The Writer's Corner
Written by Deanne Bertram
In this story, I’ve borrowed several guest characters from
various episodes during The Rifleman’s five year run.
From “A Case of Identity” (season two) we met Dollar Ten, an
orphaned boy who Lucas boasted worked harder than any ten men to
pay his way as he lived on his own in North Fork. Many people
within North Fork had offered to take the boy in, but he was set
on making his own way in life and worked hard to get everything
In the same episode, we also met Aaron Wingate, a grieved
widower and father who continued to search for his son, ten
years after a riverboat accident claimed the life of his wife,
and more probably his own then toddler son, but the father
refused to believe the child was dead due to the lack of a body.
Aaron Wingate had hired numerous detectives over the years to
find his son, and this current set of ‘detectives’ were set to
find him a son, anyone’s son, to get their hands on the reward
Wingate offered. Unfortunately, they settled on Mark McCain.
In “Death Never Rides Alone” (season five), we were introduced
to Johnny Drako, a long-time friend of Lucas McCain. A known
gunslinger, who was always within the law when his reputation
was forged. Drako was looking for a nice, quiet place to live
and figured North Fork would suit him, just fine; especially
since his friend called the town home. However, events beyond
his control made him see the impact his arrival would have if he
stayed and he decided to leave town.
In my mind’s eye, I always believed that one day, Drako would
return to North Fork, after lying low and letting others gain
their reputations; his own would simply fade into history or
oblivion. Thus was the idea for my story The Return of Johnny
This story is set several years after the final season.
The Desert Trail
Marshal Micah Torrance pushed the door closed and several
citizens scampered away from just outside the doorway to the
Marshal’s Office, hoping that those inside hadn’t thought them
to be eavesdropping on the conversation. It was unusual for
Lucas McCain to ride into town so late in the day, especially on
a Thursday; so they were curious as to why.
“Now LucasBoy,” Micah was trying patiently to explain as Deputy
Johnny Drako poured a cup of coffee for the tall rancher.
“Johnny and I have to take these two prisoners down to Eddy, New
Mexico. They’re wanted by the U.S. Army for desertion and gun
running to the Comanche’s up north. Wire from Fort Bliss says
they have a detachment that’s already in route to Eddy and said
they’d inform them to wait for us.”
The tall rancher rested his hip on the corner of the marshal’s
desk as he took the offered cup of coffee and listened to his
friend explain. With a hint of exasperation in his voice he
answered, “Micah, Mark and I have work to do out at the ranch,
we’ve cattle that need branding and…”
“Lucas, if it weren’t important, I wouldn’t ask,” interrupted
Micah. “I know how busy you and Mark have been of late and we
know how much more work you have to do... But it’s going to take
both Johnny and I to get Cole Wilder and Zeb Denton down to
Eddy,” pleaded the marshal.
“Micah, the work at the ranch won’t get done on its own…” Lucas
“Lucas, we know that,” Johnny answered. “But if there were
anyone else we could ask… we’d ask them. Mark sounded so excited
when he came in to town today to pick up the mail and was
telling us all about what the two of you were planning to do.”
“We almost hated to send word with him asking you to come to
town,” Micah inserted.
“But it didn’t stop you,” Lucas voiced sarcastically.
“Neither of us expected Wilder and Denton to show up in our
little town,” Micah stated.
“And neither of us expected the Army to be so anxious to get
them back into their custody,” stated Johnny Drako.
“Then let the Army come here and get them,” Lucas retorted.
“We already tried that avenue, but the Army wants us to meet
them half way,” Johnny answered.
“How long do you figure to be gone?” Lucas asked, quietly
knowing, but dreading the answer as he rested his hand holding
the cup of coffee on his knee.
“Two weeks tops,” Johnny Drako replied, keeping the grin off his
face. He knew that Lucas would ultimately agree to watch the
town in their absence, but would pretend to put up a fight to
voice his displeasure at being taken away from his work.
“Two weeks!” Lucas exclaimed, unable to hide his temper. He
quickly pushed his hand forward to prevent any more of his
coffee from spilling over the edge of the cup and onto his
pants. Using his other hand, he tried to prevent as the spilled
coffee from soaking into the material.
“Hopefully it won’t be more than ten days, but still, we’re not
sure exactly when the Army will arrive compared to when we can
arrive; we might have to wait a day or so once we get there. We
just don’t know,” Micah stated.
“Isn’t there any law in Eddy that can watch over them until the
Army arrives so you don’t have to wait?” Lucas queried. “Why
does it take both of you?”
“Lucas, it’s our responsibility because we captured them in our
town,” Johnny answered.
Micah offered his own explanation, “Because Denton and Wilder
have friends… Would you honestly want only one of us to go up
against the likes of men who would sell rifles to Comanches?”
“No, but I don’t know why I have to be the one to stand in your
absences,” Lucas challenged.
Johnny Drako was sitting on the opposite side of the room and
added, “Lucas, you know we’ve got a few big herds heading
through here on their way to Texas. There’s no one else Micah
trusts to handle the drovers if they get out of line. ‘Sides, if
the drovers thought this town had no law…”
“Alright, alright,” Lucas held up his non-coffee cup bearing
hand to indicate he was giving up the argument, “I’ll do it, but
when you get back, both of you owe it to me to help get us
caught up at the ranch.” Lucas stated as he pointed his index
finger towards Micah and then Johnny in mock anger. “When do you
plan on leaving?” he asked, resigning himself to the fact that
he did have an obligation to the town.
Before Johnny Drako returned to North Fork, Lucas had always
been there to back up Micah when he faced a situation that was
more than what one man should face alone or one man with a
bummed arm should face alone. He also had acted as a deputy when
the lawman was required to be away from town. Yet, in the
ensuing time since Johnny Drako’s return, Lucas McCain had
secretly enjoyed leaving those responsibilities to someone else.
As Lucas’ son, Mark, matured, the father relished the added time
he spent with his son working and expanding their ranch,
building it together. Watching as his son changed from a small,
skinny kid into a young man; at sixteen, still far too skinny
for Lucas’ likes, but with all the work they did together, he
knew underneath the skin his son was developing muscles that
would serve him well as he continued to grow.
Lucas mused to the day before, remembering how they worked
together, shirtless, under the hot sun. For a moment the father
almost didn’t recognize his son as he walked away from the
wagon, carrying the split rail logs, muscles rippling across his
back as he set several of them onto the ground; a small
indication of just who this young man would ultimately become –
a young man comfortable with hard work and bearing the
responsibilities as easily as he carried the logs.
Trying to bring their friend’s attention back to the situation
at hand, Micah called Lucas’ name for a third time. Blinking his
eyes, Lucas gave a brief apology.
“LucasBoy, we’re planning to head out first thing in the
morning. I can deputize you now, so you can go home and pack,
get Mark, if you want, and return to town tomorrow morning.
Johnny’s already talked to Lou and reserved a room for you at
“You knew I’d agree? Thanks Micah,” Lucas responded with a
slight sarcastic tone to his voice.
“You always do Lucas,” Johnny whispered.
Before leaving the office, Lucas heard the taunts of the two
outlaws locked in the jail demanding their supper.
“Glad it’s going to be you escorting them and not me,” Lucas
stated as he walked past his friend Johnny Drako. For a moment,
Lucas looked at the deputy and saw a hint of the man’s former
life shining through his steel cold eyes; and then the look was
After being sworn in, Lucas left the office, climbed in the
saddle and headed home.
Lucas rode home to let Mark know of the change of plans for the
next two weeks and to pack his bag. Mark was just coming out of
the barn when Lucas arrived. He took Razor from his Pa to
unsaddle and groom him for the night. Gratefully, Lucas handed
the reins to his son and followed him into the barn.
Hesitantly, as his son led the gelding into its stall, Lucas
stated, “Mark, I know we had plans outlining all work we needed
to get done… but Micah and Johnny have to transport two
prisoners to Eddy and they need me to watch over North Fork
while they’re gone. Micah’s already deputized me. I’m sorry
that’s going to leave us a little shorthanded around here for a
Lucas watched his son groom Razor, paying attention to brush out
the wet spots caused by the saddle and pad.
“Us shorthanded?” Mark asked with a laugh. “I understand Pa.
It’ll be nice to see you wearing the badge again, even if only
for a little while. You want me to come into town each night?”
“Well, as your father, I’d like it, but I know how much you look
forward to staying here by yourself, since you’re growing up.
Maybe you could come to town, every couple of nights… just to
please your ‘old man’,” Lucas laughed at calling himself old.
“Sure. How about starting Saturday night, that way I can get a
lot of work done tomorrow and Saturday before meeting you for
supper at Lou’s and then we can go to church together on Sunday?
After services, I can head back to the ranch,” Mark stated but
it was also voiced somewhat as a question, not sure if his
father would agree.
“Okay, but I don’t want you to feel you have to or to even try
to get everything done without me. And if you have any problems
here, I want you in town and looking for me.”
“Yes Pa,” Mark answered, he remembered the many years that his
father insisted he stay close to him, making sure they were
together in town each night, never letting the boy spend the
night at their homestead alone. Mark understood his father’s
unvoiced fear; he was the last tie to his father’s greatest
love, Margaret, Mark’s mother, dead for the past ten years.
“We’ll also need to see about getting you a hair cut while
you’re in town. It’s getting to be pretty long, there boy.”
Lucas grinned, they’d been working so hard around the ranch that
he’d not noticed just how long his son’s hair was growing.
“Pa, I like it a little long and so does…” Mark stopped; he was
maturing and he knew some of the girls from school talked about
his hair and how they liked it when he wore it longer than most
of the other boys his age wore their hair. But he didn’t think
his father would understand.
Lucas gave Mark a slap at this back side, just for the fun of it
as they exited the barn and walked across the yard to the house.
Friday morning, Micah and Johnny with the two outlaws in custody
left North Fork setting out for Eddy, New Mexico.
Upon his arrival in town, Lucas walked along the boardwalk,
checking in with all the shopkeepers and town folks; many were
surprised since it had been a while since Lucas had taken on the
role of acting Marshal. But none the less, they were all pleased
to see him wearing the badge, all understood the troubles some
cattle drives caused when the drovers came into the towns they
passed and with Lucas’ reputation with his rifle... No one else
could keep their town as safe.
Lucas really appreciated Johnny Drako’s return and taking on the
duty of a regular deputy, but still, it did feel good to wear
the badge. Lucas kept a wary eye as he passed by Sweeney’s
saloon, especially now that he knew there was soon to be any
number of drovers making their way into town. He knew this was
only the beginning for most of the herds as they made their way
across New Mexico to San Antonio, Texas before heading up the
Having surveyed the town and returned to the Marshal’s Office
and jail, Lucas settled back to hopefully enjoy a quiet day
before turning in for the night.
On Saturday, the stage from Santa Fe arrived as close to being
on schedule as it could. Only one passenger -- a tall, slender,
young man, with sandy, blonde hair, stepped from the stage. As
he exited the stage, he dusted himself off and casually looked
around while a smile played at his face. He turned and accepted
his bags down from the shotgun rider and offered his thanks.
Knowing he had time to satisfy his curiosity, the young man
turned and removed his hat as he entered the Mallory House
In her brightest Irish brogue, hotel owner Lou Mallory greeted
the young man stepping into the lobby, “Good Afternoon. Care for
a room for the night?”
“At least one night, maybe more, if that’s alright?” he replied.
“Sure, just sign in. Are ye visiting someone or are ye here on
business?” Lou asked, not sure of the age of the young man
standing in front of her; she knew many people appeared younger
than their actual age. She gave him a long look as he signed his
name in the register.
Oliver D.T. Wingate, St. Louis, Missouri
“Just visiting, hoping a friend and his Pa still live in North
Fork,” Oliver answered.
“Ye’ve come a fair distance on the hope that your friend and his
Pa still live here? Well, if ye tell me their names, I know most
everyone here in North Fork, Mr. Wingate.”
“Please, call me Oliver. If you don’t mind, I’d like to get
settled in my room and maybe we can talk later; if that’s okay?”
Handing the young man the room key, Lou stated, “Sure, I
understand ye must be tired. Room twelve is upstairs and to the
right. When ye’re ready, I’ll either be here at the front desk
or in the restaurant.”
Oliver took his bags upstairs to his assigned room. After
setting his bags on the end of the bed, he turned to the pitcher
and basin sitting on a stand in front of the mirror and began to
wash off the dirt that had settled on his skin during his ride
in the stage for the past three days and laid down upon the bed
for a brief rest.
Walking across the main street of town and greeting his son as
the young man stepped from the livery, Lucas called, “Did you
get BlueBoy settled for the night?”
“Yes sir, Nils had his stall all ready. Razor sure looked happy
to see him,” answered Mark as he thought back to the loud nicker
his father’s horse gave to his own as he led him inside and
placed him in the next stall.
Mark was thankful for the brief moment of distraction as he knew
what was coming next from his father and Lucas didn’t
disappoint. “You couldn’t get to town any sooner? I told you
Thursday night you needed to get your hair cut.”
“Pa, things take longer to get done, seeing as it’s only me
working.” A smile played at Mark’s lips as he emphasized the
“Well, guess we’ll have to wait until the next time you come to
town to get that mop of yours cut. Is everything okay? Did you
have any trouble?” Lucas worriedly asked fearing a problem had
actually delayed his son.
Appreciating his father’s concern, Mark answered, “Just a couple
of stubborn, mule-headed cows that don’t have the common sense…”
Lucas heard the bitterness in his son’s tone of voice, “Found
two cows bogged down and to make matters worse, once I got both
of them out, one went right back and got herself bogged down
Trying hard to hide the smile that threatened to play across his
face, Lucas asked, “Did you get her out?”
Mark nodded, “And chased both of them every step back to the
herd.” With a hint of embarrassment, Mark added, “Once home, I
had to take time to clean myself up and my saddle before coming
“Yeah, old bossie didn’t appreciate the slap I gave her on the
rump after I removed my lasso and she back kicked and shoved me
into the bog.” Mark gingerly rubbed his back side.
Lucas failed miserably in his effort to hide his laugh. In hopes
of pacifying his son’s bruised posterior he said, “Come on,
let’s get to Lou’s for supper.” He rested his hand upon his
son’s shoulder as they walked across the street. As they stepped
to the boardwalk, Lucas lowered his hand and shifted his rifle
between his hands.
