Congress Card Catalog Number: 99-18878

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bly, Stephen A., 1944-

Beneath a Dakota cross / by Stephen A. Bly.

      p. cm. — (Fortunes of the Black Hills)

ISBN 0-8054-1659-5 (pbk.)

I. Title. II. Series: Bly, Stephen A., 1944- Fortunes of the

Black Hills.

PS3552.L93B46   1999

813'.54—dc21

99-18878

CIP

1 2 3 4 5 03 02 01 00 99

For

the March sisters

and

all

their

adventures

AUTHOR'S NOTES

The migration of people groups across western North America began when the first intrepid Asian hunter and his family stepped off the ice bridge across the Bering Straits.

Native American tribes located and relocated as they fanned out and filled the diverse, awe-inspiring, and physically challenging landscape we now call the West.

The parade of settlers diversified when the Spanish rode north on majestic horses and French trappers paddled their way into mountain ranges so mysterious few would believe their early reports.

Then came mission-founding priests, burly Missouri mountain men, hardworking farm families, and shrewd New England businessmen, to name a few.

The wave of emigrants intensified after the Civil War in the East left many seeking a fresh start. The twentieth century and the demise of prospecting did not change the migration pattern so firmly established. From the dust bowl exiles of the 1930s to the high-tech work force of today, the West still beckons and challenges.

Its lure has always been great. Settlers answered the call to majestic open spaces, beaver-filled creeks, unclaimed government land, and the most irresistible magnet of all—gold.

Of all the nineteenth-century pilgrims following the siren call of mineral fortunes, very few found a bonanza of wealth. But most of the hearty ones who chose to stay in the West found a richness of lifestyle and companionship that sat well in their hearts and in their spirits.

A majority of the early pioneers were quick to acknowledge Divine Providence in their journeys. Many left their homes and headed for this unknown land believing that the Lord had personally called them to this special place.

Henry “Brazos” Fortune was one such man.

The restlessness in his spirit to find the exact place God wanted him to be is a longing that most of us experience to this very day.

Beneath a Dakota Cross
is the beginning novel in a saga that explores that restlessness and one family's finding their place among the narrow, treasure-filled gulches of the northern Black Hills.

While Brazos Fortune is a fictional character, his response to this inspiring land, the burden of his love for family, the loyalty of friends, and a heart that seeks to please his Lord and Savior is all very much real.

I know.

As a third-generation westerner born to the land, it is the cultural and spiritual baton that I carry daily. Perhaps this series of novels, in some small way, will be my method of passing the call of the West on to the next generation.

Stephen Bly

Broken Arrow Crossing, Idaho

Spring of '99

CONTENTS

Author's Notes

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Epilogue

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,

saith the LORD,

Thoughts of peace, and not of evil,

to give you an expected end.

Jeremiah 29:11 (KJV)

CHAPTER ONE

On the banks of Rio Leon, Coryell County, Texas, April 24, 1875.

Two dark sorrel horses leaned into their rigging and pulled the loaded buckboard up the muddy embankment.

Brazos Fortune refused to look back.

There were no tears in his eyes.

That one fact surprised him.

Wheels squeaked.

Worn boards groaned.

Pots and pans rattled.

But there was no conversation.

Brazos ran his hand through his neatly trimmed, gray-flecked beard and glanced out of the corner of his eye at the young girl in the long, yellow dress sitting next to him.

She was looking back.

He felt her glove-covered hand reach up and hold on to the sleeve of his canvas coat.

“Is that all we do, Daddy? We just drive off?” Her voice fluctuated somewhere between that of a ten-year-old and a girl of fifteen. “Shouldn't we say good-bye, or something?”

With calloused, bare fingers he rubbed caked dust from the time-plowed furrows at the corners of his eyes, then slapped the reins on the rump of the lead horse. “Darlin', we said our good-byes when we left the house.”

Two long braids pulled her light brown hair back and seemed to enlarge her blue eyes. “We'll come back, won't we? We just have to come back someday.” She sniffled.

“Dacee June, we prayed that through already. The Lord has someplace else in mind for us, and we're going there.”

The wagon leveled off on the east side of the Rio Leon. Brazos allowed the wheels to slip into the dried mud ruts of the Waco road. There were no trees or buildings in sight.

“But we have to go back, Daddy. We have to take care of Mamma's grave.”

The image of a stark, lonely plot under a live oak tree flittered across Brazos's mind. “It's got a nice black iron fence around it. Your Aunt Barbara's going to look after it. She'll do a fine job. You know what beautiful flowers she raises.”

“But . . . but,” Dacee June protested, “it's like we're going off and leavin' Mamma.”

