Authors: J. T. Edson
The Comanche brave started to draw his knife. He learned then how Dusty Fog gained the name of
Dusty’s left hand flickered across his right side in a move so fast that the eye could barely follow it. Out came the off-side Colt, ready to fire. Shock and astonishment showed on the face of the Comanche brave and he froze as would any sensible man under the circumstances. Nor did his companions make any moves. All stood staring as if they could not believe their eyes. So might a diamondback rattlesnake have looked if the rabbit it attacked suddenly proved to have fangs and claws.
‘The choice is yours,’ Dusty announced in Spanish, knowing the Comanches understood that language.
Fast and deadly as a snake which gave him his name, Sidewinder, the limping Comanche war chief, rampaged across Texas and threatened the peace
between his people and the white men.
Only a man with a tremendous knowledge of the Comanche could hope to prevent Sidewinder from endangering the whole Comanche nation with his policy of burning, killing and looting, which would inevitably bring retaliation from infuriated Texans and U.S. Army personnel.
The Ysabel Kid was such a man He knew Sidewinder well, and it was his knife which had crippled the chief in a boyhood fight. So when the Kid took up Sidewinder’s trail, he knew it could only end when one of them lay dead.
When delivering a lecture on the subject of ‘The Habits, Customs And Lives Of The Aboriginal Tribes Of North America’, Professor Otis J. Hollenheimer could pack to capacity a large hall in any major city of the United States or Europe. In the early 1870’s he stood at the peak of the American scientific field and could claim to be an authority on his subject. Yet he sat silent and enthralled in the gun-decorated study of the big OD Connected ranch house, listening to a speaker who could barely read or write and whose formal classroom education had been non-existent.
‘Grandpappy Long Walker gave up the lance after he’d made his name,’ said the Ysabel Kid, continuing his lecture on the habits, customs and lives of one of the Aboriginal tribes of North America. ‘It got to be too much of a responsibility, like, I said, a man who carried a lance had to be first in a fight and last out of it and could only come out a winner, or dead. But afore he gave it up, Grandpappy carried that lance and three times rode
,’ repeated Hollenheimer. ‘That’s the same as the Cheyenne’s Contrary One, or the Crow’s Crazy-Dog-Wishing-To-Die, isn’t it. A warrior who did everything wrong and went unarmed into battle, fastened himself to the ground with an arrow through the sash he wore and stayed there singing until killed or his companions won the fight.’
Admiration flickered on the Kid’s Indian-dark, handsome, almost babyishly innocent looking face. Few white men he had met, and certainly no fancy Eastern school-teaching dude, knew that much about Indians. However the Professor had made a slight mistake.
means among most
bands,’ agreed the Kid, using the Comanche’s name ‘The People’. ‘Only the
, the Quick Stingers, Raiders you’d call them, got separated from the rest way back and made up a whole heap of new ideas, To us,
meant something real different. When a man went
he used to strip to his breechclout and weapon belt. He wouldn’t use his ordinary paint or medicine. All he did was make the sign of a red hand on his chest and his war-hoss’ right shoulder. Then he’d yell “
”, jump on his hoss and attack no matter what odds he faced. Like a lance carrier, he could only win or die.’
‘Then there was no difference?’
‘A man going
could tote any weapons he wanted and went whether anybody followed him or not.’
‘Did you ever ride
?’ Hollenheimer asked.
‘I was a mite young for that,’ the Kid replied, sounding just a touch wistful. ‘I’d be rising fifteen when pappy took me off to fight the Yankees. Mind you though, me and every other
boy wanted to carry the lance and ride
when we grew old enough.’
‘When you say
,’ Hollenheimer said. ‘You mean the Comanche?’
‘I thought they were called the
‘That’s what the other tribes called us, the Enemy People. Reckon that’s just what we were to most of them. But every Comanche, no matter what band he belonged to, said
. It means the People.’
Standing before the fireplace in the well-lit study, the Ysabel Kid looked every inch a typical Texas cowhand. Six foot in height, lean as a steer fed in the greasewood country, with curly raven black hair fresh barbered and neat; nothing gave a hint of how one so young in appearance came to know so much about the West’s toughest horse-Indian tribe. He wore a black bandana, shirt and levis, with Comanche moccasins replacing his usual black boots while around the house. When outside he sported a low crowned, Texas-style black Stetson hat and black leather gunbelt which carried an old walnut handled Colt Dragoon revolver butt forward at the right side, and a sheathed James Black bowie knife at the left.
Apart from the sombre hue of his clothes and the fact that one so young generally went in for the more modern, lighter Colt 1860 Army revolver instead of the thumb-busting 1847 Model Dragoon — and one of the first models produced to boot — little set the Kid apart from hundreds of other range-bred, cow-chasing Texans. Maybe his red-hazel eyes, reckless and old in wisdom, gave a hint at the true nature beneath the innocent face; but even they did not tell the full story.