Oliver returned downstairs and entered the restaurant, giving a
cursory glance to the few people sitting in the room.
“Mr. McCain? Mark?” Oliver quietly called out after seeing Lucas
and a young man sitting at a table, placing their order with
“Yes son? May I help you?” Lucas answered looking up to the
stranger approaching their table.
“Guess you don’t recognize me. I wouldn’t have recognized Mark
if it weren’t for you sitting there Mr. McCain.”
“Lucas,” Lou interrupted. “He’s a guest at the hotel and signed
in as Oliver D.T. Wingate, come all the way from St. Louis.”
“Oliver Wingate?” Lucas stated as he tried to place the name.
“Well you wouldn’t remember me as Oliver Wingate. Most folks
around North Fork would remember me better by Dollar Ten.”
“Dollar Ten?!” Mark exclaimed as the look of surprise etched his
“Oliver, you sure have grown up some. Didn’t recognize you,”
“No, don’t expect you should have. It’s been better than five
years since I left North Fork.”
“Please have a seat and share supper with us. Lou take the
boy’s… Oliver’s order.” Turning back to Oliver, “What brings you
back to North Fork?”
“I asked Pa if I could for a visit.”
“Your Pa?” interrupted Mark.
“Yeah, can you believe it?” Oliver stated as a smile beamed
across his face. “I told Pa, I especially wanted to thank you
for everything you did for me, Mr. McCain. If it hadn’t been for
you, I wouldn’t of ended up with the life I did.”
Watching the young man who sat at the table, Lucas stated, “I’m
not sure exactly what I did.”
“Mr. Wingate, the man who was looking for his son?” Oliver
waited until Lucas nodded in remembrance, “When Mr. Wingate
returned to St. Louis with me, he opened his home just as if I’d
always lived there, at first it was just nice to have someone
else there, but in time… Well, the nickname Dollar Ten didn’t
seem to fit me any more, so I started going by my given name…
Oliver. Then one day he asked me if he could adopt me. Said he
wanted the sign on his shop to mean something… to be real. He
wanted to leave the business to his son when the Good Lord
called him home.”
“Called him home? He’s not dead is he?” interrupted Mark. He
remembered when Mr. Wingate had threatened his Pa that he would
prove Mark was his son, in a court of law. He didn’t believe
Lucas when he’d shown him their family bible indicating Mark’s
Mark remembered Lucas declaring, “That’s a bible!”
“No, as I said, I asked him permission to come visit. But he was
thinking about some time in the future. We’re happy to have each
other as family and it’s all because of the two of you.”
Conversation continued into the night as the three caught up on
years of memories.
“Say, Oliver, why don’t you come back to the ranch with me
tomorrow? Pa has to stay in town as acting Marshal while Micah
and Johnny are taking outlaws to Eddy.” Mark asked, “Pa, would
it be okay? That way it wouldn’t be only me at the ranch.”
“Okay, if Oliver wishes to help you out,” Lucas answered as he
looked over to Oliver.
“Sure Mr. McCain. It would be fun,” answered Oliver.
Lucas shook his head as he remembered the good-natured,
industrious youth that he once knew as Dollar Ten.
Before they could say goodnight and head upstairs to their hotel
rooms, Lucas heard a fight brewing at Sweeney’s. He ordered both
young men upstairs as he grabbed his rifle and ran over to the
There were a number of drunken drovers, spilling out into the
street, fighting among themselves. Lucas fired one shot from his
rifle into the air to get everyone’s attention. The fighting
stopped and the drovers turned their attention from their
opponents and stared at Lucas. Some were on the ground where
they had been fighting, others were standing, arms still cocked
ready to strike. Lucas motioned for those who were doing the
fighting to head for the jail. He planned to let them sober up
before returning to their herds. Lucas told those who were only
watching to return to their herds and have their trail bosses
come in and get their drovers in the morning.
As Lucas was breaking up the fight, four strangers watched from
just inside the saloon. They’d been in town for two days.
Watching and listening to the comings and goings of the people
of North Fork.
After locking up the Marshal’s Office for the night, Lucas
returned to the hotel room.
Mark was already in one of the beds, but not asleep. As he
propped himself up on his elbow, Mark asked, “Pa?”
“Everything’s fine. Just some drunken trail hands; sent those
sober enough back to their herds. Expect I’ll have a few angry
trail bosses to deal with in the morning.”
“Why do they do it?”
“Fight?” Lucas asked.
“That, but why do they get so drunk?” Mark asked without being
able to stifle a yawn.
“I don’t know why exactly, but herding cattle on trail drives is
long, tiring work and I guess getting drunk and getting into
fights alleviates the boredom.”
“Just wish they wouldn’t do it… here…” Mark mumbled as sleep
closed his eyes and he lowered himself back to lie down on the
Lucas and Mark woke in the morning and met Oliver for breakfast.
As they prepared to head to church, Lucas noticed two men riding
into town and stop at the Marshal’s.
“Boys you go on to church, I’ll join you as soon as possible.”
Lucas stepped into the Marshal’s Office. He pulled out the gun
belts of those he had behind bars as he spoke to the bosses,
“You should be lucky that your men didn’t create any more havoc
than they did last night. Fortunately… all they did was beat up
on each other out in the street. They didn’t do any damage to
the saloon. I suggest you move your herds out of here as soon as
possible. Can’t say I’ll be as charitable if they stay here and
get into another fight.”
“Thank you Marshal,” both trail bosses offered as they watched
their men come out of the cells. All were shaking their heads,
heads held down, hung over, but sober enough to realize what
they had done. Soon they were all on their way out of town.
Lucas headed for the church and arrived in time to sit in on the
last half of services.
As they were leaving the church, Mark spoke. “Pa, I think Oliver
and I’ll head on back to the ranch.”
“Okay boys, I’ll see you later. Mind me, if anything happens, I
want you back here.”
Mark and Oliver headed over to the livery to get BlueBoy and
borrow a horse for Oliver.
Lucas was leaning against the hitching rail as Mark and Oliver
rode by. “See ya later Pa!” Mark hollered and waved as they rode
Lucas waved as the two rode by.
After talking non-stop, Mark and Oliver arrived at the ranch
house and took the horses into the barn. They tended to the
horses and worked on a few chores in the barn before heading to
the house. Mark carried Oliver’s bags and took them to the
bedroom and set the bag down next to his Pa’s bunk.
“Seeing as how Pa has to stay in town to be marshal, guess he
won’t mind you sleeping in his bunk while you’re here. Be a lot
more comfortable than one of the army cots.”
“Thanks Mark. So what else do we need to do today?”
“Got plenty of wood chopping to do and the chicken coop need
cleaned out; that is… if you’re game? Lastly, I need to check
the pig pen to make sure our sow hasn’t busted any boards.”
“Clean out the chicken coop and work on a pig pen?” inquired
“Sure… Guess that’s not what you thought a working ranch was all
about,” stated Mark.
“I thought we’d be out on the range checking the cattle and
riding fences,” Oliver humbly answered.
“Oh, we do that too, it’s just that there are other chores that
need to be done.”
“Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve swung an ax…”
“I’ll chop, you stack. How’s that?”
Mark and Oliver worked on their chores and talked the whole
afternoon. Before they realized, it was time for supper. They
each carried an armload of wood into the house, placing some
next to the fireplace and the rest in the woodbox next to the
stove. Mark set about and fixed a beef stew for their supper.
“Not a bad cook, for a guy” teased Oliver.
“Not bad? Why I have you know…”
“Mark, you forget, it’s just Pa and me too. We make due probably
about as good as you and your Pa. Though next time, go a little
lighter on the pepper.”
“Pepper? I forgot the pepper,” Mark moaned.
Oliver couldn’t stop the giggle that welled from within, “My
problem’s the exact opposite, I usually end up… putting too much
Mark howled with laughter when Oliver started fanning his mouth
in memory of some of his ‘more memorable’ stews.
After supper, both boys sat by the fireplace and talked of what
needed to be done on the ranch the following few days, before
they decided to turn in for the night. Just as they were ready
to enter the bedroom, Mark heard the sounds of riders
approaching. Curious, Mark and Oliver stepped out on the porch
to see two riders pulling up beside the barn.
“Evening boys, we’ve been on the road for some time. Wondering
if you’d allow us to water our horses?” one of the men asked.
“Sure, help yourselves,” Mark replied.
“Little late for riding, isn’t it?” asked Oliver.
One of the two men answered, “Yeah, I guess, but we’ve been on
the road for some time. Can you tell us if there’s a town close
by? What I wouldn’t give to sleep in a nice…”
Before Mark could answer, he heard the chair behind him scrape
against the porch and turned to see two men approaching with
ropes in their hands.
“Run Oliver!” Mark yelled as he tried to push his friend into
motion and jumped off the porch. “OLIVER! RUN!!”
Oliver was slow to realize what was happening. Before he knew
it, one of the approaching men had taken the butt of his pistol
to the back of his head and he collapsed where he had stood.
Mark ran. The two who had rode in and stopped in front of the
house, kicked their horses into motion and were close on his
heels. Mark felt the force as he was struck from behind as the
rider urged his horse to run him down. Mark went sprawling on
the ground and scrambled to get to his feet, ignoring the dirt
pebbles imbedded in the heels of his hands. As he looked back,
he saw Oliver lying unmoving on the end of porch. One man was
standing over him, the second running in Mark’s direction. Mark
ran again. Before he could get to the bridge behind the house,
one of the riders was right behind him, grabbing for his arm.
Mark felt himself being pulled from the ground. As fear
threatened to freeze him, Mark fisted his hand and swung,
striking the man in the nose, causing the man to drop Mark to
the ground. Before he could get to his feet this time, the other
rider had his gun drawn and pointed straight at Mark. Mark
waited in a crouched position, his shoulders and chest heaving
as he tried to catch his breath from the events of the past few
“Stop whatever it is you’re thinking, boy. You can’t outrun a
Mark heard the coldness in the man’s voice, but was sure if he
could see the man’s face, his eyes would have been wanting Mark
to try it.
The rider motioned for Mark to get to his feet and then pointed
his gun back to the house. Mark walked with his hands held up.
He watched as the rider who had knocked Oliver unconscious went
into the house and picked up Mark’s hat, came out and placed it
in the dirt, right in front of the porch steps and placed a
stone on top of it.
Another rider had gone to the barn and saddled BlueBoy and led
him out. Again, the one rider motioned with his gun for Mark to
get in the saddle.
“Boy, hands behind your back,” the one holding BlueBoy’s reins
told Mark as the man pulled out a length of rope and tied Mark’s
hands behind his back.
“What about my friend?” Mark plaintively asked.
“It’s not him we’re interested in,” one of the men replied.
“We’ve no use for him…”
“Use? What do you mean?” asked Mark. “Why are you taking me?”
“Shut your yap!” another man ordered as he mounted and jerked
his horse around.
After all the riders were mounted; five left the McCain Ranch
and headed south.
The moon had risen well overhead by the time Oliver regained
consciousness and struggled to his feet.
“Mark?” Oliver called out, as he winced upon feeling the back of
his head with his hand. As he pulled his hand away he saw blood
on the tips of his fingers. “Mark!” he hollered once again.
With uneven steps Oliver staggered to the barn. Fighting against
his blurred vision and the queasy feeling in his middle, he
saddled and bridled the horse he’d ridden earlier. Pulling
himself into the saddle, Oliver held his breath and fought
against the darkness that threatened to take over. Taking a deep
breath, he signaled the horse and was heading back to North
Fork, more so that the horse knew its way home to the livery
stable. Oliver held tight to the saddle horn to keep from
falling from the saddle; his head bobbing and throbbing in
rhythm to the horse’s footfall.
The horse Oliver rode stopped in front of the livery; and due to
what little strength he had leaving him and the pain from the
back of his head, Oliver slid from the saddle. Lucas had
finished his nightly rounds and was preparing to return to the
Marshal’s Office when he came around the corner of the livery
and saw a single horse standing in front of the door; curious
why Nils would have left a horse out, he approached the horse
After walking around the horse’s haunches, Lucas saw the
crumpled form of a person lying on the ground. “Oliver!” Lucas
yelled as he knelt and turned him over; cradling his head, he
felt the blood on the back of Oliver’s head, that was now on his
A sleepy Nils Swenson, the owner, came out of the livery after
hearing Lucas yell his name.
“Lucas? What’s going on?” Nils asked as he knelt next to Lucas.
“Who is he?”
“Nils, help me get Oliver over to Doc Burrage’s office.”
Without words, Nils’ expression asked why Lucas couldn’t carry
the boy by himself.
“Nils, we need to keep him level. If he’s got a concussion from
the blow to the back of his head, I…”
“Don’t need to say anything more Lucas.” Nils remembered times
when he’d helped tend to a concussed person and the nausea that
ensued when they weren’t kept flat.
Lucas carrying the boy’s shoulders and Nils carrying Oliver’s
leg headed to Doc’s. As they approached, Lucas started yelling
for the Doc to open the door. Lucas gave a deep sigh when he
realized Doc was there and opening the door when they arrived.
They carried Oliver to the examination table and carefully laid
“What happened?” Doc asked.
“Don’t exactly know. Found him unconscious in front of the
livery. He’s bleeding from the back of his head,” Lucas
Without asking any further questions, Doc began examining
Oliver; Nils called out as Lucas left the small clinic and
headed to the livery and ultimately, home. Fear consumed his
thoughts as his concerns focused solely on Mark. ‘What had
Lucas arrived home and yelled Mark’s name only to receive no
answer. He jumped down from Razor in front of the house to see
Mark’s hat with a rock holding it down, a sign that someone
wanted to make sure the hat was seen. Lucas picked up the hat
and ran into the home, again calling Mark’s name…again, no
answer. He tossed Mark’s hat on the table as he looked around.
As he turned to leave, he noticed Mark’s .22 rifle was still in
its stand beside the door.
Lucas checked the barn and realized that BlueBoy was also
missing. Infuriated at a lack of answers, Lucas returned to
Lucas stormed into Doc’s office to find him finishing putting
away his instruments. Oliver was no longer on the examination
“Doc, Oliver… where is he?” Lucas fearfully demanded as he asked
himself, ‘Was the boy hurt worse than I thought?’
