The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Right Path
Written by Deanne Bertram

Throughout the five-year run of The Rifleman, we never learned much about Lucas’ family, so I took the liberty of creating a sister.

Mark McCain had spent the day in North Fork helping Lou Mallory at the Malloy House Hotel. Lou was in one of those moods, and the Irish in her was anxious to get the cleaning and redecorating done in time to celebrate her anniversary in North Fork. ‘Could it really be three years that I’ve been in North Fork,’ she thought to herself.

“Mark ye can’t leave now, I want to get finished with this last room,” Lou pleaded with Mark in her rich, Irish brogue, after hearing Mark indicate he needed to return home.

“Lou, I’ve already been here all day and every day for the past three days. Now I don’t mind helping you, but how many times does each room need to be moved around? I swear we’ve moved each room at least four times before you’re satisfied,” Mark teased. “Lou, I promise, I’ll return in the morning once I finish my chores at the ranch.”

Mark gave Lou a kiss on the cheek, turned and walked down the stairs.

Lou couldn’t help the smile on her face as she thought, ‘Mark has grown up over the past three years and he sure is his father’s son. At sixteen, he’s still slender and handsome, but it’s evident he’s never going to be as tall as his pa. He’s going to be a catch for some young lady, someday.’ She counted herself lucky to have Lucas and Mark McCain as good friends.

Mark had walked down the stairs and reached the front desk, he stopped to collect his hat from the countertop and picked up his rifle from where he’d set it behind the counter when he arrived earlier in the day. Shaking his head, he looked back up the stairs and thought, ‘Don’t understand how a woman can’t make up her mind and change the placement of furniture all the time.’

Mark reached the front door and almost collided with Eddie, the telegraph operator and mail sorter, who declared, “Mark, this here letter came in on the stage today, it’s for your Pa.”

“Thanks Eddie, I’ll take it home.”

Mark grew curious when he saw the return address “Enid, Oklahoma” and stuffed the envelope in his pocket, mounted BlueBoy and headed home.

After arriving at the ranch, he took BlueBoy into the barn, untacked him, brushed out the saddle marks, put him in his stall, and gave him a good helping of oats and hay, as well as feeding Razor, his Pa’s horse and the team horses.

“Mark?” he heard his Pa call as he entered the barn. “Thought I heard you get home. How’s Lou’s project coming?”

“Pa, if I ever get to understand women… Why can’t each room look like the other? She’s got me changing everything and is never satisfied.”

“Mark, if you ever get to understand women, you can fill me in on ALL the details. Come up to the house son, I’ve got supper ready.”

“Supper! Pa I forgot, tonight was my night to cook!”

“That’s okay, I figured Lou was keeping you longer.” Father and son walked to the house. Lucas looked over to Mark, and took a measure of pride in the young man his son was becoming. ‘Well, he’ll be seventeen in just a few months,’ Lucas thought.

As they sat down to eat, Mark remembered the letter. “Pa, Eddie stopped me on my way out of Lou’s and handed me a letter that came for you.” He handed the envelope to his Pa.

“Letter?”

“It’s from Enid,” Mark replied.

“Enid?” Lucas took the letter from Mark and contemplated opening it. Lucas carefully opened the envelope and pulled out the letter; he had immediately recognized the cursive penmanship of his older sister.

August 1, 1887

Dearest Lucas,

Hope this letter finds you and Mark well. I have good news! Martin has accepted employment in southern California and we’ll be traveling through Santa Fe, New Mexico the end of month. We’re taking the train West. The boys will be with us. Would really love to see you and Mark; I have sorely missed my baby brother.

Please send wire, if possible. Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Love always,

Your sister, Ruth

“Ruth,” Lucas quietly said.

“Ruth?” Mark had watched his father read the letter and saw his eyes grow brighter as he read.

“Yes Mark, Ruth, my sister, your aunt. Seems her husband’s accepted employment in California and they’ll be traveling west and would like for us to meet them in Santa Fe.”

“Aunt Ruth and Uncle Martin?” Mark queried.