Brazos took a deep breath and stared across the empty prairie. “Where's your mamma right now, Dacee June?” His blue-gray eyes were not nearly as stern as his voice.

“She's in heaven with Jesus.”

“And where's heaven?”

“Just a step away from us.” She answered like a beginning catechism student.

He leaned forward until his bony elbows rested on worn, denim-covered knees. “So, we really aren't leavin' Mamma in Texas, are we?”

“No, I guess not. But could we come back to see her grave anyway?” Her smooth, round cheeks perfectly balanced a small but full mouth.

Brazos reached over and patted her knee. “We'll come back, darlin'. But I just don't know when. It won't be easy for me to come back and see someone else living in our house and runnin' cows on our ranch.”

“Daddy, the Lord's leading us somewhere else, isn't he?”

“I told you about the dream I had, Dacee June. We're going to find that ranch under a big cross. I just know it.”

“Well, if it's a home for both of us, how come I didn't have a dream like that?”

“Maybe it's because daddies need to make the decisions, especially when girls are little.”

“I am not little,” she huffed. “I'm medium. I'll be twelve my next birthday.”

“You're right, Dacee June. You're not little.”

For several minutes the buckboard rumbled along, free of conversation. The road wound through gently rolling, treeless hills covered with short, green grass and scattered congregations of bluebonnets. The sky was light blue, with high, streaked white clouds.

“Daddy, I'm sorry for making you melancholy.” The voice was so soft, Brazos had to lean down to hear the words.

He slipped his arm around her thin, narrow shoulders and hugged her tight. “Darlin', you can talk about your mamma any time of the day, any day of the week. Now, it might make me a little melancholy, but that's because I loved her dearly, just like you do. So don't you ever stop thinkin' of her or talkin' about her. 'Cause I know I won't.”

“It's been over three years, you know,” Dacee June added.

“Three years, two months, seventeen days . . .” He pulled his wide-brimmed, beaver felt hat low over his eyes and glanced up at the position of the sun. “And about four hours.”

“You really miss her, don't you?”

“Dacee June, some days it feels like someone just cut me right down the middle and threw half away.”

“I miss the way she hugged me,” Dacee June announced. “Do you miss that?”

“Yep. And I miss hearing her sweet voice.”

“Do you miss talking to her?”

“Well, I sort of end up talkin' to her ever' day as it is. What I miss is hearing her voice reply.”

“What do you talk to her about?”

“About you . . . Todd . . . Robert . . .”

“And Samuel—you talk to her about Samuel, don't you?”

“You know I do. We talk about all you children.”

Dacee June tugged at the lace collar on her dress. “Do you talk about Veronica and Patricia?”

Brazos stared out over the lead horses' ears. He took a big deep breath but couldn't keep the tears from streaming down his tired blue-gray eyes.

“Now, I've gone and made you melancholy again.” Dacee June moaned as she dropped her chin to her chest. “Forgive me, Daddy . . . I'm only eleven . . . I say the wrong things.”

“Your sisters are up in heaven with Mamma, so I don't worry about them like I do the four of you. But I reckon it would be good to change the subject.” He sat straight up on the wagon seat and tried to stretch a cramp out of his back. He knew that under the jacket, shirt, and long johns was a bruise the size of a grapefruit from a horse kick the day before.

Dacee June locked her gloved fingers together and rested them on her lap. “Are we really going to live in Wyoming? Billy Fred said that Wyoming was full of wild Indians and we'd surely get scalped if we moved there.”

“No one will get scalped. Things are calming down up there. Why, they have a railroad that runs from Omaha to San Francisco. Besides, I didn't say we were going to Wyoming.”

“I know, I know . . . we're going wherever the Lord shows us some big old cross. Will it have beautiful sunsets and rolling green hills and bluebonnets? Will it have bluebonnets, Daddy?”

“Probably not, darlin'. But we won't be disappointed. That's the important thing. The Lord will lead us to a place that won't disappoint. Remember what we read this mornin'? ‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you . . . thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.'”

“I wish I could go with you to find it.” She stared at him with wide eyes. “Why can't I go?”

“Young lady, we've been through this before. You need to be in school. And while you live with Aunt Barbara, you can go to school with your cousins.”

“What if I don't like our teacher? What if she's mean?”

“Then you'll treat her nice, anyway. Just like your mamma would.”

A stagecoach rumbled straight towards them, and Brazos drove the rig off the road to the right to allow the stage to gallop past.

Dacee June held on to his arm as they drove back onto the road. “Daddy, is Todd mad at you?”

“Darlin', Todd's not angry with me. We have a difference of opinion on the ranch, that's all.”

“He told me he thought we should get Robert to come home from the army and chase those people off with guns.”