“Lucas, we moved him to the back room, into a bed. He took a
nasty blow to the head and will probably be asleep for the rest
of the night. I say he’s pretty soundly concussed. Who is he?”
“His name’s Oliver Wingate, but you’d know him as Dollar Ten,”
“I thought he looked vaguely familiar, but…”
“He arrived on the Saturday stage and was spending time at the
ranch with Mark…”
“What about Mark?” Doc carefully inquired, trying to gauge the
friend standing before him.
“He wasn’t at the ranch when I got there. Neither was BlueBoy,”
Lucas replied as he fought to maintain control of his emotions.
“Maybe he tried coming to town to get help for Oliver…”
“If so, why isn’t he here?” Lucas answered gruffly.
“Sorry, Lucas, guess I wasn’t thinking.”
Lucas and Doc turned when they heard the outer door thrown open
and Lou came into the office.
“Lucas, I just had a rock thrown through the hotel door with a
note,” Lou yelled as she entered. She untied the note from
around the rock and handed it to Lucas.
We have your boy!
Release Wilder and Denton before Army arrives in Eddy, otherwise
boy is DEAD!”
“Lou, send a wire for Micah and Johnny to Eddy. Tell them what
happened and I’m on my way,” as he handed the note back to Lou
and ran out of Doc’s.
“But how?” Lou asked, but Lucas was already gone.
Lucas raced out of town after Micah and Johnny; they had a two
and a half day head start.
The riders raced south; walking long enough to rest their horses
before they were running them again. They ate jerky while in the
saddle, choosing to ignore offering anything to Mark. It was
well after midnight when they stopped for the night. They pulled
Mark from the saddle and pushed him to the ground. One of the
riders untied Mark’s hands and tossed him a canteen and a few
pieces of jerky. Once he had eaten and drank, they allowed him a
few moments of privacy behind a tree before they tied his hands
again. And to make sure he didn’t get away while they slept, one
of the riders tied a rope around his torso and before tying it
around a tree, as snug as he could make it, causing Mark to
wince when he tried to deeply inhale.
“What do you want with me?” Mark yelled as the men settled
around their campfire.
No one replied, except to laugh.
The men slept until sun up and were back in the saddle again.
As the group continued southward, they crossed the Rio Penasco
River and rode on. When they crossed the North Seven River the
next day; Mark was still in tow, they never said a word to
answer his questions.
Mark was thankful he was such a natural rider, but even so,
riding with his hands tied behind him, he felt the growing
discomfort in his shoulders and neck, and the tightening of his
stomach muscles as they worked harder to help keep his balance.
As they continued to ride south, one of the riders decided to
blindfold Mark before they changed direction, they headed west
towards Whites City. They rode past Whites City and headed into
the Chihuahua Desert. As night fell again, one of the men
roughly pulled Mark from his saddle and shoved him to the
ground. The group only offered Mark a little food and water when
they stopped for the night, between receiving little
nourishment, constantly being tied up and blindfolded, the heat
of the day, and the continued discomfort in his body, Mark’s
remaining strength was quickly dwindling.
The small group made final camp in one of the canyons and
prepared to wait.
When morning dawned, Mark didn’t hear sound of anyone preparing
the horses for traveling.
“Aren’t we traveling today?” Mark asked trying to figure out
what was happening.
“No, we wait here, rest the horses for the day,” one of the men
stated as he stood and gloated over Mark.
Lucas rode hard. He pushed Razor to the point of collapse before
stopping. Each day was the same, pushing his horse and only
slowing up when forced to, barely taking time to eat, but
stopping each time he encountered water. Images of his son
plagued his thoughts, whether he was sleeping or awake, in his
mind he kept seeing his son begging for him to come rescue him.
Fear for Mark welled deep inside as his hatred grew towards the
men who took his boy.
Lucas caught up with Micah and Johnny as they camped a couple
hours easy riding out of the town of Eddy. Both lawmen were on
alert when they heard the sound of a rapidly approaching rider.
Micah stood to the side of the fire while Johnny stepped outside
the light from the campfire.
“LucasBoy, what brings you here?” Micah asked as he watched
Lucas rein in Razor, hard, “You’re supposed to be back in North
Fork, that’s why I deputized you!”
Ignoring Micah, Lucas jumped from Razor and ran to one of the
prisoners, grabbed him by the shirt, and hauled him to his feet.
“Tell me where they took my boy!” Lucas yelled as he backhanded
the prisoner. “TELL ME WHERE THEY TOOK MY BOY!”
Before Lucas could backhand the prisoner again, Johnny was
beside Lucas, trying to restrain him from doing something he
would regret later. In pulling Lucas from their prisoner, Johnny
pushed Wilder to the ground.
“Lucas, what do you mean, where they took your boy?! What
happened to Mark?!” Johnny yelled in an effort to pulled Lucas’
attention away from the prisoners.
“They took Mark Sunday night. Left a note that Wilder and Denton
were to be released before the Army got to Eddy otherwise they’d
kill Mark.” Lucas yelled his answer, but his eyes were on fire
as he stared at the prisoners.
Wilder gave a laugh, “So my boys got some brains and a way to
get us out of the stockade. Well Marshal, you gonna let us go?”
He laughed harder as he watched rage boil over in Lucas as
Johnny further struggled to restrain him.
“Lucas, get a hold of yourself! You’re wearing a badge and have
been legally deputized. Get yourself under control! We’ll get
Mark back!” Micah yelled.
Sensing the hatred leave his friend’s body, Johnny released
Lucas, but kept close enough, just in case he needed to stop
him. They discussed among themselves holding off entering Eddy;
Lucas and Johnny discussed how they could use Wilder and Denton
to get Mark back.
“And just how do the two of you plan to do this? And what about
me?” Micah demanded to know.
“It’ll be up to you to placate the Army,” Johnny stated. “You
ride into Eddy and inform them we encountered trouble out here.”
That night, while they were waiting, one of the riders removed
the blindfold and the ropes on Mark’s wrists and from around his
ankles. They allowed him a few moments of privacy behind a rock
before shoving him back to camp and handing him a plate full of
beans and biscuits. As he was eating, Mark overheard the outlaws
talking; he finally heard the reason they had taken him, they
were using him as ransom in exchange for the prisoners Micah and
Johnny were taking to Eddy. The words Mark heard next shocked
him, “Once Wilder and Denton get here, we kill the boy and head
“Don’t see why we have to tag him along,” one of the others
“Just in case we have to prove to the law we got him.”
The outlaws continued to talk among themselves, ignoring their
prisoner. Mark’s mind was racing, ‘I have to get away. But how?
And where can I go?’ He didn’t even know where they were. But he
knew he had to get away!
Mark set his plate down and quietly stood to his feet, his eyes
intently focused on the men, subconsciously begging them to not
see him as he slowly walked backwards from the camp, he reached
the far fringe of light cast by the campfire when he heard one
of the riders yell, “He’s getting away!”
Mark turned and ran, not know and not caring where; he just ran.
He heard gunfire behind him. He heard a bullet strike a rock as
he ran past and then he felt a bullet strike his arm. Mark
struggled to keep on his feet as he ran in the dark over the
unfamiliar terrain; he knew his life would be over if he lost
his footing and fell.
The riders in camp fired blindly into the night as they saw Mark
run away, one of them eventually yelled, “Save it! No sense
wastin’ bullets. He don’t know where he is, let him run. Save us
the trouble of killin’ him later. End result’s the same.”
Lucas and Johnny watched Micah leave their camp and ride towards
Eddy, while they waited with the prisoners.
“So deputies, when you going to turn us loose?” Denton yelled.
“Shut up!” Johnny replied. He turned to Lucas and quietly spoke,
“So how do we do this? How do we turn them loose and track them
without them knowing?”
“I don’t know. I just know that if we don’t turn them loose,
they’ll kill Mark.” Lucas slammed his left fist into his right
hand. “I love the strength that boy gives me, but why… why does
he have to be my weakness too?” Lucas asked of no one since he
didn’t expect an answer.
“Lucas, if it weren’t Mark, it would have been someone else.
Now, I’m not saying that gives them the right to take Mark, but
we’d be here one way or another,” Johnny said. “Regardless whose
son they took, you’d be here.”
'But Mark would be safe, if it were someone else’s son…’ Lucas
thought to himself.
“Well deputies, you gonna let us go? Times a wasting, don’t know
how long my boys are gonna keep your brat alive before they
decide they kill him,” Wilder took pleasure in taunting Lucas.
“Besides they might just decide to drop him in one of those
caves out in the Chihuahuan desert. Wha ’cha gonna do tall man?
Come on sodbuster… Tic toc.”
Without any warning, Lucas was in front of Wilder and hauling
him to his feet. “You listen to me. Harm one hair on that boy
and I’ll track you down and the Army won’t need to worry about
you ever again.” Lucas paused. The words he spoke next sounded
as if they contained poison. “We let you go. Your men let Mark
go. You send him to Whites City. If he’s not there in twelve
hours…believe me…you don’t want to know what happens in thirteen
hours.” Pure fire emanated from Lucas’ eyes and voice as he and
Johnny removed the handcuffs from the two prisoners.
“Now don’t you try followin’ us,” Denton taunted.
“My men are probably watchin’ along the trail. If you follow us,
that boy of yours will be dead before you get within a mile of
him,” Wilder declared. “You can head to Whites City after
midnight. Any sooner than that, and well…”
Lucas stewed and paced until midnight. It took every fiber of
his being to not trail after the prisoners the moment they were
out of sight. As soon as Johnny’s pocket watch indicated it was
after midnight, they were ready to head out for Whites City.
Before they could leave, Micah, Captain Blaisdal, and a troupe
of soldiers from Fort Bliss arrived.
The Captain was furious enough once Micah had informed him what
had occurred. He was livid when he arrived to find that the
outlaws had already been turned loose.
“Mr. McCain, I thank you to not interfere with the Army again.
I’ll handle recapturing the prisoners you so kindly turned
“Captain Blaisdal, I don’t appreciate your attitude. They have
my boy and threatened to kill him. First we make sure my boy is
safe! I can track them. They won’t be out of custody for long,”
“They’ve been out of custody for too long as it is. Interfere
again and I’ll place you in shackles to stand trial for
accessory after the fact; aiding and abetting. Don’t doubt me,
I’ll do it!”
The two men stood no more than three feet apart, each trying to
get the other to back down. If the situation weren’t so dire,
Johnny would have laughed at seeing the man who barely came to
Lucas’ shoulders try to stare the tall rancher down. Shortly
Micah broke up the face-off.
“Lucas, this isn’t helping Mark. Let’s get to Whites City and
find Mark. The longer you two stand here like two bulls staring
each other down, the further they’re getting away. Let’s mount
up and ride.”
The group headed out. The Captain, Micah, Johnny and Lucas rode
at the front with the rest of the patrol following.
The column arrived in Whites City before the sun rose. They
immediately headed for the Sheriff’s Office; those from North
Fork hoping and praying that Mark would be waiting inside or at
least the Sheriff would inform them Mark had arrived and was
safely in the hotel. The Sheriff opened the door to his office,
surprised in seeing the mixed group that stood in front of him.
The lawman who crossed the threshold to the boardwalk was fast
approaching the day when he’d step down, but he was still keenly
aware of the requirements of his job and could adequately
fulfill his duties. Yet, he was thankful his son was willing to
follow in his footsteps, literally and figuratively. The young
deputy looked like a younger version of his father who stood in
front of him.
“Lawmen and the cavalry, what do I owe this unexpected arrival?”
the lawman asked, his curiosity piqued as he crossed his arms.
Behind him, the son hooked his thumbs through the beltloops of
his pants and leaned against the doorframe.
Lucas inquired if anyone had seen a sixteen-year-old boy enter
town. Possibly, could be at the doctor’s office or maybe at the
hotel. It devastated Lucas to hear no strangers, especially a
boy, had been seen in town.
“But then, I’ve not made my rounds this morning. Hal, you heard
anything?” answered the Sheriff.
“No sir, I’ve not heard of any youngsters coming to town,” Hal
answered his father.
“Who is this boy you’re looking for? What’s he wanted for?”
asked the Sheriff.
“He’s my son!” growled Lucas. “Wilder and Denton’s gang
kidnapped him Sunday night and threatened to kill him if they
weren’t turned loose.”
“You didn’t turn them gunrunners loose did you?!” demanded the
“To save the life of a boy? You bet we did!” declared Johnny.
“Of all the…” spoke the older lawman.
“My sentiments exactly,” stated Captain Blaisdall.
“Maybe someone else in town has seen the boy. You don’t mind us
looking and asking around ourselves?” Micah asked.
“You call yourselves lawmen and you let scum like Denton and
Wilder go?! Damn it!” the older lawman declared. “Captain, let
me get a posse together and we’ll go with you to recapture ‘em.”
The words the lawman spoke didn’t hide the man’s disgust.
“And just what would you do if it were you son?!” demanded
Lucas. “A sixteen year old boy who’d been kidnapped and
Micah, Johnny, and Lucas split up and began walking the town,
inquiring of anyone they passed if they had seen a young man, a
stranger to the area. With regret, the men returned to the
Sheriff’s Office, disheartened their search proved fruitless.
“Johnny, you get provisions and take care of the horses while
Lucas and I speak with the sheriff and the captain,” Micah
stated as he stepped back to the boardwalk. He’d seen the
soldiers taking care of their mounts and stocking provisions.
Upon entering the office, they joined in to review a large map
of the area on the wall. The Captain was arguing with the
sheriff, declaring the outlaws were probably heading for Nickel
Creek, Texas for supplies before heading on to Mexico. The
sheriff and his deputy had other ideas on where the outlaws were
“You’d risk losing their trail on the off-hand chance that they
are heading to Nickel Creek versus following the trail and
knowing where they’re going?” Lucas argued with the Captain,
totally ignoring the lawman standing the other side of the desk.
“We heard Wilder mention the Chihuahua Desert, that’s where we
head. We back track to out of town to where we made camp and
follow their trail to the desert.”