The Kid had been born in the main village of the
Comanche band. Until his twelfth birthday, the only white folk he knew had been men like his father, trappers, wild-horse hunters, traders. He grew up in the manner of a
boy and learned those things a brave-heart warrior must know.* While he never used the acquired skills — how to live off the Texas range country by hunting or upon roots, leaves, tree bark if necessary; to ride any horse ever foaled; handle weapons; move in silence no matter how thick the undergrowth; read sign and follow tracks; to raid, a polite name for stealing horses — among the
, all came in useful when joining the white men.
His mother had been daughter of Long Walker, the
top war chief and the French Creole
, chief wife, but had died shortly after his birth. His father was Sam Ysabel, a man of Kentuckian-black Irish birth, whose courage and skill as a warrior endeared him to the
and bought him membership to the tribe. In the Kid’s growing years, Ysabel spent much time away from the village, trading and meat-hunting for the white settlements. Although the
name meant Wasps, Quick-Stihgers, or Raiders, as the Kid said, the band lived at peace with their white neighbours; like all successful pacifists, the
made sure they possessed the necessary means to ensure their wishes be respected and no Texan wanted fuss with such expert warriors. So the Kid and Ysabel never had to choose between one or other of their nations.
When the Civil War began, Ysabel accepted the offer to join John Singleton Mosby’s Confederate cavalry regiment, and took Loncey with him. Their talents were much appreciated by Mosby’s Raiders, but they received orders to return to Texas and organize the delivery of arms and other supplies from Mexico. This amounted to smuggling, at which the Ysabel family already accounted themselves expert, and they built up an effective organization which caused the Yankees much trouble.
After the War, the Ysabels continued their smuggling, but on their own behalf. Then Sam Ysabel was murdered and, while seeking the men who killed his father, the Kid met up with somebody who changed the course of his life. From being a smuggler, with one foot on the slippery slope which led to real law-breaking, the Kid became a member of the OD Connected ranch crew and rode as part of the elite of the spread, Ole Devil’s floating outfit. His many talents found legal use of much service to the community instead of being frittered away upon enterprises which would eventually bring him into serious conflict with the law.
While not exceptionally fast with his Dragoon, he could call himself fair. By Texas standards this meant he could draw shoot at and hit a man-sized target up to a range of twenty feet in one second; one needed to take at least a quarter of a second from that speed to be called fast. His French Creole and Comanche blood gave him a love of cold steel when in a fight and his mastery of the bowie knife was said to equal that of the knife’s designer. In the use of the Winchester Model 1866 rifle he stood supreme and unchallenged, a master shot capable of almost fulfilling the somewhat exaggerated advertising claims the manufacturers made for their latest product.
All in all, Loncey Dalton Ysabel —
, the Knife to the
which means Kid, among the border Mexicans who knew him in his smuggling days, or the Ysabel Kid from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border — possessed the means to be a real good friend, or just about as deadly an enemy as a man might ask to avoid.
Small wonder that Professor Hollenheimer, noted savant though he was, sat back and listened when the Ysabel Kid spoke on the subject of Indians in general and Comanche in particular.
‘You said earlier that your grandfather was a chief of the Dog Soldier lodge, Kid,’ the professor said ‘I didn’t know that the Comanche had war lodges.’
‘Most of the bands didn’t,’ admitted the Kid. ‘We got the idea from the Kiowa, most likely, us and them always being friendly. A boy got initiated into his pappy’s lodge, which same I’m a Dog Soldier. We never went in for the lodge idea as strong as the other tribes, though. Sure, you sided a lodge-brother, but not if doing it would be bad for the rest of the band.’
Which differed from the practice of most Indian tribes, as Hollenheimer well knew. Among the Cheyenne and various sub-divisions of the Sioux, one’s lodge came first in all matters.
‘Did you have lodge oaths?’
‘Some, Professor. Only the revenge oath meant much to us, though.’
‘Could you repeat it to me,’ Hollenheimer requested. ‘I speak some Comanche and would like to compare it with the vengeance oath of the Cheyenne and other tribes.’
The Kid began to speak in the rather slow-tongued accent of the
Comanche. Even in the restful atmosphere of Ole Devil Hardin’s near-sacred study, his small audience could sense the deep feeling of the guttural words. Yet none at that time realized just how different those same words would sound when spoken in true, serious and deadly intent.