“Yes, their two boys will also be traveling with them. I haven’t seen Ruth or Martin since we left Oklahoma.” Sadness appeared in Lucas’ eyes; sadness that brought back memories his dear Margaret. Sadness that he felt he couldn’t live in Enid with everything reminding him of her and he felt he couldn’t continue to live there without his wife. Sadness that he hadn’t seen his sister and her family in such a long time.

“Mark, how would you feel about a trip to Santa Fe?” Lucas asked as he hand holding the letter dropped to the top of the table.

“Not if we have to ride the stage all the way through. Why can’t we head out like an extended hunting trip? We can take the team as pack horses? It would be a lot more fun than sitting in a stuffy stage coach. And on the way home, we could even do some hunting.”

Lucas laughed at the expression on Mark’s face. “Okay, son. I’ll go into town with you tomorrow and wire Ruth to get the details for when she and Martin expect to reach Santa Fe so we can plan accordingly.”

Lucas folded the letter, placed it back in the envelope and set it down on the table, leaning it against the lantern in the middle of the table. Supper continued in silence as Lucas kept glancing at the envelope.

*****

Saturday morning dawned and after a quick breakfast, Lucas and Mark finished their chores around the homestead, saddled up and headed into North Fork.

Mark stopped at the Mallory House and Lucas continued to the telegraph office.

“Morning Eddie, would like to send a wire to Enid, Oklahoma,” Lucas informed Eddie.

“The letter?” Eddie inquired.

“Yes, it was from my sister.”

“Sure Lucas, here,” as he handed a writing pad to Lucas, “just write out what you want to send.”

Martin and Ruth Donaldson
Enid Oklahoma

“Looking forward to meeting you in Santa Fe.” /Stop
“Wire back date of arrival.” /Stop

Lucas McCain
North Fork, New Mexico

Eddie sent the telegram while Lucas waited.

“Lucas, I’ll send word once I receive a reply.”

Lucas left the telegraph office and walked over to the livery, if he and Mark were to make the trip, he needed to arrange for Nils Swenson, owner of the livery, to look after their place while they were gone.

“Sure Lucas. How long you thinking to be gone?” the good natured, slightly burly man asked.

“Well it’s about 100 miles to Santa Fe, figure to take about five days to get there. Spend a few days visiting with family. Then another five days to get home and do some hunting. Give or take, maybe two weeks at the most.”

“No problem Lucas, I’ll take care of looking after your place while you and Mark are gone.”

Lucas left the livery and walked to the Marshal’s Office where he planned to notify his best friend and town marshal, Micah Torrance, of their plans.

“Well LucasBoy, going over to help Mark at Lou’s? She sure has him working hard. Me, I’m steering clear. That Irish temper of hers…” teased the older man.

“Hadn’t really thought about helping out.” Lucas stated as he entered the office and looked out the door towards the hotel upon hearing Micah’s comments. “Micah, I received a letter from family back in Enid, they’ll be traveling through Santa Fe and asked us to meet them. Nils is going to take care of our place while we’re gone. Just wanted to let you know Mark and I’ll be gone for awhile. I’ve wired for more details on when exactly they plan to arrive in Santa Fe.”

“Don’t recollect hearing you talk too much about your side of the family before?” Micah queried as he stood from his desk, walked to the pot bellied stove and pour himself a cup of coffee. He offered to pour a cup for Lucas, who declined.

“Nothing to talk about. I love my sister dearly… Just didn’t seem to come up in conversation. They live back in Enid.”

Micah let Lucas leave it at that.

“Taking the stage?”

“No, Mark wants to make it an expedition. But between you and me, I didn’t want to sit in a stuffy stage either.”

Micah grinned upon hearing the inflection in Lucas’ voice and the expression of his face.

“To each their own LucasBoy, to each their own.”

Micah walked back to sit down at his desk, he blew across the top of the cup of coffee in an effort to cool it before taking a drink.

Lucas realized there was more he needed to do before they headed out and bid the marshal good day, and headed over to Lou’s, ‘Let’s see what she has the boy doing,’ he mused.