“Mr. McCain, I’m in charge of this Army detail. They will follow
my orders and my orders are to recapture those outlaws. Either
you obey me or you leave this unit. I’ll not have you question
“Well someone needs to question you! You’re not thinking as an
outlaw! You’re thinking everything is so cut and dry, we’ll I’m
not taking that chance with my boy’s life!” Turning to look at
Micah, Lucas stated, “We’re leaving. We’re following the trail.”
“Mr. McCain, you might as well get it through your head that
your son is dead. They probably killed him once Wilder and
Denton met up with their men, if they didn’t kill him earlier.
If he could have escaped out here, there’s nothing but desert,
canyons, arroyos, and mountains. Either way, you could look for
a month and never find sign of your boy. I have my orders and
they don’t include searching for any hostages.”
As he pulled on his leather gloves, the captain left the
Sheriff’s Office and ordered his detail to mount up.
“Fool,” commented the deputy who stood behind the group from
“At least we agree on that,” Lucas answered.
Lucas wanted to deal with the Captain’s arrogant attitude, but
he knew that the time it would take to feel vindicated would
only delay him from searching for his son. With Micah and Johnny
flanking him, Lucas watched as the soldiers left town and headed
“You still thinking you can trail them outlaws?” the older
lawman asked upon stepping from his office.
“I can and I will,” Lucas stated.
Johnny Drako tied the horses to the hitching rail and stepped to
the boardwalk, curious to what their plans were when he heard
Lucas state, “Micah, I want you to stay here in Whites City and
wait for us. Just in case they did let Mark go and he somehow
gets here before we find him. If we’re not back here in four
days, return to North Fork.”
“You want me to stay here?!” demanded Micah.
Johnny knew immediately what Lucas was trying to do and answered
before Lucas could, “Lucas needs someone to stay here, just in
case they did let Mark go. And it makes better sense for you to
remain than me…”
“Just because you think I’m too old to do my job!”
“No, Micah,” Lucas answered. “Because you can be more help to
Mark than Johnny can. And he’ll go back to North Fork with you.
To Mark, you’re family. He’ll do as you say, where as Mark would
want to join Johnny in searching for us… because we’re family.”
“LucasBoy, what are you saying?” asked Micah.
“I’m saying, I’ll search to hell and back to find my son, but… I
don’t want him waiting around here for me. I want him safe… I
want him home… Once before I asked you to raise him right and if
it has to be… It’ll be easier on him to be home, should we not
He knew what he was asking of Micah. It had more to do with
keeping Micah out of the desert than it did asking him to wait
for Mark. Lucas remembered the brutality of the desert as twice
previously he had suffered and almost died while out in the
desert. The first time he was with Mark getting salt for their
winter meat and the second time, assisting Micah in transporting
a prisoner. He remembered how much the desert took out of Micah
on that trip particular trip and he didn’t want to see his
friend suffer and possibly die during the search for Mark.
“Micah, please… Give him four days… If he’s doesn’t get here,
then you need to return to North Fork… and your duty to the
town. I won’t budge on this Micah,” Lucas stated.
When the lawman finally agreed, Lucas and Johnny returned to
where they split from Wilder and Denton’s trail. They followed
the trail around Whites City and out into the desert. Further
into the canyons and desert… further into desolation.
Before the sunset, they found the spot where the prisoners had
camped. Lucas and Johnny quietly examined the scene finding only
the boot prints of the prisoners, no one else. Lucas and Johnny
rested their horses for two hours before continuing.
Mark ran blindly in the night, ignoring the fact he has no
pursuers. He stumbled over the uneven ground in the darkness. At
times, he overran his balance as his feet sank into the soft
sand and he’d fall. He continued out into the desert. He could
feel the blood oozing down his left arm. Mark finally allowed
himself to acknowledge no one was coming after him and that he
had to stop; he needed to regain his breath and stop the
bleeding from his arm. As he collapsed to the ground, he removed
his shirt and tore the sleeves from it in order to form a
bandage to tie around his arm. Taking one end of the rag in his
mouth and the other in his hand, he cringed as he tightened the
bandage. Even though his breath had returned to normal, Mark
held his breath as he listened for any sign of pursuit.
Once Mark felt he had sufficiently recovered from his escape, he
walked on. He wanted to continue to put as much distance between
himself and those men. He knew it was best to walk during the
cool of the night, than walk during the heat of the day, he
remembered his Pa telling him long ago when they were stuck out
in the desert. Hoping at some point he’d find a cave to crawl
into for sleep. Praying he’d encounter a water hole, somewhere.
Mark finally did come across an outcropping of rocks that
overhung a low lying area. Mark crawled into the cubby-hole and
fell asleep as the sun rose.
Mark woke during the middle of the afternoon. The sun had found
its way to the other side of the outcropping and was invading
his hiding place; the heat inside had become unbearable. Mark
resigned himself to continue to walk as the sun beat down on
him. As he walked, in the distance he saw heat vapors rising
from the ground causing the landscape to distort.
After walking another hour, Mark stopped to rest. He remembered
what his Pa had told him so long ago, ‘In the end, you’ll get
further by resting those 5 – 10 minutes than if you’d walked the
entire time.’ Having rested, he continued on.
At the thought of the loneliness of his predicament, Mark didn’t
allow himself to cry. He knew he needed to conserve every ounce
of fluid in his body and crying, though it would have felt good;
he couldn’t afford to shed one tear.
Mark continued to walk, off and on, for several days and nights.
As the nights turned to day, Mark looked for shade to lie under,
until the sun woke him again and he dreaded having to get to his
feet and walk again.
As the desert took a toll on his body, he began stumbling and
falling. Mark found himself flat on his face without any idea
what happened. He looked at his forearms and realized his right
arm had suffered a nasty gash, as had his right thigh. Removing
his sleeveless shirt, Mark tore what remained into strips to tie
around his arm and his thigh.
As time passed, Mark was unaware of the sunburn on his upper
torso; it was impossible for him to distinguish between it and
the unrelenting heat of the desert. As the days turned to night,
he walked shorter and shorter distances and rested for longer
periods of time. Though he tried to force himself to continue to
walk, he couldn’t keep steady on his feet, he would stagger and
fall to his knees, and each time it was harder to get back up.
Mark’s strength finally gave out and he succumbed to the
elements and exhaustion.
Daylight woke Mark and he couldn’t sit up. He rolled over and
shook his head; rubbing his eyes when he saw a hallucination of
children playing in a watering hole. Mark struggled to his feet
and walked. His brain couldn’t process it was a waste of energy;
the draw of water was strong and his body just reacted. He
staggered to keep to his feet, walking as if beyond drunk, but
his legs totally gave out and he fell. As he hit the ground, it
gave way. He screamed, but didn’t hear himself, all he heard was
the rush of his heart pounding in his chest as he fell into the
opening of a cavern, tumbling down the embankment with jagged
rocks occasionally protruding. Mark lost consciousness as his
body came to an abrupt stop at the bottom, his head hitting the
ground hard. Dirt, sand, and pebbles continued to rain down and
Lucas and Johnny continued to ride, continued to follow what
they hoped was the right trail. Heading west at times, heading
south at other times. They came to another spot where they
determined their former prisoners had stopped. This time there
were other footprints. They searched for smaller footprints to
give them hope that Mark might still be alive.
Johnny found the signs they were looking for. Off to the side of
the camp; a far enough distance from the fire pit that it was no
benefit as the desert temperatures dropped for the night.
“Lucas, over here!” Johnny called.
Running over to where Johnny Drako knelt, Lucas looked over his
shoulder and saw the signs where his son had sat. The marks on
the ground indicated how uncomfortable his son had been. And
then, he read the signs of his boy getting to his feet and
slowly walking, backwards, toe first and then the heel print,
away from the camp. At some point, his son turned around and
They led their horses as they followed Mark’s tracks and
realized that the others had first started to follow, but no
farther than the edge of camp…no one had followed him out into
the desert. Soon, they found faint traces of blood mixed in with
the sand. Lucas stopped and sharply inhaled as he realized what
the blood meant – his son had been shot.
“Lucas, it’s just faint traces. Be strong, man.” Johnny put a
hand out towards his friend. “There’s no sign that he’s fallen,
so it can’t be a serious wound.”
“Just because he’s not fallen yet, doesn’t mean it’s not a
serious wound!” growled Lucas.
“Lucas, look at the signs, the blood is faint. We’ve been
following the trail for several yards and it’s not gotten any
heavier. Lucas, he’ll be okay,” Johnny encouraged.
Several young children entered the camp of their elders and
hurriedly told of their find. A number of braves from the tribe
followed the children, and came to where other children knelt on
their hands and knees, looking down into a hole in the ground.
The braves peered over the edge and saw the sun shining into the
opening, down into the cavern. In the circle of light, they saw
the body of a boy lying at the bottom of the steep incline, some
thirty feet down. One young brave entered the hole, while the
others held the rope tied to his waist. When the brave reached
the bottom, he noticed the boy was dirt-caked, sunburned, and
bleeding from lacerations and scrapes down his legs and arms,
and across his back. He turned the boy over and found a dark
bruise along the boy’s left temple and more lacerations across
the boy’s chest.
Yelling to those above, the young brave ordered them to prepare
to pull the unconscious youth and himself up to the surface.
The braves dutifully pulled the boy and young brave from the
cavern and returned to their tribe. They carried the boy to the
teepee of their Medicine Man, Shonae. They placed him on a
pallet of furs inside and left, all but the young brave who had
entered the hole. The medicine man entered his teepee and looked
at the boy, aware that the boy’s chest barely rose and fell.
A look of sorrow and fear clouded Shonae’s face. In the language
of the Apache, Shonae spoke, “He is barely alive.”
“But he is alive,” said the old woman, who had entered behind
him. The look upon her face was one of acceptance, from having
lived a life where one did and one had to.
“He could die.”
“He will die, if we do nothing.”
“Will his people understand we tried, and his death was not our
“You have not tried. He has not died. There is no fault, unless
you do nothing.”
“But the blue coats?” the medicine man tried to ask.
“We will tell them the truth, even if he dies. Will you tend
The man nodded and stepped to where the boy lay. He elevated one
leg and pulled a boot before setting the leg down and repeating
the movement with the other.
The old woman gently removed and discarded the remnants of the
boy’s tattered and filthy clothing. The skin of the boy’s upper
body stood in stark contrast to his lower body, as she prepared
to bath his entire body. Once the boy was cleaned, the Medicine
Man sutured the deeper lacerations on the boy’s leg and the back
of his shoulder. Shonae created an herbal poultice and rubbed it
along the various scrapes and abrasions. The old woman bandaged
the deeper laceration on the boy’s leg and had wanted to wrap a
bandage around the boy’s chest to protect the laceration on his
back, but knowing she still needed to treat his sunburned body
she refrained from wrapping his torso. Blessedly, the boy
remained unconscious throughout the entire ministrations.
The young brave in the teepee sat and watched the old woman tend
to the boy. He watched as she placed a damp cloth over the boy’s
back to pull the heat of the sunburn. Before she left the
teepee, the old woman covered the lower half of the boy’s naked
body with furs.
During the night, the boy became fevered, and the young brave
went to return the old woman to the teepee. Upon viewing the
situation, she placed her hand to the boy’s forehead, and
acknowledged the fever, she knew it didn’t bode well for someone
who was already dehydrated and weakened from blood loss.
Throughout the night, the boy turned and thrashed restlessly.
The old woman continued to refresh the wet cloths over his body.
As the boy fought the darkness, he’d moan from pain and call
out. As his exhaustion pulled him, he would lie quiet. The old
woman tried to force him to drink fluids, knowing he was close
to consciousness when he would moan and cry out. She knew how
imperative it was to get fluids in the boy’s body.
He moaned as she placed the gourd containing the water to his
blistered lips, gently forcing his mouth open in order to
trickle the water inside. As much as she tried, with the boy’s
dried and cracked lips, his lips barely parted enough to allow
the precious liquid in, most of the fluid slipped from the
corners of his mouth, his swollen tongue wouldn’t allow it to
his throat. When she tried to force his lips wider, the lips
cracked more and bled. Not wanting to cause any more pain to the
youth, she decided to try something else.
Lucas and Johnny bemoaned the fact they had lost Mark’s tracks
and were now just blindly hunting for Mark, like the proverbial
needle in a haystack. They halted their horses and finally
admitted they had no idea where to go.
“Lucas, we’re two days from El Paso, why not head there.
Replenish our supplies and send a wire back to Micah.”
Johnny’s steely eyes hid his emotions, well; they hid the pain
he felt for the man he considered his friend. Johnny could count
on one hand the number of men he’d call “friend” in his
“Maybe your son made it back to Whites City and is on his way
home with Micah.”
“His trail never turned around. He’s never headed in that
direction,” Lucas admitted in defeat.
After six days of searching, Johnny was trying to convince Lucas
that they couldn’t continue on as they had. He hated to say it,
but he knew each hour that passed, the chances of find the boy,
alive, grew worse.
“Lucas, I hate to say it, but we have no idea which direction
Mark took. And so much time has passed… I know how much that boy
means to you, but...”
Besides Micah, there was only one other person who Lucas would
allow to talk to him in that manner about Mark, but still, the
words grated on him.
With a cold voice Lucas spoke, “If you’re saying Mark’s not
alive, then I have nothing to live for nor any reason to return
to North Fork.” Lucas twisted in the saddle and looked at Johnny
and saw no expression in Johnny’s eyes. “Don’t you get it man?!
It’s because of Mark that I look forward to waking every day. I
had to force myself to be strong after Margaret died… because of
him. I climbed out of my despair… because of him. I chose to
live my life looking forward… because of him. Without Mark…, why
should I live anymore?
“Each night for the past week, I’ve closed my eyes and watched
my boy grow up all over again. Each night I… I’ve looked
backwards. I need to look forward! I want to look forward.
Johnny, there’s something deep inside me that tells my boy is
still alive! I have to be strong for him, now. I don’t know how
to explain it, but I know he’s alive, I feel it!” Lucas was
silent for a while as they continued to rest the horses.
“Johnny, I’ll understand if you want to go back to North Fork.
You have a life to live and woman who cares for you. I can’t and
won’t ask you to stay out here.”
“Lucas, as long as you believe, I’ll be by your side,” Johnny
stated as he placed a hand to his friend’s shoulder.
