I raced through the range on my way home from school. The day was pleasant – not too hot and not to cold, though there was a cool breeze blowing. As I rode into the yard of our ranch, I saw Pa walking from the barn. “Go feed the animals, then help me with the wood, will ya, son?” Pa asked as he picked me up off the horse and plopped me down on the ground. I laughed as he did it. I always loved it when he did things like that. At times, it felt like he had to touch me, just to tell himself I was real.
Pa took Blue Boy in to unsaddle while I quickly worked on getting more chores done. He started chopping while I started filling the wood box inside the house. When that was done, pa and I worked side-by-side as I stacked the wood he just finished chopping. There was nothing more I enjoyed doing then working beside my pa.
Pa never expected me to chop wood, because he thought I needed to be a little bigger in the britches before he could require that as a chore. The only time he made me chop was for punishment or if I was getting on his nerves. These were his words – not mine! But today, I felt sorry for him. He had been doing ranch work all day every day for a solid week while I came home from school and did just a few evening chores. Now granted, that’s how pa wanted it to be. He wanted me to have my boyhood and to concentrate on school. But today, I wanted to show him that I could do a man’s job. So I suggested that he rest while I chopped for awhile.
I managed to chop two or three times before I suddenly looked up over the range. A sudden feeling of eeriness came over me. I suddenly felt totally alone in the world. I didn’t really understand why, because my Pa was standing right beside me, but I felt like he wasn’t really there, as strange as that may sound! I questioned pa, asking him if he ever got that lonely feeling and he said he did once in a while.
Then suddenly, something happened that made me feel truly alone in the world. We were just getting ready to go inside and start supper when an arrow suddenly whizzed past Pa, barely missing him. At first, I was grateful that his rifle was right beside me, and he roughly pushed me down on the ground while he started shooting. I was scared, but felt safe enough with my Pa right there firing his rifle at the Indians.
Suddenly, though, the rifle stopped firing. I looked up to see that my pa was laying still on the ground. I ran over to him to help him, but I was suddenly grabbed from behind and thrown over a horse. I was completely terrified as the rider carrying me suddenly raced off. My eyes were open at first as I watched the ground shake with each trot the horse took, but then I had to close my eyes. I was so scared, I couldn’t even scream.
I heard the Indians hollering, and I was beginning to feel sick from the jerking around I was getting riding this way. My mind was foggy. I was still in shock, trying to figure out exactly what was happening. Did they kill my Pa? Were they taking me back to their camp to kill me? Why were they kidnapping me? What was going on? Suddenly, weakly, I cried, “Help me!”
We rode for about an hour into the woods. The Indains left me slumped over the horse this entire time. When we finally stopped, one of the Indains, Chaqua, stated we would camp here for the night. I was roughly lifted off the horse and sat on the ground. I ran to some trees to rid the contents of my stomach. After doing so, one of the other Indians slapped me, telling me I would have to be stronger then that if I were to live with them.
I was ordered to sit down on a rock nearby. I couldn’t say a word, even if they wanted me to. All I could do was stare…and listen to their talking. I wanted to hear that my pa was still alive. I wanted to hear that they weren’t going to kill me. I wanted to hear anything!
As I sat on that rock, I closed my eyes and thought back. Was it only two hours ago that my pa and I were standing outside our house, working side-by-side as partners in the ranch? Was it just a few hours before that that I sat in the school building, thinking how miserable my life was because I had to go to school instead of work with my pa? Right now as I had my eyes closed, I pictured my pa’s warm smile as he shook his head at me or rolled his eyes. I tried to remember the feel of his hands as he lifted me up and off my saddle just a few hours before.
Suddenly, I was slapped again. My eyes flew open and I stared into the angry eyes of another Indian, Artak. “We must always stay on guard!” he commanded in perfect English. Actually, they all spoke English very well! He jabbed the plate of food at me, but I shook my head. “You must eat,” he commanded.
