Sunday, February 24, 2019

Hawk: Skirmish on the Ouabache

A piece of short historical fiction, published in "The Tomahawk & Long Rifle" (Vol 44, No 1),
the official publication of the American Mountain Men.


My father was captain of the militia and men was saddling up. In the dark I could hear horses snorting and the jangle of bridles. Mother lit a oil lamp as my father pulled on his boots and had words with his corporal.

The Piankeshaw had attacked again, this time at Hardin’s cabin. The corporal lowered his voice so my mother might not hear the worst of it.

“They peeled his top knot, cap’n. Set the roof afire and took the missus captive.”

My father was not discomposed. He asked how many they were. Number of muskets. Their direction of travel. Whilst the corporal told what he knew, my father gathered up his kit. His long rifle, his powder horn and shot pouch, and his tomahawk.

“Do not expect us back any time soon, mother.” He said it quiet, like he was just going hunting.

“Dan’l,” he said my name. “I hear you awake there, boy. You mind things til I get back.”

I propped up on my elbow. My bed ropes creaked and I nodded from the shadows. “Yessir, pap.”

My father and his company rode off. Mother blew out the lamp. I waited some bit afore telling her I was off to the privy. In the dark, she did not see me take my rifle.

My father’s packhorse was a roan we called Crab. I put a bridle on her and put my heels to her and went bareback after my father’s men.

I found their mounts hobbled to one side of a ridge running along the river Ouabache. The sky was coming up gray with the day’s light. I crawled my way up the ridge, flanking my father’s men like they was flanking the Piankeshaw.

As I crested the hilltop and peered around a pin oak, the company's guns opened up. My father had parceled his company out to three squadrons. One was driving up the middle toward Miz Hardin, lashed by her neck to a sycamore as I could see. The second squadron swept the braves north and into the waiting third. It was a hammer on a anvil.

My father was not one to raise his voice at our mother. He was a deacon. The Presbyterians met for worship in our barn. He whipped me only when I had it coming.

Here though, he ran ahead of his men like a bull leading a herd of buffalo rumbling down the trace. What didn’t git from their path, they trampled and left bloody. When my father’s guns was emptied, he went to his tomahawk. He swung it like a scythe. A farmer of men, he felled them one and another.

I kept my head low whilst here and there a ball would whine past or hit close and take a divot out of my pin oak. The sounds from the riverbank was frightful. Bellows and wails. The thump-bang of rifles and muskets discharging. The iron clang of blades on barrels. Other sounds I had heard before only when my father was in the barn butchering a deer. Howls and cries in two languages. I thought I might lose hold of my bowels.

I ventured to peer from behind my cover. My father was now to the sycamore and he was chopping through the leather straps that bound Miz Hardin. My father did not see the Piankeshaw stalking up behind him. But I did. 

My father’s law was that our rifles stay charged. I generally followed his law. Other than being here along this river, I should say. My rifle was thus charged with fresh powder and ball and I thanked Providence for this.

His back was to the Piankeshaw creeping upon him from tree to tree. The brave's face was painted red with black streaks slashing cross his cheeks. He carried a ball-headed war club in one hand and a blade in the other. My father’s men was engaged in their own fights and I dared not call out lest I show myself.

I worked by feel and did not take my eyes from my father. One tree now was between them. I set the butt in my shoulder and thumbed my rifle to full cock. I made my guess on wind and distance. I sighted in and squeezed and dropped that brave with a ball between the shoulders.

Even from my perch, I could hear the man grunt as he dropped to his knees. My father heard it as well. He turned and seen the Piankeshaw still slashing at him with his blade. My father swung his hawk in a great arc and split the brave’s brainpan like a melon.

The skirmish ended and I stayed hid. Of the Piankeshaw lying afield, I heard splashes as my father’s men pitched their bodies into the Ouabache. The company gathered themselves and collected up Miz Hardin and rode out.

I knowed I was in for trouble when I got back. But I had not been on the field of a fight before, and I would see this’un up close. I rose from behind my pin oak and lightfooted my way down from the ridge. On the ground, I seen a deerskin breechclout. Leaves and earth soaked dark in men's blood. A blanket. The leather straps that held Miz Hardin was cast at the base of the sycamore.

I stepped on something hard, kicked over by leaves. I reached and came up with my father’s tomahawk, the handle slick with blood and dropped in the fracas, I reckoned. On the

iron head, the image of a long knife was laid in with silver. Colonel John Small made this hawk for my father, like the ones he made for Colonel Knox and Mister Lewis.

I wiped the blood from the handle. My rifle ball had dropped that Piankeshaw and my father’s blow had finished him. 

I slid the hawk into my belt. I was fourteen and in for a whipping.

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