“I’m not admitting defeat, but maybe you were right. Before we
lost their tracks, they were heading towards El Paso. Maybe we
should head to El Paso or Fort Bliss. Stock up on more supplies
and check in with the Army. Maybe they have word. Maybe you’re
right and Mark did make it to Whites City and he and Micah are
already back home.”
They rode in silence.
Unexpectedly, the next day they encountered something that Lucas
hadn’t even thought about; BlueBoy, standing in the distance,
head down, still saddled, reins trailing on the ground,
suffering from the heat and sun. They poured water from their
supply into Lucas’ hat and offered to the horse that greedily
drank. Once they determined the horse was sufficiently
recovered, they were on their way again; Lucas leading his son’s
horse. By early evening, they came across more tracks and
presumed they had to belong to Wilder, Denton, and the ones who
had kidnapped Mark.
The light from the sun was fading when they heard the sound of a
horse snorting, Lucas and Johnny ground tied their horses and
approached; not knowing if it was another horse left as BlueBoy
had been left or if they might be nearing the outlaws’ camp.
Lucas and Johnny crouched behind a grouping of boulders and
smiled at the sight before them, a darkened campsite with
figures lying prone on the ground. From two different directions
they stopped and looked for the other to make sure they wouldn’t
catch each other in a cross-fire. Lucas with his rifle ready and
Johnny with his pistol in hand quietly entered the camp. One of
the outlaws started moaning as he turned onto his side in his
bedroll. Lucas spotted several canteens strewn on the ground and
picked each one up, shaking each and turning it up-side-down to
confirm they were empty. He motioned for Johnny to approach the
farthest outlaw. When Johnny placed his hand over the man’s
mouth, the man didn’t move. Fearing the man dead, he felt the
pulse point below the outlaw’s jaw; he nodded to Lucas to
indicate the man was still alive.
The outlaw, who has previously stirred, groggily opened in eyes
and pleaded, “Water,” in a raspy voice. His eyes were dull as he
struggled to get to his hands and knees in order to crawl to the
figures in their camp.
“Water,” the man tried to plead louder.
Hearing their companion pleading, the others, all but the one
Johnny Drako stood over, started to wake.
“Just freeze right there!” ordered Lucas, his voice filling the
silence of the night as he swept around his rifle and brought it
to bear on Wilder. “Toss your weapons over here!”
Without any thinking, the outlaws sluggishly did as ordered.
“Water…. Please, just give us water…” Denton begged, as he began
crawling on his knees, hands folded as if in prayer towards
“Stop it right there, Denton!” Drako ordered as he picked up
another handgun and tossed it far enough away so none of the
outlaws could easily retrieve the weapon.
Once they had each man bound, hands in front of them, Lucas
offered one of their canteens to each outlaw in turn.
After waiting for each man’s thirst to be satiated, Lucas
demanded, “Where’s my son?!”
Having sufficiently recovered, the outlaw called Macray
recounted how Mark had run off into the desert before they met
up with Denton and Wilder; of how they had fired blindly into
the night after him. Another man, named Breysdahl, told of how
once they met up with Wilder and Denton, they had made tracks
for Mexico, only to get lost in the desert and run out of water.
Wilder told of how one of the men went mad with thirst and heat,
and rode off.
Deciding it would be foolish to travel at night and to give the
outlaws time to regain enough of their strength to ride, Johnny
and Lucas set about making camp by building a campfire to help
them keep an eye on their prisoners. After sharing some of their
provisions, Johnny decided to change the bindings around
outlaws’ wrists to where their hands were bound behind their
backs and took more rope to tie around their ankles.
Later that night, Johnny and Lucas spoke, “Lucas, you know we
have to get these prisoners to Fort Bliss. I can try handling
all five of them, but even in their weekend condition, it’s
going to be tough going… alone.” Johnny watched as Lucas tried
to stand tall, knowing he needed to help get these outlaws to
Fort Bliss. The situation only meant he was going to be delayed
even more in his search for Mark.
Lucas gave in and agreed to help take the prisoners to Fort
Bliss with Johnny. He knew that if it took two lawmen to
transport Denton and Wilder to Eddy, New Mexico, that sending on
man to guard over five outlaws, even in their weakened
condition, on their way to Fort Bliss was a death sentence.
In the morning, Lucas tied BlueBoy’s reins to the Razor’s saddle
horn as they broke camp and headed out. Johnny took control
their packhorse. The five outlaws rode in front with their hands
tied to the horns of their saddles.
“Where’re you taking us,” the fifth outlaw who had been the last
to wake the night before asked.
“Fort Bliss,” Johnny stated, “We’re only a day out.” He nodded
his head indicating the men to move out.
Each time she tried to force water into the boy’s mouth, the
corners of his lips would crack and bleed, and she couldn’t get
his mouth opened enough to allow the water past the boy’s
swollen tongue. The old woman gave up trying to use a cup made
from a gourd for the water and finally brought in a skin they
used to feed goats’ milk to infants whose mothers could not
produce enough milk to sustain their child. Using a dulled
knife, she managed to insert the flattened teat of the skin into
the boy’s mouth and gently squeezed the bladder portion of the
skin, allowing the nipple to fill with water and ultimately into
the boy’s mouth. A few moments later, she gave a smile as the
boy began suckling, using his tongue to pull the precious liquid
further into his mouth and swallowed.
Shonae stood behind the old woman and smiled at her
resourcefulness, and after she set aside the water skin, he
handed her a small gourd with a concoction made from the aloe-vera
plant, instructing the woman to rub it onto the boy’s sun
chaffed and blistered lips.
For four days, the boy was in and out of his fever; trying to
call out or moan. If he was speaking, his words were too muffled
from his swollen tongue and blistered lips, on top of the fact
that no one understood his language anyway. For four days the
old woman worked to get liquid to the boy’s body. While he
remained unconscious, the old woman bathed the sweat from his
body and continued to change the damp cloths to pull the heat of
the sunburn from his torso and arms. For four days the old woman
changed the bandages as the medicine man refreshed the herb
poultice placed over the wounds.
On the fifth day, the boy’s fever broke and by evening he gained
awareness of others nearby. As he struggled to open and focus
his eyes, he moved his head from side to side. He stopped moving
his head when he thought he saw someone sitting, cross-legged
across from him; he managed a faint smile. The young brave
sitting on the floor returned the smile, then rose and walked
out under the animal skin serving as a door to the teepee. The
boy quickly closed his eyes and turned his head away from the
bright light that illuminated the enclosure.
The old woman returned to her patient. She walked and sat down
on the ground next to the pallet of furs the boy was lying upon.
The young brave followed the woman inside and returned to his
spot on the ground and watched. The woman took the water skin
she had carried and placed it to the boy’s lips; greedily he
reached for the skin to force out more water and tried to gulp
down the water, but the old woman pulled the skin from his lips
when he started coughing. The boy groaned at the pain he felt
while coughing. The old woman motioned for the young brave to
come and sit the boy up. Again, the old woman placed the skin to
the boy’s lips and offered him a drink. She gently squeezed the
water skin as the boy closed his eyes and consciously suckled on
the nipple. He was too exhausted to be embarrassed at the method
in which he drank.
Just the small act of being sat up and drinking lulled the boy
to sleep. Once more the old woman slathered his lips with the
concoction to soften them. Stripping the furs away, she massaged
another concoction onto the boy’s sunburned torso, arms, neck,
With a nod, she indicated for the young brave to lay her patient
back down, where she covered him with the furs.
The next morning, a younger woman entered the teepee. She
carried a bowl containing beef broth, more liquid, but more
importantly, the broth contained nourishment for the boy. Seeing
the boy’s eyes open, the young woman spoke to the young brave,
who moved from his sitting position on the ground to sitting
behind and propping up the boy.
Setting the bowl on the ground, the young woman lifted her
fingers to the boy’s lips, but he turned his head away. The
woman used her other hand to stop the boy from moving and turned
his head so she could run her finger tips over his lips. She was
pleased they were no longer cracked and stiff as they had been
previously. The medication the old woman had applied had finally
softened the boy’s lips to almost normal.
The woman smiled as she spoon fed the broth to the boy. As he
was assisted to sitting up, the furs had slipped down to his
lap, revealing a very lean and well-muscled torso, however, the
young woman was distressed at the sight of the boy’s protruding
She mentally thought of what needed to be done in order to help
the boy gain back the weight he had lost due to his time in the
desert and due to the fever.
The young woman was pleased as the boy willingly opened his
mouth and accepted the beef broth. After he finished eating
everything in the bowl, she wiped at his chin, he could only
bring himself to faintly smile in return as he weakly reached
for the empty bowl, indicating he wanted more. The woman smiled
in understanding and welcomed his eagerness to eat.
The young brave who continually sat beside the boy obeyed as the
young women told him to lay the boy back down. The brave
returned to sit on the other side of the teepee as the boy
couldn’t prevent his full stomach pulling him to sleep. The
young woman pulled the furs up to the boy’s shoulders before she
left the teepee to report to the old woman how the boy had
The boy woke the next day to find the young brave still sitting
across the teepee from him. He licked his lips and was surprised
how well they had healed, and pleased to feel they no longer
hurt. His voice cracked as he tried to call out, “Hello.” He
pushed himself to sit up in his bed of furs, relying on his arms
to keep him upright and still sitting. He closed his eyes as his
vision blurred and felt as if the room was spinning. Someone’s
hands were on his shoulders, he felt the gentleness of the hands
steady him. As the dizziness subsided, he opened his eyes to
find his vision had cleared and saw the young brave in front of
him. He offered thanks. Without understanding, the young brave
stared at him. The brave picked up the water skin and offered
As his awareness of his surroundings increased, he became
embarrassed at the method in which he was being offered water;
he knew there was no way he could ask for a cup from which to
drink. As his thirst pulled at him, he gave into his desire and
took the water skin in his hands and placed the nipple into his
mouth and slowly began squeezing the skin. When he felt he could
drink no more, he set the skin aside. In time, he looked at the
brave and said, “Thank you.”
An awkward silence ensued as neither understood the other. But
Mark didn’t give up; he knew it was imperative for him to
communicate somehow with these people if he was to ever return
to North Fork and his father.
“My name’s Mark.” Mark pointed towards himself and repeated, “My
name’s Mark… Mark.”
The young brave continued to stare at Mark. Then he pointed to
himself and said, “Laren.”
The old woman came in with more broth, a handful of small chunks
of beef, and bread for Mark to eat. Mark looked at the meat and
realized it wasn’t cooked as thoroughly as he would prefer, but
the smell enticed him to eat it all. Though it was cooked
without any seasoning, the meat practically melted in his mouth.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Mark said. After he had eaten, the old woman
took the empty bowl and pushed him to lie back down as she
turned to leave.
It was late morning when the flap of the teepee opened and the
Medicine Man and the old woman entered. Laren watched as Shonae
walked to Mark, motioned him to sit up and he pulled the furs
from around Mark. Mark was embarrassed to find out he wasn’t
wearing any clothes underneath the furs and there was a woman in
the room, regardless that she was an old woman. Pushing aside
the boy’s attempts to retrieve the furs, Shonae grabbed the
boy’s hands and shook his head no. Finally realizing the boy was
no longer resisting him, the medicine man removed each bandage
and applied a different herbal ointment to the wounds this time.
Shortly, he took Mark’s chin in his hands and looked closely at
the fading bruise along Mark’s temple; he slathered the ointment
to this wound as well. He smiled as he stood, turned, and walked
The young woman from the day before stepped inside the teepee
and Mark immediately grabbed for the furs. She spoke in Apache,
“Laren, take the boy outside. We need to pack and move on. These
are for the boy.”
“Yes, mother,” Laren answered.
He took the buckskin shirt and breeches as his mother turned to
Laren returned to Mark’s side and handed the clothes to him. He
was able to get the breeches on by himself, but needed
assistance in pulling the shirt over his head and getting his
arms into the sleeves. His shoulders were still painfully
blistered from the sunburn and one of the deeper lacerations
that ran along the back of his left shoulder. Laren helped Mark
get to his feet. As they exited the teepee, Mark squinted his
eyes at the sun; relying heavily on Laren for support. He looked
around and took in all the activity happening in the camp and
was surprised at how quickly the teepee he was just in was
dismantled. Laren walked Mark over to the camp fire and helped
him sit down. An Indian woman provided him a bowl of food.
“Thank you.” Mark said, even though he knew they didn’t
By the time the sun was at its highest point of the day, the
tribe was under way. Laren helped Mark get on a horse before
Laren mounted the same horse, sitting in front of Mark. The
tribe started to head southwest.
As they rode Mark looked around, watching the women and older
children walk alongside the many travois. The younger children
were sitting on top of the travois that carried their family’s
possessions. Most of braves rode their horses in front of and on
the outskirts of the tribe. A few rode behind them, herding the
horses, cattle. Within the midst of the procession, were young
boys tending after a small herd of goats.
Laren was pleased the boy’s balance was good enough he did not
need to hold on around his waist as they traveled. He noted how
the boy’s hands lightly rested on his thighs or hung at his
When the tribe stopped for the night, they did not unpack their
teepees from the travois. They retrieved their cooking utensils
and food for supper and set up camp fires. Afterwards, they set
out furs to sleep under the stars.
The Medicine Man, Shonae, and the old woman returned to Mark to
make sure his wounds hadn’t been aggravated by riding horse back
during the day.
“Laren, the boy’s wounds are healing nicely. It pleases me to
see you helping him so. Maybe tomorrow you both walk instead of
ride your horse for a while. Keep an eye on the boy, if he
tires, then ride.” Shonae spoke, in the language of the Apache.
“Yes grandfather.” Laren replied in Apache.
Laren and Mark sat next to each other as they ate their evening
meal. After the meal, Mark watched as some of the younger
children took to dancing around the fire to the sound of the
drums, as others in the tribe took to singing in their language.
During the dance, one child ended up getting his feet tangled
and fell to the ground. Laren broke out laughing as the child
stood up, laughing as well. As others joined in the laughter, so
did Mark. Soon the older girls took up the dance. Next, the
young braves took up the dance.