I knew that if I tried to eat, I would throw up again, and that’s the last thing I wanted to do. Tears sprung to my eyes. “Men don’t cry!” Artak demanded then. He had a look of pure hate in his eyes. I was terrified, and I tried to swallow the tears back down so I wouldn’t be slapped again. He jabbed the plate under my nose. “Eat!” he commanded.
I slowly took the plate from him and stared at the food. “You must eat!” This time it was Chaqua who said it. I stared at the food and slowly began eating it, knowing I had to get through this.
When I was done, I was ordered to go to sleep. “And don’t try running!” Artak ordered me. I laid down and turned from them. I could now close my eyes and try to picture myself being safely in my father’s arms, with his smiling face looking down at me. I prayed, begging God to let my father be okay – to be alive. If he were alive, I knew that he was out looking for me. And he would find me. But was he alive? Deep in my heart, I truly believed he was, but my common sense told me something different.
The night was long. I couldn’t sleep. All I could do was listen to the wild animals, and the quiet breathing of the others in the camp. I knew I should try to escape, but I was more terrified than I had ever been in my life! I felt ashamed that I wasn’t fighting back – that I wasn’t trying to escape. I shook, more from fear and shame of the situation then from the coldness.
I fell asleep just before sunrise. The Indians woke me up when the horses were packed. I would have to go hungry this morning – punishment for oversleeping. They had a horse for me to ride by myself, and without it having the proper gear, I had to cling to the horse’s mane to travel.
I listened to them all day, but they talked in low voices and sometimes in a different language which I couldn’t understand. I felt so alone. I was terrified – too afraid to do anything to fight them off. I was too terrified to talk. In fact, I’d hardly said a word since they took me from my father.
We seemed to just go around in circles most of the day. I didn’t understand what we were doing. That night, we camped out again. I had refused to eat lunch by bravely throwing my food down in the dirt. Artak, who seemed to be the meanest of the bunch, had slapped me with the back of his hand for that, but told me I could go hungry. But tonight, I was told I had to eat or he would cut my throat. I forced the food down, and prayed to God that it would stay there in my stomach.
I waited until the fire was low and I was laying down for the night before I allowed the tears to come. I had to bite my blanket as hard as I could to keep myself from crying out loud, but my body shook with sobs. My blanket was soaked with my tears, and I knew by early morning hours that I had to stop crying so the blanket would have time to dry. I couldn’t let on that I had been crying or they would severely punish me again.
The next morning, I felt a hard kick in my middle. I suddenly stood up. “Gather firewood and build the fire!” I was ordered by one of the Indians. I did as ordered. A plate of food was again jabbed in my face as I worked on cleaning up the camp.
“You’ll tie the little one to the tree!” Chaqua stated. “You stay with him while we fight white man!”
I stared at them, wondering what white men they were talking about. Slowly, I shook my head. “They not that far behind us, brother.” Arkat announced. “They may try to cut through the rocks. We stay in hiding and shoot them if they try to come through.”
I heard one of the Indians ask how many. “I saw them yesterday when I was out scouting,” Artak announced. “The lawman has many men with him. The man with the rifle came last night.”
That had to be my pa! I smiled, happy to know he was alive. Artak turned to slap me again but Chaqua grabbed his arm. “No more,” he stated. “He will be my son. If he must be punished, I will punish.”
I stared at him. His son? What did he mean I was to be his son? Artak grabbed me and tied me tightly to the tree. I thought he tried me tighter then was necessary! Then one of the Indans stayed with me while the others left. “Don’t hurt my pa!” I suddenly shouted.
Chaqua rushed over to me and lifted his hand as if he were about to slap me. I closed my eyes, waiting for the impact, but it never came. “I am your father now,” Chaqua stated before they all rode away.
The Indian watched me closely all day. He fed me my lunch. By mid-aftenoon, the others were back, announcing we would be traveling out in the morning. I was untied from the tree and told to lay down. As all but one of them slept, I thought once again about escaping. I knew I should try, but I was so terrified. I needed my pa so bad!