“Pa! Lookout!” Mark yelled, seeing his Pa walk up, knowing Lou was in motion to throw out a bucket of dirty water. Lucas was able to jump back and only received a little splash on his boots and the bottom on his jeans.

“Lucas!” the surprised, apologetic look on Lou’s face said it all. “I’m sorry!” she continued, turning a little coy; pulling her hand to her mouth to hide her embarrassed grin.

“No problem Lou, just wanted to see how the redecorating is coming along, seeing as how you’re keeping my boy here all day long, keeping him from his responsibilities at the ranch.”

“Well, Cowboy, ye’ve not stopped by to help the entire week and I’ve only had the assistance of a small boy…” Lou had a wicked gleam in her eye, true Irish, as she looked back and forth from Lucas to Mark.

“Boy?! I’m almost seventeen!” Mark exclaimed.

Everyone laughed at the whole scenario. Entering the hotel, Lucas helped Mark arrange the final additions to the lobby area, under Lou’s watchful eye.

“Now don’t ye go breaking anything Cowboy! Ye break it, ye bought it.”

“And what if I break my back while helping?” Lucas deadpanned.

“We’ll talk about that, IF it happens.” Lou snapped back.

The usual banter continued between Lucas and Lou until Lou was finally satisfied with the placement of everything.

Lucas flopped his tall frame down in an overstuffed chair and asked, “So, are you going to feed us or do I have to take my half-starved son back home and force food into his frail body?”

“Oh, ye! Come on into the restaurant. Dinner’s on me,” answered Lou.

Dinner conversation ranged from many different subjects. Casting a wary eye around the room, Lucas spoke, “Mark between you and me, things in the lobby looks the same as before we moved it around.”

“Pa, don’t let Lou hear you say that. It’s the same in all the rooms upstairs. The only different being the new bedcoverings and curtains. The furniture ended up exactly where it started,” grinned Mark. He tilted his head to indicate to his father that Lou was returning to the dining room.

After Lou came to take their order for any dessert, finally, Mark asked, “Pa, when do you expect to hear back from Aunt Ruth?”

“Not sure son. I sent the wire this morning when we arrived. It’s been a long time since we were in Enid and I’m not sure how far she and Martin live from the telegraph office, or even if they would have been at their home when it was delivered…”

Shortly thereafter, Eddie came into the dining room.

“Lucas, got a return wire.”

Lucas handed a few coins to Eddie and read the wire aloud:

Lucas McCain
North Fork, New Mexico Territory

Lucas, wonderful to hear from you. /Stop
Arrive Santa Fe on 30th. /Stop
Staying at Hotel Santa Fe. /Stop

“The 30th, that’s just 10 days away, Pa,” Mark spoke.

After paying their bill, Lucas and Mark returned home and started organizing their plans for the trip to Santa Fe.

*****

Finally, it was the day to depart North Fork; Lucas on Razor, leading one pack horse and Mark on BlueBoy leading the other; stood in front of the hotel. Micah, Nils, and Lou were there to see them off. “See you when you get back! Don’t worry about anything!” they each said in turn.

Lucas could see that Lou wanted to say more, but in the company of others she only closed her eyes and nodded in an effort to keep her emotions under control.

*****

Mark eagerly set out, envisioning this was what it was like as trappers and hunters set out across the landscape, heading from one town to the next. On many occasions father and son slept out under the starry blanket of the night time sky during their hunting trips, but this time it felt different to Mark; his daydreams made the trip more of an adventure. Each day, Mark and Lucas broke camp in the morning and rode until lunch time; stopped to rest the horses, eat, and then were on their way again. Stopping each day before the sun started to disappear in the sky, they set up camp, Mark picketing and taking care of the horses while Lucas set up the camp fire and began to cook supper.

For a little over five days they rode until they reached Santa Fe. Both Mark and Lucas were overwhelmed with the size of the town, much larger than either of them had ever thought or expected.

As they rode through the main street; they stopped and asked directions to the Hotel Santa Fe and if there was a livery nearby.