Mark was struggling to stay awake. Shonae pointed Mark to the
furs that had been set out for him. As he lay down, his thoughts
turned to his Pa. ‘How do I get these people to understand I
need to get home?’ For the first time since Mark was taken, his
thoughts turned to Oliver. ‘How badly had Oliver been hurt? Was
Oliver going to be okay?’ Sleep quickly came to Mark.
The next morning, Mark tried to help with chores, only to be
pushed away by the women. Laren came to Mark and took him to sit
with the younger braves. As he sat down, he knew that he was the
cause of their laughter. He realized they were laughing at him
for trying to do ‘woman’s work’. He laughed as he remembered
times when he told his Pa that some of his chores were ‘woman’s
work’ and not that of a rancher.
For a week the Indian tribe traveled during the day and made
camp at night. Mark’s sunburn had turned to a deep tan and he
had recovered enough he was presented a horse of his own to
ride. During the days, the young braves rode with their shirts
off and the first time Mark tried to, he was berated by the old
woman. So he continued to ride with the shirt on. Throughout the
days, the young braves would test their riding prowess against
Mark. He joined in with them, thrilling to feel the movements of
the horse he rode. Laren was pleased to see how well his new
friend could ride bareback and hold his own against himself and
the other young braves. The boy would ride upright as the horses
loped along, but when it came time to gallop, the boy leaned
forward and lay against his horse, creating an illusion of
oneness. As the elders of the tribe watched, they had a hard
time distinguishing which of the riders was the stranger among
In time, the tribe stopped considering the boy a stranger as
they witnessed how well he had assimilated into their lives.
Each night once they stopped, but before settling for sleep,
Shonae and the old woman would pull Mark aside and check his
wounds. Mark had long given up his embarrassment with the old
woman’s presence when Shonae motioned him to remove his breeches
to allow him to view the healing gash on his leg.
On one particular evening, one of the young braves came up
beside Mark after Shonae had tended to him. In his hand the
brave held a strip of rawhide string with a single reddish
colored feather hanging from it. The brave held the ‘gift’ to
Mark with both hands. Mark didn’t understand the significance at
first. Laren took the gift and tied the headband around Mark’s
forehead, with the feather hanging down the left side of his
head. The braves continued to smile and talk, trying to teach
Mark their language. The group of young men smiled as they were
continuing to forge a bond of friendship.
As they ate their supper, Mark was overcome with quietness as
his memories returned to thoughts of home. The younger braves
tried to stir Mark out of his silence and before he knew it, he
was laughing with them.
This night, during the evening dance, Laren motioned for Mark to
join them. Mark had watched the dance the previous nights and
gave it his best attempt. After a few minutes, Mark tripped as
he looked back over his shoulder towards Laren. As he landed, he
cringed as he felt the impact through his back, but soon he
broke out in laughter when the other young braves began
“Guess I should have danced with the younger children,” Mark
said as Laren offered him a hand to get to his feet. The younger
children ran to Mark, grabbed his hands, and made the effort of
showing him how the dance should be done. Smiles played across
the faces of the elders as they watched the children laugh and
dance with this stranger among them. They smiled at how the
young stranger took to the children with a light heart.
From then on, Mark would join in the dance. Eventually, Mark
came to understand the evening dance was a dance for continued
peace for their people and a prayer to the spirits of their
ancestors. The tribe had taken it as a good sign in finding Mark
and restoring his health.
It pleased the elders that Mark showed no fear when he had
recovered sufficient to become part of the tribe. Pleased, that
he had taken to Laren and the younger braves had accepted him
into their ranks. He was eager to learn and to help as he could.
In time, Mark came to understand they were traveling to an Army
post. Mark was relieved to know that soon, he would be able to
send a wire to his Pa.
As they walked or rode, Laren continued to teach Mark their
language; he would point to plants or animals and speak. Mark
listened as Laren was teaching him the language of the Apache.
Mark would repeat the words Laren spoke, with Laren correcting
him on the pronunciation, many times. As Mark would get words
correct, he would then repeat the English word. Both boys
enjoyed learning and teaching each other.
At times, as boys are apt to do, they strayed too far from the
tribe and one of the older braves would come to return them to
the group. Both boys returned with embarrassed looks on their
faces and the elders would only shake their heads and smile.
Two young maidens were chastised by their mothers as they
giggled upon seeing the boys’ return to the main body of the
The following night, the other young braves pushed Mark and
Laren away from their ranks. Confused why, Mark was surprised to
find two young maidens approaching, carrying meals to him and
Laren. The young women placed the plates of food in front of
them and proceeded to sit down next to them.
The first doe-eyed maiden proceeded to cut the chunks of meat
into smaller portions and held the pieces, one by one, in front
of Laren’s lips. Mark watched his friend eagerly partake the
meat into his mouth. The other maiden did likewise for Mark, but
as she lifted the first piece to Mark’s lips he tried to reach
for it, only to have his hand slapped down. The maiden placed
the piece of meat against Mark’s lips. At Laren’s encouragement
he accepted the meat being placed into his mouth.
As they continued to be hand fed, Laren smiled at the young
woman who would become his wife during the autumnal harvest
moon, he smiled even deeper because the other young maiden gazed
intently upon his new friend.
Mark blushed when felt his body start to react to the proximity
of the maiden sitting next to him; he thought she smelled sweet
and clean. And he wondered just exactly what he meant with that
thought. He couldn’t stop his eyes being drawn to the mounds her
breasts created under the deerskin dress she wore as she leaned
closer. Mark felt himself becoming warm when his heart started
racing as her roundness caressed his arm while she leaned closer
and offered the last morsel of meat. Not wanting to offend his
hosts, but not knowing what to do… Mark was relieved when the
young women stood and giggled before walking away carrying their
Mark inhaled and exhaled just as deeply before feeling a hand
push him sideways, Mark looked to his friend and saw him
pointing to the young woman on the left, “Tianan,” Laren stated
before placing his hand over his heart. Next, Laren pointed to
the other young woman and said, “Sycayna” and then pointing to
and placing his hand over Mark’s heart.
Mark’s eyes widened as he realized what Laren was implying, he
rapidly shook his head from side to side, and gulped out “No!”
Lauren nodded and laughed; he motioned his hands in the shape of
an hour glass and then wrapped his arms around himself before
Later that night, Mark roused from sleep when he felt a hand
shaking his shoulder. He opened his eyes to find Laren kneeling
next to him, motioning for him to follow.
Quietly they slipped from camp, Mark curiously wondered where
Laren was leading him, and why.
With the faint light from the moon at the last quarter, Mark
spotted two other people a short distance away. And before he
knew it, Laren was pulling him faster towards them.
The doe-eyed maiden, Tianan, was quickly in Laren’s arms, Mark
turned his head when he saw their passionate kiss and the two
walked away to lie down beside a large boulder a short distance
Mark startled when he felt hands upon his arm turning him, and
with little warning, he felt Sycayna’s hand turn his face to
look at her. Embarrassed, Mark took a step backwards as the
maiden stepped nearer and looked into his eyes. She placed her
hands to his chest, and nodding, hoping the boy in front of her
would understand. She inhaled deeply; again Mark’s eyes were
drawn to the roundness of her breasts as her chest lifted in
breath. Mark’s senses were teased with the sweet aroma that came
from the girl in front of him and his body began to react even
though he tried to stop it.
Shaking his head, Mark tried to explain, “I can’t... I mean it
might be perfectly normal for you, at your age, with one of the
other braves… but I can’t. It’s just not right. My… My Pa taught
me that…” Mark fumbled for the words, but wondering why he was
even trying to explain, she wouldn’t understand. Holding his
hands up to gently hold her at bay, Mark tried again, “You’re
very… beautiful… but… I can’t.”
Sycayna took Mark’s hand and led him with little resistance to
another boulder where she started to sit and pulled him to sit
beside her. Once Mark was seated, she rose to her knees and
slipped behind Mark and wrapped her arms around his torso.
“Please… no…” Mark squealed, his voice breaking. It had been
years since his voice had broke in such a fashion. “It’s not
He heard the pleasurable moans emanating from where Laren and
Tianan lie, and couldn’t help but glance over towards them. It
pleased him to see the maiden was still fully dressed, even if
her arms and legs were fully entwined with Laren’s. The two
shifted positions and Mark noticed Laren no longer wore his
buckskin shirt, but still wore his breeches.
A distracted Mark stopped resisting the maiden’s attempts to
remove his shirt. From behind, she gently laid her hands upon
his shoulders and gently began massaging Mark’s shoulders and
back. Mark couldn’t help relaxing at her ministrations, and
didn’t resist when she manipulated him into lying down on his
stomach. Her fingers pressed deeper into the muscles of his back
as she worked her way from his neck to his back, and down both
arms. Mark found pleasure in her hands upon his skin.
Mark forced himself up to his elbows and looked over his
shoulder when he felt her hands upon his buttocks, the same
kneading motion being applied as the hands moved to his thighs
and calves. As he turned his head to look forward again, he
noticed Laren was also lying on his stomach, with Tianan
applying a similar massage to him. Mark relaxed and lay down
again as Sycayna began humming.
Not realizing he had fallen asleep, Mark woke when Laren nudged
his shoulder using his foot, Mark blushed when he realized
Sycayna lie next to him, her face nuzzled in the cleft of his
shoulder. He felt her breasts lying softly and pressing against
his side as she breathed during her sleep. Her left leg lay over
his thigh. Again, his body responded to her proximity, but still
he fought down his emotions. He remembered the talk his father
had given him shortly after he turned sixteen, about the
responsibilities of being a gentleman and respecting a woman’s
body by not giving into the desires before one was properly
married. Regardless whether both parties desired to give into
their bodies’ demands Mark knew he was expected to act in a
Mark sobered when he remembered his father’s face as he
explained the consequences of ruining one’s reputation or worse,
an undesired pregnancy. He heard his father’s words, “Mark,
you’ve lived on a cattle ranch for six years now and you’ve been
present during breeding, I don’t think I need to explain the
interactions between a man and a woman; do I?”
Seeing the expression on his son’s face, Lucas continued, “Maybe
I was wrong in using cattle as an example; son… See, what
happens between a man and a woman on their wedding night is
something special, something to be cherished for the remainder
of their married lives. If you don’t control your body, it’s
more than your reputation at stake. You have to think about the
young woman’s reputation, if she were to become pregnant… And
how the pregnancy would impact her, as well as you… Do you want
to become a father while still a teenager?”
Mark remembered gulping before he answered, “No, sir.”
Mark and Laren, and Tianan and Sycayna, returned to the camp and
resumed their places in their individual sleeping furs without
anyone the wiser.
Mark lay on his back, his fingers interlaced behind his head and
wondered if he would ever really be able to return home; though
he knew they were traveling to a fort, it was taking so much
time and there was nothing he could do. He worried too; he had
seen his reflection in the water… Would he be able to convince
the soldiers he was white? As sleep overtook him, Mark
whispered, “Sycayna,” his body remembering her soothing hands
against his skin and he snuggled deeper into his furs.
It was afternoon when Lucas and Johnny arrived at Fort Bliss
with their prisoners, much to the astonishment of Captain
Blaisdal. They rode past the captain and delivered their
prisoners to the guard house.
Upon leading their horses across the grounds to the trading
post, they heard their names being called.
“Mr. McCain, Deputy Drako, I….”
“Not one word Captain,” Lucas vehemently replied.
It took all of Lucas’ resolve not to give into the urge to slug
the officer standing in front of him.
“Out of my way!” Lucas growled.
When the officer refused to move, Lucas couldn’t stop himself,
his emotions had enough of this soldier’s contempt and punched
him in the gut. Without looking back he continued to walk away.
Several soldiers ran to the captain’s side in an attempt to
assist him, only to be motioned away by the man.
As Johnny and Lucas came to a stop in front of the trading post,
they heard, “Mr. McCain! Deputy Drako!” They turned to see the
post commandant and two guards walking towards them.
“Gentlemen a moment of your time, please. I’m Colonel Shaneworth.”
“Sir, with all due respect, you have no right to ask for my time
and, frankly, I have no time for you,” Lucas declared.
“Mr. McCain, I understand your anger.”
“You understand MY anger?! My son is missing and that… that
sorry excuse for an officer…”
“I wanted to tell you I have reprimanded Captain Blaisdal for
his actions and relieved him from further duty outside of this
post. He gave me a full report upon his return, without the
“Did he tell you about my son?”
“Only as an afterthought… However, I’m appalled that anyone
under my command would be so callus. He will be transferred back
East as soon as I can arrange for a replacement.”
“Colonel, do what you want, they’re your men. I have a boy out
there that I need to find.”
“Mr. McCain, you can’t seriously believe that after all this
time you have any hope of finding your son alive?”
Johnny spoke before Lucas could say anything. “Colonel, if Lucas
McCain believes his boy is still alive, that’s all the hope we
need. Until we find Mark’s body, that boy is still alive. Your
men went on a fool’s errand in thinking they could get ahead of
the outlaws versus trailing them like we did. If they had stayed
with us, they’d of brought the prisoners back to the fort and
we’d still be out tracking the boy and not here having this
conversation. As Lucas said, we have no time for you.” Johnny
knew that Lucas’ temper was reaching the point where he’d not be
able to keep himself in check. Johnny knew his own feelings of
being close to punching out any soldier who dared stop them.
“Mr. McCain, if you’d allow me, I’d like to send a detachment
back out with you.”
“As I said, they’re your men. However, I don’t want or need your
help,” Lucas turned and entered the store with Johnny shortly
behind him; leaving the colonel to only stare after them.
As they were finishing packing their supplies on the horses,
they turned and looked as they heard one of the soldiers in the
guard tower yell, “Colonel! It’s Shonae’s tribe! They’re on the
The colonel yelled for one of his sergeants. “Sergeant
McPherson, take one of the Apache scouts and ride out to welcome
Shonae’s tribe. Tell them they may set up camp outside the fort
on the north side.”
“Yes sir,” Sergeant McPherson stated as he saluted the colonel.
Lucas and Johnny watched as the sergeant and the scout rode out
of the fort. They mounted their horses to ride out, only to find
Colonel Shaneworth and the two guards standing in front of them.
“You have no authority over either of us, so I strongly suggest
you order your guards out of our way,” Lucas spoke.