I just laid there, trying to think of a way to get out of this situation. I began praying again, asking God to help me. Suddenly, there was commotion. I stood and ran over to see what was going on. Someone had tried to sneak in the camp, but he was hit over the head. I looked, and my eyes grew big as I realized it was Buckhart. Artak wanted Chaqua to kill him, but Chaqua refused.
I stared at the brothers as Artak tried to talk Chaqua into killing me. But Chaqua kept stating that he was going to make me his son. Then he came up to me and asked me if Buckhart was my friend. I suddenly did the only thing I knew to do at that time – something that took every once of my strength. I began hitting Chaqua with all my might. He grabbed me, and I hugged him because I needed something – anything to cling to. I cried. He pushed me away and told me I was never to cry again. He stated that only the women cried.
My pa always told me that everyone cried sometime – that’s why God gave us tears. I didn’t feel it was fair for him to force me to keep all my emotions buried inside me. But I obeyed him.
I laid down. They laid Sam Buckhart beside me, but ordered that I didn’t say a word to him if he woke up. I again laid down and closed my eyes. I pictured my father’s face again, and the smile. I imagined him picking me up in those strong arms of his, holding me and kissing me tenderly. “Pa,” I said to myself. “Please find me!”
In the morning, Sam Buckhart was awake. I was happy to see that he was going to be okay. We only looked at each other. “My pa?” I mouthed to him.
He only nodded his head. Artak suddenly came over and slapped me again. Then he kicked Buckhart. “Fix the fire, little one!” he commanded me. I did all my chores as told. I even ate my food so I wouldn’t get any further punishment. We finally mounted up and began traveling.
We again traveled all day. I was becoming so discouraged. I knew my pa was out there looking for me, but with each passing day, my hope grew less. I still felt I needed to do more to try to escape, but I was still very afraid. I was so ashamed of my fear, and I felt I was letting my pa down.
That night, I sat by the fire. The Indains were all talking and they were beginning to argue more. Artak was begging for his brother to kill me. I felt that if something didn’t happen soon, Artak himself would kill me. I turned and looked at Buckhart. He was sitting close enough to me now that he could talk. “How are you holding up?” He asked me.
I didn’t answer, but just stared into the fire. “Mark, your father and Micah are still out looking for you. They will never stop.”
“My father will be disappointed in me,” I stated.
“Disappointed? Why?” Buckhart asked me.
“Because, I haven’t done anything to-“ Suddenly, there was a commotion in the brush. I heard the familiar sound of gunshots. My pa was standing there as he shot all the Indians left in the camp. All but Chaqua who was hiding in the bushes.
I was so happy to see him – my pa – my hero! I jumped up. “Pa!” I called proudly.
But suddenly Chaqua was there, prepared to kill him. Sam Buckhart warned my pa that Chaqua was behind him and a fight erupted. As I watched the fight, I prayed to God not to let it end this way! My pa had fought so hard with no help from me. He had to succeed at this. Sam ordered me to untie him, but I was so scared, weak, and nervous that I couldn’t do it. He told me to get one of the dead Indian’s knives. I watched as I cut his ropes.
My pa had Chaqua tackled to the ground, choking the life out of him. Sam Buckhart and I stared as the life drained out of Chaqua. We both ran over and grabbed pa by the arms. He was so angry – so filled with hate for this man who kidnapped me. “You took my boy!” he sneered out angrily. Buckhart told pa he was dead. I grabbed him from the other side. Pa finally came to his right senses and turned around to hug me.
I can’t tell you what I felt in that instant when Pa reached out and hugged me like that. He patted Sam on the shoulder, then he stood and put his arm around me as we walked away a ways. Then Pa sat down on a large rock when we were alone. He picked me up and sat me on his lap, then he hugged me just as tightly as he could. He rocked me back and forth like he used to when I was little, and I just closed my eyes and relished in the moment.