“Yes sir, they have their own livery right behind the building,” a young boy informed them as he was looking for more customers for his shoe-shine stand. “It’s the fanciest hotel we got round here.”

Father and son looked at their dust caked boots and asked the boy if he wouldn’t mind helping them out. Once their shoes were shining, they continued deeper into the heart of Santa Fe. They crossed the railroad tracks and soon found themselves in front of The Hotel Santa Fe.

“Son, you stay here with the horses, I’ll check us in and see about stabling the horses.”

“Sure Pa.” Mark watched his father dismount from Razor, pulled his rifle out of the scabbard, and disappeared into the massive entrance of the hotel. Mark gazed at the multi story buildings standing so tall around him. From his reverie Mark heard a voice inside the hotel yell, “McCAIN! DON’T MOVE!”

Mark grabbed his own rifle as he jumped down from BlueBoy and ran into the hotel. He was in such a rush to save his Pa that he couldn’t stop his momentum and ran into a man, almost as tall as his Pa, sending both of them sprawling down the two steps further into the lobby.

Before Mark hit the floor he heard a woman’s voice yell, “Martin!”

Next thing Mark knew, his Pa had him by the arm and was pulling him to his feet. “Mark, just look what you’ve done. How many times have I warned you about rushing in?”

“Pa, I heard someone yell your name and it didn’t sound none too friendly,” Mark defended.

By that time, the man that Mark had knocked down had regained his own feet and was laughing hard. “Lucas, don’t be angry at the boy.” Taking a good look at the boy Lucas had by the arm, the man continued, “Is this really Mark? Didn’t realize he would be a staunch defender of you. I’ll have to remember that in the future.” The man straightened his jacket as he spoke.

“Martin, I’m sorry for my son’s actions. Are you okay? How have you been?” The two men shook hands and slapped each other on the back, right there in the middle of the lobby. When they finally stepped back from each other, Lucas turned and motioned Mark to approach. “Mark, this is your Uncle Martin.”

“Pleased to meet you… again, sir. I really am sorry,” Mark said as he shook hands with his uncle.

“No need to call me sir and apology accepted. Guess I shouldn’t have ‘called’ your Pa out. I forgot how a little joke like that could be misconstrued.”

The woman who had been standing on the staircase approached Lucas and gave him a big hug around the neck, “Ruth, it’s been so long. How have you been?” As he noticed the two young boys behind her, Lucas asked, “These can’t be Matthew and John?”

As hearty welcomes were made in the middle of the lobby, Ruth introduced her eleven year old son Matthew and her seven year old son John to her brother and nephew, all other visitors were forced to move around them to get to their own destinations.

“Lucas, how did you get here so early the stage isn’t due in until later tonight?” Martin asked.

“We rode in from North Fork. Neither Mark nor I were up to a ride on the stage, so we packed it. The horses are out front.” Lucas replied, then turned to Mark, “Son, get the horses and take them around back, I’ve already made arrangements. When you’re done seeing to them, we’re in room 315.

“Oh, Lucas, please forgive our manners, you and Mark must be tired from your trip. We didn’t realize you weren’t taking the stage. Martin, help the Mark with the horses.” Ruth tried to push her husband after Mark.

“No ma’am, I can handle ‘em. Thank you for the offer.” Mark tipped his hat, turned, and left.

As the group watched Mark walk out the front door, Ruth commented, “May never have your height and build, Lucas, but my Lord, how can the boy take after his Ma that way in his looks? Must be hard seeing Margaret in him each day.”

“Ruth, that boy is my reason for living. If it hadn’t been for him, I don’t know if I could have survived Margaret’s death. I’m glad he takes after his Ma, makes missing her a little easier, knowing she lives on in him. ”

“He sure has grown up,” Martin commented as he remembered the small boy, forlornly sitting next to his father on the bench seat, all their possessions under a tarp in the back of the wagon as father and son left their town to find someplace to live without all the reminders.

Ruth replied, “Why don’t we all go to our rooms and plan to meet for dinner around six o’clock. It would be easier to talk over dinner rather than in the middle of the lobby. Besides, it would give Lucas and Mark a chance to get clean and rest up.”