“Please… Wait until Shonae’s tribe gets here. They live out in
the desert; maybe they’ve seen sign of your son. Maybe they can
give you a location to return to, to start your search again,”
pleaded the colonel.
As much as it pained Lucas to add yet another delay in searching
for Mark, he knew it made sense, so they dismounted and waited.
It was over an hour later when the sergeant and the scout
returned to the fort with an elder Indian and two young braves
riding behind him. From in front of the trading post, Lucas and
Johnny watched as the two braves assisted the elder Indian down
from his horse. The elder Indian motioned for the two braves to
wait as he was escorted into the colonel’s office; the sergeant
in front and the scout in the rear. The two young braves waited
next to their horses.
As they watched, Johnny spoke, “Lucas, look at the brave on the
“Far side?” Lucas replied as his attention was drawn to see what
Johnny was talking about.
As Lucas looked, the brave walked to other side of his horse and
the horse’s neck blocked him from Lucas’ view.
They watched as a few moments later, the scout came out from the
colonel’s office and motioned for the two braves to come with
“Lucas, I swear, that brave looks like Mark, a lot more tanned
than Mark, but at this distance, it...” Johnny hesitated as the
brave walked from behind the horse and then walked side by side
with the other brave into the Colonel’s office. “Lucas, look at
how different his walk is compared to the other. Lucas! He’s
wearing boots! Not moccasins! He’s wearing boots!”
“Boots?” Lucas stated, not understanding as he still had not
seen the brave Johnny spoke of.
“Lucas, it’s got to be…”
“Mark!” Lucas declared as he finally saw what Johnny saw.
The two men started running as the double doors to the colonel’s
office closed. Lucas tried to get past the soldiers posted as
guards on either side of the door, but neither man would let him
“Sir, the colonel will speak with you after he’s through
speaking with Shonae,” one of the guards declared.
“I have to speak to him now, that’s my boy in there!” Lucas
“Sir, please stand back.” The soldier brought his rifle to bear.
“That was Shonae, Medicine Man of the Lipan Apaches, his
grandson Laren, and another buck. Not sure what you thought you
saw, but you’ll remain outside until the colonel agrees to see
“You can’t keep me from my boy!” Lucas declared.
Lucas fisted his left hand and drew it back before he let fly a
left cross, straight to the soldier’s jaw, knocking him to the
ground. Lucas barged through the double doors, down the hall,
and into the colonel’s office. The other guard was immediately
behind Lucas, and when he halted, he held his rifle held against
the small of Lucas’ back. Johnny Drako followed and had his gun
drawn, cocked, and placed behind the solder’s ear, as he stopped
There was a look of indignation on the colonel’s face as he
yelled, “McCain, what the hell?!” and rose from behind his desk;
the officer’s face flushed with indignation.
Lucas didn’t hear the fort commander. All he saw was one brave
standing in front of the elder Indian, knife drawn, stance at
the ready to protect. The other brave had turned with a
wide-eyed stare as he stood not twenty feet in front of Lucas.
Lucas thought to himself, ‘That brave does look too much like
Mark, not to be him.’ Unbelieving, yet, praying that he could be
Mark; ‘Please God, let it be my boy!’’
“Pa?!” Mark cried as he ran to his father and threw his arms
around his Pa’s neck.
Tears streamed down Lucas’ face as he returned his boy’s
embrace. No one in the office diverted their eyes from scene in
front of them. Lucas just hugged his boy and thanked God he was
The colonel demanded, “Soldiers, shoulder your weapons and get
out of here. Clear my office, NOW!”
Johnny replaced his gun in his holster as the soldiers and scout
left the colonel’s office.
As Lucas continued to embrace his son, he ran his hands up and
down Mark’s back, just to make sure his boy was really in his
arms. He felt Mark wince and pushed Mark to an arm’s length away
“Mark, you’re hurt?” There was fear in Lucas’ voice.
Quietly Mark answer, “No Pa, not now. Come back with me to
Shonae and Laren’s tribe and we can talk.”
Lucas saw a pleading in Mark’s eyes; pleading to not ask any
more questions. As Lucas stepped back, unsure what was wrong;
Mark saw Johnny Drako behind his Pa.
“Johnny!” Mark called and gave Johnny almost as big a hug as he
had his Pa.
“Good to see you boy!” as Johnny returned the hug.
Laren had sheathed his knife and stepped to the respected
position behind Shonae.
“Pa, Johnny, I’d like you to meet Shonae, he’s a Medicine Man,
and this is his grandson, Laren.” Then turning to Shonae and
Laren, speaking in what Mark hoped would be acceptable Apache,
“Shonae, Laren, I wish to introduce my father, Lucas McCain, and
friend, Deputy Johnny Drako.”
Shonae and Laren smiled as Mark had spoken the few words in
respectable Apache, they extended their hands in white man’s
fashion to Lucas and Johnny.
Lucas turned to the colonel, “I think I’ll return your office to
you. We’ll take our leave now.” The group left the colonel’s
office. Lucas kept an arm around his boy’s shoulders. Johnny ran
to get their horses.
Much to Mark’s delight he saw and yelled, “BlueBoy!” as Johnny
returned. Mark turned to look up to his father; there was a huge
smile on his face. The group, including the scout, walked
outside the fort and waited for the rest of Shonae’s tribe to
Johnny and Lucas took their horses and began to unsaddle and
unpack them as Mark sat on a log outside the fort.
As the tribe arrived, the younger children ran and began to sit
around Mark, in an effort to keep from getting underfoot. Lucas
and Johnny walked over to where Mark sat. As they approached,
most of the children scampered away. One small boy, sonbably no
more than four years old, stood his ground. He looked straight
up at Lucas, head bent backwards as he looked way up, both
hands, daringly, on his hips. Lucas knelt down to the boy, only
to have the boy turn and run away. Lucas shook his head and gave
a chuckle. As he sat down next to his boy, Lucas moved his hand
to the headband and feather that Mark was wearing; there was an
inquiring expression on Lucas’ face.
“They accepted me into their tribe,” Mark stated. The expression
on his face asked, ‘what else could I do?’
They watched as the women set up the teepees and the braves
tended to the herds. The smaller children kept their distance
from Mark as long as Lucas and Johnny were there.
Lucas took Mark’s chin in his hand, pushed the feather aside and
turned his son’s face to see the faded bruise along his son’s
“Mark, please, why won’t you tell me of your injuries? I could
feel you wince in the colonel’s office.”
“Not yet, Pa. It’s not time.”
Mark saw the look of hurt in his father’s eyes, but he knew
everything would be alright soon.
Once camp was set up. The old woman came for Mark. She motioned
for Lucas to follow.
“Pa, this is Laren’s grandmother. I’m sorry, but they’ve never
told me her name. Most of the tribe calls her ‘the old woman’.
She wants you to come with us… Please Pa, it’s time.”
Mark turned, his face and blushed as they passed Tianan and
Sycayna, who spoke in hushed tones as Mark and his father
followed the old woman.
Lucas and Mark stopped outside the teepee as the old woman
lifted the furs that covered the entry; she motioned them
inside, yet did not enter herself. Inside was Shonae. The
medicine man motioned for Mark to sit on the furs and asked for
him to remove his shirt and breeches. As Mark removed his shirt
over his head, Lucas realized just how sunburned his son had
been. He saw the remnants of peeled skin from the blisters on
his boy’s shoulders and torso. Shonae’s eyes turned to Lucas and
he gestured with his hands for Lucas to examine his boy.
Mark felt a hint of embarrassment in sitting unclothed in front
of his father, but relaxed has he pulled his wadded up shirt to
For a moment, Lucas thought he saw sorrow in his boy’s eyes.
Shonae reached for Lucas’ arm and motioned for him to come
around to Mark’s back. Lucas saw the sutures in his boy’s
shoulder as well as down his thigh. Saw the faded scrape marks
down Mark’s back, arms, and legs. Saw the scar from the bullet
graze to Mark’s left arm. Relief flooded through him as he saw
no signs of any other bullet wound, and the fact the wound had
been so minor. He gave quiet thanks there was no sign of
infection in the wounds and they were all but healed. Lucas
looked up as Shonae approached Mark, carrying a small knife.
Shonae offered the knife to Lucas and spoke.
“Pa, he’s offering you the knife to take out my stitches.”
“No Mark, he’s the Medicine Man, it’s his right to remove them,”
Lucas said as he stood, shook his head, and walked to the other
side of the room.
Mark translated his father’s words to Shonae.
Lucas watched with a father’s concern as Mark winced as each
suture was removed from his back. As Shonae worked to remove the
stitches down Mark’s leg, Mark never took his eyes from his Pa.
“Did it hurt?” Lucas queried after the last stitch was removed.
“Tickled more than anything,” Mark replied as his body
Before Shonae left the teepee he spoke in Apache, “You, father,
stay here, talk. Much to discuss.”
As Mark slipped his legs into his breeches and stood up to pull
them the rest of the way over his hips and tie them closed,
Lucas asked, “Mark, why didn’t you tell me of these earlier?” He
pointed to the scars, he wanted to understand.
“Pa, Shonae and his people saved my life. For you to see my
injuries without their permission, it would have been an insult
to them, especially in front of the colonel. I couldn’t have the
colonel or any of those soldiers thinking that the tribe had
caused my injuries.” Mark’s voice muffled as he pulled the shirt
on over his head. “Pa, I saw the pain in your eyes and….”
“Mark, tell me what happened.”
Mark proceeded to tell his father what happened that first night
when Wilder and Denton’s men arrived at the ranch. How he tried
to get away and saw Oliver had been knocked unconscious. How
they rode him down and ultimately, they rode away and then
finally blindfolded him. He had no idea where they were when
they stopped each night.
“Pa, I heard those men talking that when they met up with Wilder
and Denton, they planned to kill me. Pa, I had to run.” Mark let
the tears fall.
Lucas wrapped his arms around his son and waited for Mark to cry
After a while, Mark continued telling his Pa how he had run,
slowing to a walk eventually not knowing how many days he was
out there alone, and then falling and the ground giving way as
he fell into a cavern.
“The next thing I remember, I woke up in the teepee with Laren
sitting across from me. Then the old woman came in and later,
Shonae. They tended to my injuries and treated me as if I were
one of their own. I’m sorry to cause you all this worry Pa.”
“You’ve nothing to apologize for Mark. I’m just thankful you’re
Time seemed to stop as Lucas continued to hold Mark.
“You’ve learned a lot while with Shonae and Laren?” Lucas asked
when he felt Mark had regained his composure.
“Some of their language and customs.” Mark stopped speaking; he
looked down at the ground.
“Son?” Concern showed in Lucas’ face.
“Those outlaws? What of Oliver?” Mark asked.
Lucas allowed his son to pull away from him as he spoke, “Johnny
and I trailed the outlaws and they’re now in the stockade, here
at the fort. That’s why we’re here; we brought them in this
afternoon. As for Oliver, Doc Burrage said he’d be fine in a few
days, but that was over two weeks back. Guess by now he should
be fully recovered.
“Tomorrow we’ll send a wire to Micah, let him know you’re safe
and to let everyone know when to expect us home. Guess things
are going to be in disarray for a while once we return. I left
without making any arrangements to care for the ranch.”
“With two of US working…” Mark emphasized the work us because he
remember before he had been kidnapped how he had teased his
father. “It shouldn’t take too long to get things back to
normal,” Mark stated.
Neither Lucas nor Mark had realized how much time had passed
until Laren entered the teepee and motioned for the McCains to
follow him. He led them out to the campfire, to a place next to
the elders and motioned for Lucas to sit between Johnny and
Shonae. Lucas started to reach for Mark, when the scout stopped
“Mr. McCain. He’s part of their tribe. Your seat here is a place
of honor. Let him go with the others. You’ll be together again,
Lucas watched as Laren and Mark walked over to where the other
young braves were seated. They partook in the supper provided by
the tribe that night. The scout sat behind Lucas and Johnny in
order to translate their conversations.
As supper was finished, the women of the tribe cleaned up.
Soon the drums were brought out and the elders started singing.
As with the nights before, at first the younger children danced
around the fire. The scout told the story of the song. It was a
prayer for the spirits to watch over the children and guide them
to be worthy of their ancestors’ blessings.
Soon the older girls replaced all the younger children. The
scout told of how this part of the dance was a prayer for the
girls to blossom into womanhood.
After a while, the girls were replaced by the young braves.
Lucas and Johnny were surprised to see Mark walking into the
circle around the fire with other young braves. Even more
astonishing was the look in a young maiden’s face as she stopped
in front of Mark and looked into his eyes as she reached for his
hands, and he reached for her hands. Lucas saw the effort it
took for Mark to swallow before he turned to follow Laren.
As the young maiden walked away, she turned to look towards the
fire one last time and Lucas saw the tears streaming down her
Lucas’ attention was drawn back to the fire, by the scout, as
the young braves danced, the flames flickered in the night, and
at times, father and friend had difficulty identifying which of
the young men was Mark. The scout stated that this part of the
dance was a prayer to guide the young braves to maturity and to
understand that all men can be brothers.
“Mr. McCain, I remember from when I was a child with the tribe.
The Lipan folklore tells of a white man who will come into their
midst at a time when other tribes are fighting for their way of
life. The young man would accept their culture and learn. The
arrival of this white man signifies that the Lipan tribe will
continue to live in peace,” the scout informed them. “I think
Shonae and his people believe your son is that man.”
“But he’s just a boy…” Lucas whispered.
The dance continued with the young adults, men and women,
replacing the young braves around the circle. The scout told
that this was a prayer for the young joined couples to bring
children into the world who will respect the old ways and begin
the cycle again.
“It’s a story of life,” mused Lucas as he watched his son’s
interaction with the tribe. He wondered just how much a part of
the tribe his son has already become.
Throughout the evening, Lucas continued to look towards Mark. He
hadn’t wanted to be separated from his son, but he understood
Mark’s statement from earlier. They were guests of the Lipan
tribe and he was going to respect their customs and if that
meant he had to be apart from his boy for a while longer, at
least Mark was within eyesight. They would soon be together. As
he watched Mark laughing and interacting with the young braves,
Lucas wondered if his son wanted to stay with the tribe… he
seemed so different since the last time he saw his son back in
The women came and took the younger children to put to bed for
the night. The young couples left the fire and returned to their
teepees; leaving only the young braves and the elders. Shonae
stood and motioned to Lucas and Johnny and then to Mark, he
pointed towards a teepee close by.