Suddenly, I felt his body begin shaking and I heard a cry from deep within his being. I hardly ever saw my father cry, and this cry was a deep, hard cry that made his whole body shake. I pulled away from him just a bit and looked at his face. He had tears streaming down his face. Tears suddenly popped into my eyes as I began shaking with sobs as well. I allowed all the frustrations and worries from the last several days come out as I cried enough tears to fill a river, just like my pa.
After a long time, we both sat there quietly. I was still on pa’s lap, and he still had his arms tightly around me. That’s when I finally spoke for the first time. “Pa, I’m sorry,” I stated. “I’m so sorry!” I began crying again as I clung to him tighter.
But Pa suddenly pulled me away from him and looked into my eyes. “Why are you sorry? You did nothing wrong?”
I suddenly felt unworthy to be in his arms again. I stood up and walked a ways away from him. “I did do something wrong. I was so wrong!” I insisted.
Pa stood and came up behind me. He gently laid his hands on my shoulders. “Why?” he asked.
“Oh pa!” I suddenly began sobbing. “I was so scared! I wanted to be brave like you and try to escape, but I couldn’t. I was just too afraid. I’m sorry, pa! I’m so sorry!”
I guess he suddenly realized the heavy burden I was carrying. Because in one swift movement, he fell to his knees and turned me around. A very stern look was on his face, and tears once again filled his eyes. “Now you listen to me, Mark McCain!” Pa ordered. I swallowed, believing that I was really in trouble for being afraid. “Don’t you ever, ever think that any of this was your fault! Do you understand me boy?”
I opened my mouth to protest but Pa held up a hand to stop me. “Mark, you are a ten-year old boy who was kidnapped by Indians! You had every right to be terrified! No one ever expected you to be brave through an ordeal like this!” Pa swallowed hard. “Mark, if you had tried to escape, you would have been killed. I’ve always told you that if you are kidnapped, you should do exactly what you are told to do, and to believe that I’m coming after you.”
Pa had me by my shoulders and was gently shaking me now. I nodded and again threw my arms around him and hugged him. “Mark,” pa swallowed. “Son, I love you so much!”
“I love you too, pa.”
Suddenly I realized just how sick pa was. “We need to get you home so I can take care of you. Let’s get you on a horse.”
Pa nodded. Buckhart promised that he would take care of the bodies properly. Then Pa and I quickly rode away on the horses. We hadn’t traveled very long before we came upon Micah. “Lucas!” Micah started. “I ought to lock you in jail and throw away the key for what you did!” I didn’t understand what he was talking about. But then Micah turned to me. I was shocked when he jumped off his horse, ran to me, and gathered me into his arms in a warm embrace. “I’m so happy you’re both safe!” Micah stated.
“I need to get my pa home!” I insisted then. Pa wasn’t feeling well, and I wasn’t sure how long he would last on the horse.
Micah quickly got us to pa’s horse. We helped pa up into the saddle and I sat in front of him. Pa said he needed me as close to his heart as he could get me, so I obliged him. When we rode into the yard at the ranch, I watched as Miss Hattie ran from the house. I jumped down, and she suddenly cried as she hugged me. “I have been baking for three days, child! You will have every dessert imaginable!”
I smiled at her. “Miss Hattie, you must need to get back to the store. Now that you know I’m okay, why don’t you go on?” I saw her look at Pa. “I can take care of him. But you might send the doc out there to check him out.”
After she left to gather her things, I pulled Pa into the house and ordered him to bed immediately. After I got him all tucked in, I kissed him on the forehead and told him to sleep. “You aren’t getting out of that bed until the doc says you can!” I shook my finger at him. Pa only grinned and went to sleep.
I went into the other room and said good-bye to Hattie. I was pretty exhausted myself and was happy when she told me Mr. Toomey had been taking care of our ranch.
I went outside and looked toward the barn. I saw the ax still sitting where we had left it that fateful day. I walked out and picked it up. Then I took another swing at that same piece of wood. I looked out across the range and smiled. I no longer felt alone. I knew I had more friends then any man deserved.
And I was truly blessed.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
Stranger at Night
around The McCain Ranch