*****

Mark returned to the hotel lobby and stopped short upon hearing a man speak to him.

“You can take the stairs or you can go to your floor using the conveyance room.”

“Excuse me, sir?” Mark asked, not knowing what the man meant.

Understanding the boy’s confusion, the man continued. “I’m the concierge of the hotel and it’s my job to help our guests understand the amenities we offer. This hotel is four stories tall, and we can’t expect all our guests to climb the stairs, so there’s a conveyance room. It works on a pulley system to lift the small room to the appropriate floor.”

The man escorted Mark to the location of conveyance room, where he watched as the small room lowered to just the other side of the closed metal gate in front of him. Watching as the man pushed open the gate, he stepped back. After the passengers alighted, the man showed him inside.

“If I didn’t want to ride the stage coach here, I don’t think I want to ride in that,” commented Mark.

“Oh, it’s totally safe. No need to worry about masked gunmen holding you up, and no dust,” teased the man.

“I think I’ll take the stairs.”

“As you wish. I do hope you enjoy your stay.” The man bowed slightly forward before he turned to talk away.

Entering their hotel room, Mark found a note from his Pa indicating was already down the hall taking a bath.

*****

Taking a clean set of clothes from his carpet bag, Mark set out to find the bath room down the hall.

“Ah, you must be young master McCain,” stated the elderly negro porter as Mark entered the small room. “Your father indicated you would be here shortly. I’ve already drawn hot water for your bath and I’ll show you to your tub.”

Following the man to a small room he set his clothes down on a bench next to the wall and listened as the man explained the workings of the tub.

“If the water’s too hot, just turn this handle like so, and cold water pours from this spicket. If’n it’s too cool, just turn this here knob and hot water comes out. We’ve a number of scents in the vials on the containers on the counter if you like fragranced water. Most men don’t but the women do.”

“Women?!” gulped Mark.

“They won’t be coming in here while you’re inside. I shut the door when I’s leave and make sure no one enters until ye’re done. And when ye’re done, just pull the plug there in the bottom o’the tub and all the dirty water runs down the pipe so I can come in and clean the tub for the use by our next guest.”

“You do this for all the guests?” inquired Mark.

“Only the menfolk, my wife tends to the womenfolk. It’s difficult enough being colored...”

Mark heard something in the man’s voice that he didn’t understand. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that… We have a hotel back where I’m from and it sure doesn’t have a room all its own for bathing and we lug buckets into tubs.”

“Oh, no need to apologize, guess I’s still a little sensitive is all. Being a free man and working for a fine establishment like this… I didn’t mean to take offense to your question.”

“Thank you,” Mark stated as the man turned to leave.

The man hesitated before he left; looking at Mark’s outstretched hand. He smiled as he accepted the handshake.

*****

After returning to their room, Mark noticed the bind of the window and the curtains drawn closed. He saw the figure of his father lying on one of the two beds in the room. Placing his dirty clothes on the chair he faintly heard, “Enjoy your bath?”

“Yes Pa.”

“Try to grab some sleep. The beds are comfortable.”

Mark smiled when he realized his Pa was too close to sleep to carry on any kind of a conversation. Pulling off his boots, Mark lay down on top of the covers on the bed and was soon asleep.

Hours later, they were awakened by someone knocking at the door and then hearing a small argument the other side of the door.

“Ma said I could wake them.”

“All I did was knock.”

“Don’t you think knocking’s gonna wake them up.”

Mark opened the door, looked down, and saw his two cousins standing outside.

“Hi Mark, you and Uncle Lucas ready for dinner? Ma sent us,” the older of the two brothers stated.

“Sure boys, come on in, I think Pa’s still asleep. Why don’t you see if you can wake him.” Mark watch both boys go and jump on the bed where Lucas feigned sleep.

“Well now, what do we have here?” Lucas asked as he swung his legs from the bed and sat up.

“Come on Uncle Lucas, Ma said we’re to get ya up and down to the restrunt so’s we can eat,” the younger brother spoke.