Curled comfortably in a chair on the left of the fire place, small, black haired and pretty, Betty Hardin listened with a tolerant smile. All she heard was a string of meaningless Comanche words. One day she would hear the Kid repeat the oath standing over the body of his murdered sweetheart and know the difference.**
The remaining occupants of the room were all men. Seated in the wheelchair which formed his home since he tried and failed to ride a magnificent, unbroken paint stallion,*** Ole Devil Hardin, owner of the OD Connected ranch, looked as ramrod straight and nail-hard as in the days when he commanded the Confederate States’ Army of Arkanasas. In those days he held a superior Yankee force at bay and might have played a vastly more important role in the conduct of the War had the South been able to supply him with more men, arms and equipment. Now he sat in a wheelchair, lean, tanned, his sharp-featured face showing intelligence and breeding; a Southern gentleman of the finest kind and a fighting man from soda to hock.
Sprawled at his ease facing Betty Hardin was a veritable giant of a man. Six foot three in height, with curly golden blond hair, an almost classically handsome face which showed breeding and strength, great spreading shoulders, mighty biceps in evidence even as he sat relaxed, tapering down to a lean waist and powerful long legs. Mark Counter had the face of Apollo on the frame of Hercules. Something of a dandy dresser, his clothes set cowhand fashion in Texas just as the uniform he wore became the style adopted by the young bloods of the Confederate Cavalry. For all that, Mark could claim to be top-hand with cattle. Although still young, his great strength had become a legend and his prowess in a roughouse brawl something discussed in awe wherever he displayed it. He might also have attained fame in matters pistolero, but his true ability in that line was hidden. Giant Mark Counter might be, but he stood in the shadow of the man many, including a number of the top names in the gun-fighting ranks, claimed to be the fastest, most deadly exponent of the art of combat gun-handling.
The man who over-shadowed giant Mark Counter sat in a chair alongside Ole Devil Hardin, yet he seemed out of place in such company. Five foot six at most in height, he wore good quality range clothes, yet contrived to make them look like some kind-hearted member of the ranch crew had handed them on to him, instead of their having been tailored to his fit. Dusty blond hair, rumpled and curly, framed a handsome, if not strikingly so, face. If one chanced to look a second time at that face and saw beyond the reposed ease it held strength and showed a commanding aspect which only became apparent in time of need. A further study of his small frame gave a hint of a muscular development which compared favourably with that of Mark Counter and had both men been the same height it would be hard to choose the finer figure.
At seventeen that small, insignificant man had been a captain in the Texas Light Cavalry and won considerable fame on the Arkansas battle-front as a military raider equal to John Singleton Mosby or Turner Ashby. Dusty Fog’s methods changed the thinking of the U.S. Cavalry on light cavalry tactics in those days. At the head of a hard-riding company of Texans, he struck hard, fast, and unexpectedly shrewd blows which infuriated his enemies.
With the War ended, Dusty Fog returned to the OD Connected. His uncle, Ole Devil’s injury put him in command of the great ranch and gave him the task, which he completed successfully, of riding the paint stallion. On a mission of vital importance into strife-torn Mexico, Dusty met up with Mark Counter and the Ysabel Kid. With their help, he completed the mission and since then the three young Texans had become inseparable. They made a deadly efficient fighting team, one fast building a name throughout the range country. Only just having returned from driving Ben Holland’s Rocking H trail herd to Dodge City, in defiance of Wyatt Earp’s order that it should not go there,**** Dusty found another task awaiting him; one of some importance and which required careful handling.
The United States Government wished to make peace with the Comanche Nation and to persuade the stocky, hard-fighting masters of horseback-warfare that they should move on to a reservation where some control might be exercised over them. To do so called for tact and diplomacy. Along with other prominent Texans who knew Indians in general and the Comanche in particular, Ole Devil Hardin aimed to ensure that nothing happened to spoil the chances for making a lasting peace.
Unable, due to his injury, to attend the meeting personally, Ole Devil had decided to send Dusty. Only the previous day word reached the ranch that Long Walker and the other
leaders wished for the Kid to be present as their spokesman, to which Ole Devil raised no objections, Three members of the floating outfit would be starting the two hundred mile trip to Fort Sorrel the following morning. Mark Counter’s father, a rich influential Big Bend rancher, telegraphed a request that his son be allowed to state the family views. Being a pre-War friend, Hollenheimer paid a courtesy visit to the OD Connected while on his way to the peace meeting and accepted the three Texans’ offer to accompany them.
‘What do you think’re the chances of this meeting coming off, Lon?’ asked Dusty after the conversation died down between the Kid and Hollenheimer.
‘It might,’ the Kid replied. ‘Grandpappy Long Walker and the other old-man chiefs know they can’t win in the end against the U.S. Army and reckon it’s better to make peace now, than wait until after the tribe’s been licked all ways and have to move anyways.’
‘Do all the chiefs feel the same way?’ Mark put in.