“Dacee June, I can't shoot my neighbors. My daddy and their daddy settled this land when there was nothin' here but Comanches and famine. They made ranch country out of it. If we have to keep it by killin' neighbors and bankers and such, it's just not worth it.”

“But it's our ranch!” she wailed. “They stole our cattle, run off our horses, burnt the hay barn, and then took it when we couldn't pay taxes that no one else had to pay anyway. That isn't fair.”

Brazos glanced down at his worn, blue denim trousers and realized they were his best pair. “Dacee June, life isn't always fair,” he mumbled.

“I don't understand.”

“We just can't go around killin' people.” He reached over and patted her narrow knee. “Mamma would understand.”

“I wish Mamma was here.”

“So do I, darlin', so do I.”

A gunshot fired somewhere behind them. Brazos reined up and spun around, lifting the converted .50-caliber, saddle ring, Sharps carbine to his shoulder. When he saw the rider wave his hat from a hundred yards down the trail, Brazos lowered the gun and sat back down.

“Who is it, Daddy?”

“It's Big River Frank.”

“Why do they call him ‘Big River'?” She shaded her eyes with her hand and stared back down the trail. “He's a very short man. I'm almost as tall as him.”

Brazos pushed his dark brown felt hat to the back of his head and waited for the approaching rider. “Well, darlin', cattlemen sometimes talk about a man who is such a good drover and such a courageous friend that he'd be a good man to cross a river with. Well, Frank has twice the courage and twice the loyalty as most, so they started sayin' he's a good one to help you across a big river. The name stuck. Ever'one calls him Big River Frank.”

“What's his last name?”

“Well, I don't reckon I know that. He never told me.”

“But he's been your friend for years!”

“I don't figure it's polite to ask.”

“I'll ask him.”

“Don't you dare, Dacee June. That would be a quick way for you to get a spankin'. Don't ever ask personal questions.”

“Is asking a person's name a personal question?”

“Sometimes it is.”

The black Texas horse that Big River Frank rode was not more than fourteen-and-a-half hands, but it still seemed large next to the small frame of the rider. He had a thick bedroll tied on the cantle and a small sack of grain lashed in front of the fork of his saddle. A '73 Winchester carbine bounced in front of the saddle horn. His narrow face sported a three-day beard and a thick mustache. Big River's small brown eyes seemed locked in a permanent stare.

“You look like you're goin' on a trip,” Brazos challenged.

“Me? Look at you. Got your belongings in the wagon and the pride of Coryell County ridin' beside you.” Big River tipped his black felt hat. “Mornin', Miss Dacee June. You look as lovely as a river rose.”

Dacee June grinned. “Thank you, Mr. Big River Frank.”

Brazos slapped the reins and drove the buckboard east. “You didn't answer my question. Where are you headed?”

Big River Frank trotted the black horse alongside the wagon. “Where are
you
goin'?” he challenged back.

“I don't know,” Brazos mumbled. “North . . . across the plains . . . out of Texas.”

“What a coincidence. That's exactly where I'm goin'!” Big River beamed.

“You travelin' with me?”

“I heard you're leaving this fine young lady in Waco with her aunt.”

“Just until he finds us a ranch,” she insisted.

“Well, I figured without Miss Dacee June around, someone would have to look after the old man, and I'm volunteerin'.”

“Old?” Brazos boasted. “I know some twenty-five-year-olds I can still whip.”

“And I know a twenty-five-year-old who calls you Daddy,” Big River countered.

Brazos took a deep breath and smiled. “Well, you're right about that.”

“And I'm comin' with you. There's no way to get rid of me, and you know it.”

Brazos unfastened the top button of his cotton shirt and rubbed his neck. “What about that freight job?”

“Quit the job and drew my back pay,” Big River Frank announced.

“But you don't need to leave Texas.”

“Neither do you. It's a big state. I know they stole your ranch because you opposed secession. But the war's been over for ten years. Other people around the state don't hold that kind of a grudge.”

“You're whippin' a dead horse there, Big River. The question of leavin' Texas has already been decided.”

“I know. . . . That's why I packed my gear. I always wanted to see that north country.”

“I'm glad you're going with my father, Mr. Big River Frank,” Dacee June said. “He'll need someone to talk to.”

“Well, he's goin' to have his pick.”

“What do you mean by that?” Brazos quizzed.

“Guess who I ran into down in Austin City last week?”

“Santa Anna?”

“Grass Edwards.”

“Grass is in Austin City? I thought he was tryin' a hand at prospectin' out West.”

“Yep, he's been in Nevada, but he's back. I invited them both to go north with us,” Big River said.

“Both?” Brazos quizzed.

BOOK: Beneath a Dakota Cross
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