“Mr. McCain, Shonae wishes you, the deputy, and your boy to
sleep in his teepee tonight. Other arrangements have been made
to accommodate you,” the scout stated.
As they stood to leave, Shonae spoke, “We thank the tall one for
the blessing of his son. The Lipan shall continue to live in
peace.” Mark translated what Shonae said to his father.
The McCains and Drako walked to their sleeping quarters for the
Johnny Drako hadn’t missed the worried look his friend tried to
hide; he’d seen exactly what Lucas has seen earlier in the
evening. So it didn’t surprise Johnny when his heard the fur
covering the opening of the teepee falling back into place.
Johnny looked to see that it was Mark McCain who was missing, he
quietly left the teepee.
Johnny saw Mark, Laren, and two young women walked away from the
camp, and as deputy worth his salt, he followed the four.
Standing in the tree line, Johnny was surprised to see the group
meet up with the scout along the edge of the river that ran
through the area. From where he stood, he could easily hear the
scout translate the words from English to Apache and back.
Smiling, Johnny returned to the teepee to find Lucas awake and
“Where’s Mark?” Lucas asked as he stopped short, upon Johnny’s
“You’ve nothing to worry about Lucas, Mark will be coming home
with you tomorrow,” Johnny answered.
“What are you talking about?” Lucas asked, playing innocent of
“I saw what you saw tonight. I saw your expression. You’re
worried how much Mark has been indoctrinated into the tribe, and
wonder if he is really still your son.”
Acquiescing the words were true, Lucas sat back down.
“Where is he? Do you think is cares for the girl? Do you think
he wants to stay?” Lucas asked.
“They’re with the scout, who’s is translating. I think it was
more the young woman was infatuated with Mark, but that’s all.”
“You’re sure… there’s nothing going on between the two of them?”
It took all of Lucas’ resolve to ask that question. He wasn’t
sure what to expect if his son had feelings for the young woman,
and he wondered what had happened between them while traveling.
“After all, he is your son,” Johnny answered.
“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” Lucas scowled.
“No, I’m just saying, he’s a gentleman… He’s done nothing to be
ashamed of. Trust him, Lucas.”
The three from North Fork woke the next morning to find the camp
already full of activity. Neither Lucas nor Johnny asked Mark
why he’d left the teepee during the night. After breakfast,
Lucas allowed Mark to say goodbye to his friends in the tribe.
Lucas was torn, but knew to give his son privacy when the young
maiden approached Mark, tears streamed down her face. Taking her
chin in his hand, Mark said, “Thank you,” before placing a kiss
to her cheek. “I’ll remember you.” Knowing that most of his
goodbye was said the night before, Mark turned and walked
towards his father.
Johnny waited off to the side with the packhorse while Lucas
shook hands and said goodbye to the scout and more importantly,
goodbye and thank you to Shonae.
Before they could mount their horses, Colonel Shaneworth
intercepted the group to bid them goodbye and to relay some
information to them.
“I sent a rider last night to El Paso with instructions to send
wires on your behalf to your Marshal in North Fork, as well as
the Sheriff in Whites City.” Colonel Shaneworth continued, “Mr.
McCain, please don’t judge all soldiers by the actions of
Captain Blaisdal. There are good soldiers out here. I hope you
accept my apologies.”
“It’s not for you to apologize, Colonel. All that matters right
now is I have my boy back and we’re heading home. Good day!”
Lucas and company stepped into their saddles, turned their
horses, and head home.
As they rode away, the group turned when they heard the pounding
of hooves and cries of battle behind them. The band of young
braves pulled their horses short of the group, many of the
horses rearing, each brave held one hand firmly grasped in the
mane of their horse, their other hand fisted and raised above
their heads, their arms pumping up and down, the same motion
used to signal a successful hunt.
Mark turned BlueBoy towards his friends and raised his fisted
hand over his head and then opened his hand to wave before
turning his horse to rejoin his father and Deputy Drako.
Lucas, Mark, and Johnny arrived home to North Fork a week after
they left Fort Bliss. As they rode into town, they were met by
stares from the town’s folks, watching as the sun-tanned Mark
rode in, still dressed in the buckskin clothes and his hair
longer than it had ever been before. He still wore the rawhide
string, but without the feather, to keep his hair out of his
face. Lucas realized the people of North Fork must have thought
Mark to be an Indian, much as he did when he first saw Mark a
They stopped in front of the Marshal’s Office after seeing Micah
standing at the hitching rail as they approached. Johnny stepped
down from his horse and was almost knocked over as Lou ran from
the hotel and greeted him with such an enthusiastic hug.
Then looking to Lucas, “Hey Cowboy, thanks for bringing Johnny
home,” she said in her rich Irish brogue.
Micah started laughing as he saw Mark walk around behind Razor
to join the group.
“Well I’ll be. Mark? Don’t know what to say. Most children run
away from home to join a circus. Looks like you joined a wild
west show.” Micah couldn’t keep himself from chuckling.
“Thanks Micah. It’s good to see you too,” Mark replied with a
dole sense of humor.
“Micah,” Lucas interrupted. “I want Doc Burrage to look Mark
over; he took some injuries while missing. Want to make sure the
trip home didn’t aggravate his injuries.”
The humor disappeared from Micah as he understood what Lucas was
saying. “I’ll see you two later then.”
Lou, Johnny, and Micah returned to the hotel.
Doc Burrage only stared as Lucas and Mark entered his office.
Mark realized if this was the way everyone was going to greet
him, it wasn’t going to be his day. After a thorough examination
of Mark’s healed wounds, Doc Burrage gave Mark a clean bill of
health. He said he’d prefer for Mark would take it easy for
another day or two.
“Does that mean I can’t do the dishes?” Lucas smiled at the
mischievous gleam in Mark’s eyes as his son inquired.
Lucas shook his head, and ruffled his boy’s long hair. “We’ll
talk about that when we get home, boy.”
Mark and Lucas left the doctor’s office and walked to the
general store. Their neighbors continued to stare as they walked
past. As they entered, Mrs. Donner queried, “Lucas, we had word
that Mark was safe. Where is he? What are you doing bringing an
Indian boy to town?”
Mark replied, “Why Mrs. Donner, didn’t think I’d been gone that
long that you’d forget what I looked like.”
Mrs. Donner walked closer and stared at Mark, unbelieving.
Lucas shook his head as he spoke. “Madelyn, believe me, this is
Mark. Need to get him some proper clothing and a hair cut before
we head on home.”
Mrs. Donner raised her hands to Mark, took his chin in one hand,
with the other, brushed away his hair that had escaped from the
string, before she finally accepted it was him. “Oh, Mark,
please forgive me. I didn’t mean to be so rude.”
“You weren’t rude, Mrs. Donner. Guess I do look the sight,” Mark
replied with a laugh.
“Madelyn, just put these on my account, okay?” Lucas asked as he
set the new clothes for his son on the counter.
“Yes, Lucas. I’m happy to see Mark, and you, home. Just get that
mane of his trimmed and make him look like our Mark… please?”
After leaving the general store, father and son walked over to
Sam’s barber shop. Again receiving stares from their neighbors,
“Boy we best get you looking like yourself before these people
pop their eyes.”
Mark laughed at his Pa’s comment.
They entered the barbershop and saw that fellow rancher Dave
Merrar was in the chair.
“Lucas, welcome home.” Then pausing, “Mark?” he asked while
removing the sheet from around his neck, not quite sure that he
was really looking at Mark McCain.
“I know, I know. Get all sun-tanned, grow my hair out, and come
back wearing buckskins, and people don’t recognize me,” Mark
As Dave started to leave Sam’s, he stated, “It’s good to have
both of you home. Hope you’ll see things have been kept in
order.” He paid for services rendered, put his hat on, and
The rancher was stopped before he got too far along the
boardwalk. He tried answering the questions, “Yes, that was Mark
McCain with Lucas.” “No, I don’t know what happened to the boy”
“No, I don’t know why he’s dressed the way he is.” Finally Dave
implored, “People please. They’ve just returned to North Fork
and haven’t been home yet. Let them be for a while. I’m sure
they’ll tell us if they want us to know.”
Sam stared at Mark as he took a seat in the barber chair and
untied the rawhide string, allowing the boy’s hair to fall into
Lucas stated, “Sam, please just get him looking like… Mark.” He
couldn’t control the laugh as he watched Sam pull at strands of
Mark’s long hair to try to decide where to start.
Before leaving Sam’s, Mark stepped to the back room to change
clothes. After half an hour, Lucas and Mark walked out of Sam’s.
Their neighbors were still staring, but this time, they saw the
Mark McCain they knew.
The McCains headed to Lou’s for an early supper, prior to going
home. Lou closed the restaurant while Mark and Lucas were
present. Johnny, Micah, and Lou joined them at the table. Johnny
had already filled Micah and Lou in on what happened while he
and Lucas were trailing the outlaws. They listened while Mark
recounted his story of being kidnapped and then being taken in
by Shonae’s people.
It was early evening when Mark looked to his Pa and asked if
they could go home, he was getting a little tired.
“Sure son.” They bid good night to everyone and rode home.
Since it was just the two of them, Lucas decided now would be a
good time to broach the subject of Mark and the young maiden.
“Mark,” Lucas began.
“Yes Pa?” Mark answered.
“Back with the tribe…” Lucas felt even more awkward regarding
what he was about to ask his son, more so than he did when he
seriously explained the facts of life to his son. “There was a
“Sycayna?” Mark answered.
“I never met her… She seemed…”
“Pa, don’t worry. She was a good friend to Laren’s betrothed.”
“Oh,” Lucas replied. “And…” Lucas quietly gulped.
“Though I did feel things…” Mark was thankful it was dark
outside and his father couldn’t see the color start to rise in
his cheeks. “It was strange… The way my body reacted, when she
was close… but… Pa, I… Don’t worry, I remembered your talk.”
Lucas slowly let out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been
Upon cresting the final hill signaling the end to their journey,
they were pleased to be so close to home. However, both grew
concerned when they saw smoke coming out the chimney and a
lantern lit in the front room as well as the lantern beside the
front door. As they stopped in front of the barn, the side door
opened and Oliver came out, wiping his hands.
Before Lucas could get out a word they heard a commotion and
another voice bellowing from the barn.
“Oliver, help get this cow off me!” the panicked voice yelled.
Lucas and Mark followed Oliver into the barn where they saw an
older man lying on his backside with milk spilled all over him
and the cow moving around in an effort to not step on the man.
Oliver was quickly to the cow’s head, pulling it away from the
“Aaron… Aaron Wingate?” Lucas asked a little surprised as he
knelt down next to the man. “What are you doing here?” He
assisted the elder Wingate to his feet.
“Well, Oliver wired me what happened and I didn’t want him
traveling all the way home without someone to look after him,
especially after taking that blow to the head. By the time I
arrived, you hadn’t returned. Oliver and I decided the best way
to thank you was for us to take care of your place until you
“You’ve been taking care of the ranch all the while?” Mark
incredulously asked. He remembered the first time Aaron Wingate
had been in North Fork and how much he hadn’t liked the man.
Yet, his feelings towards the man changed when the man accepted
the error of his ways in trying to find ‘his’ son.
“Well, we’ve been tending to the house and barn while some of
Dave Merrar’s and Oat Jackford’s men take care of the stock.”
“Aaron, Oliver, I don’t know what to say.” Lucas said as he
shook his head in disbelief.
“Well,” Aaron started, “seeing as you two just got home, Oliver
and I probably should head into town and stay at the hotel.”
“It’s getting late…” Lucas tried to object.
“No objections, Lucas. You don’t need to be hosting no guests.”
Sensing Lucas was about to continue his objections, Aaron held
up both hands and continued, “I insist. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
Lucas helped Oliver hitch the livery horse to the buggy they had
been using while Mark took care of Razor and BlueBoy for the
Later that night, Mark and Lucas were sitting on the porch,
looking out towards the horizon. A silver mist enshrouded the
hills casting an eerie blanket over the land.
“You look like you’ve something on your mind. Want to talk?”
“I remember reading some of the descriptions of the battle
scenes during the Civil War and how one writer stated the fog
gave an added feeling of sorrow, as if the land mourned the
Lucas kept quiet as he allowed his son to think through his
“The fog out there…” Pointing to a particular location, Mark
continued, “That swirling fog over there, it there looks like
someone just walked through it.”
“Are you looking for someone?” Lucas patiently asked.
“No, Pa. It just… Being home, it feels different. I’m just
trying to make sense of what I’m feeling.”
“What are you feeling?”
“Pa, do you think… I mean… While I was with Laren’s people, they
taught me so much of their culture and way of life. I mean as
much as they could without either really understanding each
other’s language. Their life… It’s so simple… I just got to
thinking how unfair it is for the Army to be putting the Indians
on reservations. The North and the South fought a bloody battle
over a way of life. And now… The Indians are fighting for their
way of life. They were here long before the settlers and the
government’s taking everything away from them. It just doesn’t
seem fair,” Mark stated.
“No, I guess it doesn’t.”
“Pa, do you think they’ll ever be really free again? I mean to
live on the land as their ancestors did?”
“I don’t know. The more settlers head west in hopes of a new
beginning, the more there will be conflicts between our two
people. Laren’s people seem resigned to accept oversight from
the army, but there are other tribes that won’t. Unfortunately,
we can’t stop the westward expansion.” Lucas put out his cigar
then continued, “Mark, it’s been a long day. Come on, why don’t
we turn in for the night.”
“I hope Laren and his people will be okay,” Mark answered as he
stood to his feet.
“I know son, I do too.”
They walked in to the house. As they entered, Lucas placed a
hand on Mark’s shoulder. “Boy, its good to have you back.”
“It’s good to be here, Pa,” Mark replied as he turned to look at
his Pa’s face, upon seeing the expression, he longingly added,
“It’s good to be home, Pa.”
Their eyes locked on each other as they experienced one of those
moments where neither one needed to say anything more, each knew
what the other was thinking and feeling.
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch