Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Deadwood story -- counting coup, pt. 3

Arikara Scout, 1870s (National Archives)

Early one morning, Dio was out in woodyard behind Doc Alcott’s old infirmary, splitting wood with the help of a boy from the orphanage, who went by the name Tim Hax.

Oh, I probably ought to mention that being as Doc Alcott had died during childbirth, the infirmary was now being run by the same Doc Morpork I have mentioned previously. You see, the Doc had elected to retire from the army (or the army had elected to retire him) and he decided to stay on in Deadwood to continue offering his services to folk when he wasn’t too drunk to work. Truth be told, he didn’t get on too well with many folks, but one of the few that he did seem to respect was Dio--mostly because she knew how to cuss properly--so he let her use the woodyard behind his place.

But I’m kinda digressing there, aren’t I?

Anyhow, Dio and Tim Hax were splitting wood and stacking the pieces in a hand cart to drag back to the No. 10, when Tim looked up and pointed to two figures who were approaching.

"Miz Dio...seems like someone’s comin’ lookin for us.”

Dio ceased working with her splittin’ axe and looked up. Sure enough, she could see two people walking up the muddy alley towards the woodyard, one of whom clearly was Geoff Alderson.

You remember little Geoff don’t you? Dio had saved him from an outlaw who was holding him hostage but shot him in the leg whilst doing so. Accompanying the lad was young man--an Indian, in fact, with long black hair under a broad brimmed hat, wearing a blue army sack coat with corporal's stripes, belted at the waist with an old pattern federal-issue pistol belt with the big oval brass “US” buckle. While his upper half looked military, his lower half reflected his native heritage: buckskin trousers, leggings and moccasins.

Geoff looked a little nervous and uncertain.

Uh...M-Miss Dio? This here g-gent, he says he is a-lookin’ for ya. And they’s also a army ossifer too, a-waiting at the Number 10 for ya...”

Dio could tell from the style of the young man’s leggings and moccasins that he was probably Arikara, a people who had in recent years worked with the army in fighting their traditional enemies, the Sioux. The nature and condition of his service blouse and pistol rig indicated they were issue--not cast-offs or stolen. Dio quickly sized him up and concluded he was an Indian scout for the US military.

“Tashgasha.” said the young man as he raised his hand in greeting. “I am Red knife, Corporal of Scouts.”

Yup. Definitely an Arikara, as that is the way a man of that tribe gives greeting. But his command of English seemed to be pretty substantial.

Raising her own hand in greeting to the young man, Dio responded, “Nawah, Corporal Red Knife,”

“Nawah” is the appropriate Arikara greeting given by a woman (you may recall she had Arikara friends from back in her buffalo-hunting days). I expect Red Knife found this to be to his liking, for the Indian scout smiled in reaction to her greeting. Then he inquired, “You are the one called Dio, Sergeant One Eye's Woman?”

“Well, yes, I’m Dio...but ‘Sergeant One Eye’s Woman?’ That’s a new one on me, m’ friend.”

The young scout shrugged and smiled slightly. “Yes...the Crow scouts speak of a Sergeant they call ‘One Eye’ and of ‘Sergeant One Eye's Woman,’ also called Dio...some even speak of you as ‘elder sister’ to them. They say you are a warrior woman who has ridden with One Eye and Clouds on Big Mountain...and you track and kill well, I am told.”

“Ah,” Dio smiled. “You know Clouds on Big Mountain then?”

Red Knife nodded. “He leads the Crow scouts who usually ride with the horse soldiers of 3rd cavalry. But today they ride with us. I scout and fight under my Uncle, Young Hawk, who is our sergeant. We usually ride with Bad Hand.

Geoff had been listening to this whole exchange in a somewhat awed state of open-mouthed silence. It had been impressed upon him by some idiot or other that Indians were universally dangerous savages, hardly better than animals. But here was this well-spoken young man--the first Indian Geoff had ever seen up close, with his dark skin and long, shining black hair--engaged in friendly discussion with Miss Dio. And she was obviously inclined to be quite pleasant and respectful with him. In fact, he noted that her demeanor and manner of speech was different than usual. She seemed somewhat reserved..almost formal...but at the same time she gave no indication of being cautious or on-guard with him. And now this mention of someone called Bad Hand intrigued the boy. Such a name could only be for another warrior, and probably a fierce and dangerous one.

“W-who’s Bad Hand? Is he another injun?” asked Geoff, his curiosity overcoming his uncertainty about the situation.

Dio looked down at Geoff and smiled gently. “No, Hon. That’s what the injun scouts call Colonel MacKenzie, commander o’ 4th Cavalry.”

Tim nodded, adding, “He’s probbly one o’ the best field officers on the Plains.” Tim was too polite to be very forward with the stranger. But he was quite impressed that this young man, not much older than himself, was under the command of the famous Ranald MacKenzie, one of the few army officers who had dealt successfully with the Comanche in Texas.

“OH.” said Geoff, now really curious. “Why they call him Bad Hand?”

“Mackenzie has been wounded many times,” answered Red Knife. “Once in the White mens’ big war, his hand was struck and he lost some fingers. Many scars he has, but that is the one you can see most. So that is why he carries the name Bad Hand.

Geoff brightened up at this. “I got me a scar too! I got it when Miz Dio saved m’ life an shot me all in the same day! You wanna hear the story?”

Dio laughed. “Geoff, hon, I think we got things we have to talk over first. I ‘spect Red Knife is here fer a reason besides just visitin’ to say howdy-do. I am sure that there will be some other time when ye kin tell Red Knife the story o’ yer scar.”

Red Knife grinned a little at the boy. “Yes...some time, our stories, we can share.. Now I must bring Sergeant One Eye’s Woman to see the white officer who comes with us.” He turned back to Dio and his face took on an almost blank expression. “The lieutenant...he is called Wilcox. He is at the place called number ten. He chose to wait there, while the young one here took me to find you. He said he would stay there should you came back while I looked for you other places.” He shrugged again. “I think he wished to sit a while.”

“Th’ Lootinint looked awful tired,” Geoff agreed.

“Well I reckon he can wait a tad longer then, if’n he couldn’t be bothered to come seekin’ fer me with the Corporal here,” said Dio, trying to keep her voice from betraying the irritation she was feeling. Sending the young Indian scout to wander around Deadwood on his own was just asking for him to get shot by some feckless idiot.

She took a step back and put her hand on Tim’s shoulder. “Before we do anything else, I should interduce my friend here. Corporal Red Knife, meet Tim Hax.”

Tim was a tall skinny kid, dressed in jeancloth work duds that had patches upon patches. He was just shy of 14 years of age, but he looked older because of his height, and that sort of gentle wisdom you could see in his eyes. He didn’t always talk much, but he was as earnest and good-natured of a young fellow as you could hope to meet. He stuck out a calloused hand that looked too big for his body, at the end of an gangly arm that was a bit too long for the sleeve of his jacket.

“How do, Corpral?” he said in a manner that was a nice mixture of respect and quiet friendliness.

The Indian scout looked into Tim’s eyes for a moment and then smiled. He reached out and took the boy’s hand in his and grasped it firmly. “I do well, friend.”

Dio looked on with approval, then cleared her throat.

“Red Knife, I 'spose you been sent lookin' fer me for a reason. What can I do for you and your brother scouts?”

Red Knife’s face took on a very serious expression and he straightened slightly, as if giving a report.

“There are young men at the Red Cloud agency--Lakota, they are--with much anger that they cannot hunt and raid as they once did. Some have defied their elders and left the agency. They have come this way. The Major at that camp called Robinson, he and Bad Hand decided to send scouts and a white officer to follow these men who left the agency, to bring them back, or kill them if we must. We have tracked them. They are not far. But the Major told us that his Sergeant One Eye had a friend called Dio who is an elder in the white mens’ big camp called Deadwood. He told us to find you to tell you of these Lakota who have returned to this land they call Paha Sapa”

“Where are the other scouts now, Red Knife?”

“They are in the hills, watching. Clouds on Big Mountain and my Uncle have told me to come to the big camp of the white men with Wilcox to seek you. I speak the language of white men better than most, so they thought I should come.”

“Oh? Why din’t the officer come on his own?”

“Red Knife’s face was impassive. “They did not wish for him to get lost.”

Dio sighed.

“Do not worry Dio,“ said Red Knife in a reassuring tone. “We have good scouts. Men who have killed many enemies...I have killed an enemy myself, though I have not yet counted coup. We will catch the Lokota men.”

“I am sure you will,” replied Dio.

Red Knife continued, “But we were told to seek you, as you are an elder of this big must warn the other white people of your camp...tell them to not go into the hills alone, to not be fools and to be wary until the Lakota have been caught and made to go back...or are killed.

Dio tried really hard not to sigh again, but a small one escaped nonetheless. “Well Red Knife, tellin’ some o’ these people here to not be fools is like tellin’ the water to not run downhill.”

The young scout shrugged. “To hear is not new to me. The white men...mostly fools they are. But I am told you are not a fool, and you are an elder of this big camp...tell them and they will hear you...I hope.

Dio assumed a very serious expression. “Red Knife, I thank you for your warning. Your Uncle and Clouds on Big Mountain do me honor to trust me to not waste this message you bring. It was a risk you took to come into the town. The elder scouts do you honor as well to trust you with this well as looking after the lieutenant.”

Red Knife grinned slightly. “Maybe. I hope so. Or maybe I am the youngest, and if some white fool shoots me, then I will not be missed so much, like they would if it was one of the older men.”

Dio laughed. She really liked this young man and his quiet sort of humor. But then Arikara folks always seemed to appreciate the fact that the universe was a pretty funny place sometimes.

“Come along then, Red Knife, let’s go back to the No. 10. Will ye take a meal with us? I have stew an’ coffee...and we can collect yer lieutenant and make sure he din’t get lost.”

She turned to Geoff and Tim.”Boys, I would be obliged if ye would toss the last o’ the split wood in the cart an' bring it along. Then wash up an' ye can jine us fer some grub.”

“Yes ma’am,” they both chorused in response, as the woman and the young scout set off back up the alley towards Main street.


  1. Lovely back and forth there, and the interjections from the two boys really lifted it too. Poor old Wilcox ;-D

  2. yeah Hon, Wilcox is about to get his head ripped off.

    I like the boys too.

    They've been a lot of fun to rp with over the last couple years and I have the greatest respect for both their typists. This scene, by the way, is not one that was actually rp'd out. It's all new. At the same time, having worked with both of the boys (as well as Red Knife) I think I know enough about there personas and how they react to things in order to write dialogue for them. I hope they don't mind me putting words into their characters' mouths.