“Alright, alright boys,” Lucas answered as he pulled on his boots. Seeing his son fully dressed he stated, “Let’s go.”

Lucas invited Matthew to ride piggy-back, so it was only natural that Mark hefted John up onto his back. All four were laughing as they went down the stairs for dinner.

Conversation at dinner ventured from the ranch in North Fork, to the trips to Santa Fe, both boys were excited to tell their cousin Mark about their first ride on a train, the adults were talking about Martin’s upcoming employment in California.

During the next few days, Lucas, Ruth and Martin caught up on old friends; acquaintances, and events that had happened since Lucas and Mark left Enid, knowing it wouldn’t be fair to the boys to talk about people they didn’t know or remember, while the boys were present. During the day, while the adults talked, Mark enjoyed taking the boys out to ride around Santa Fe on the horses.

It was much too soon when Ruth and her family were required to catch the train to continue on to California. Lucas and Mark packed their horses in anticipation of their return to North Fork. It was a tearful farewell as the families started to go their separate ways.

*****

Lucas and Mark were two days out from Santa Fe when they heard gunfire not too far off in the distance. Both reined in their horses to watch as a solitary rider attempted to outrun a small band of Indians. Realizing the Indians were gaining ground on the rider, Lucas pulled out his rifle and told Mark to stay put, as he dropped the lead rope to the packhorse and kicked Razor into a gallop. When Lucas figured he was in range, he reined Razor in and took as careful aim as he could, firing at the Indians, wounding one in the leg, but doing no more damage. The Indians broke off their chase when they realized their quarry was no longer alone.

The lone rider slowed his horse and waited for Lucas to catch up with him.

“Mister, I don’t know how to thank you, sure thought I was a gonner,” he struggled to say as he gasped for breath.

“Come on, let’s head back to the ridge, my boy’s waiting for me over there,” Lucas replied as he looked over his shoulder to make sure the Indians were still in retreat.

Both riders returned to where Mark waited with the packhorses. The lone rider introduced himself as Rorie Washington, a scout for the Tenth Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Stanton. “You mind if I tag along with you two for a spell? Been mighty lonely out here and right now, with the Indian uprising getting out of hand, I should probably take you along until I reach my unit, let my Captain decide what to do with you.”

“Indian uprising?” Mark asked.

“When did this Indian uprising start? I thought we were at peace with the Indians,” Lucas worriedly stated.

“Oh, we were until some of the young bucks started defying their elders. I’ve been out here trying to keep an eye on where they’re heading in order to report back. Guess they got their eye on me this time,” Rorie answered.

All three rode in silence until time to make camp for the night. After eating, Rorie said, “Mr. McCain, I think we better mount a watch for the night, no telling how far back or away that band went.”

“Good idea, I’ll take first watch, I’ll wake you around midnight.”

“Pa, I can help, let me take midnight watch that way Rorie can get some real sleep, earlier he was sleeping in the saddle.”

Seeing Lucas’ expression, Rorie interrupted, “Mr. McCain, midnight watch is the easiest of all watches. They won’t attack during the middle of the night, especially with no moon out.”

“Why not?” inquired Mark.

“They feel if they were to die, their spirits would get lost in the darkness and not make it to the land of their ancestors,” Rorie answered. “It might be different with a full moon, but still…”

“Okay son, I’ll wake you around midnight,” Lucas agreed as he set out to a small ledge in the rock outcropping towering over their camp.

As Lucas left to take first watch, Rorie pulled his bedroll and saddle down from his horse and prepared to make a bed out of them. “Mighty pleased to have met up with you and your Pa, Mark. Been wanting to get some real sleep for a long time. Learn to sleep in the saddle, but it’s not the same as stretching out and laying down. Sleeping with your ears open all the time sure is tiring.”

As Mark retrieved his and his Pa’s gear down and laid it out next to the fire, Rorie stated, “You sure seem comfortable with talking to a person like me.”

“Like you? I don’t understand, you’re a Scout for the U.S. Army…” Mark replied.

“I don’t mean what I do, I mean, me, as a colored person.”

There was confusion on Mark’s face as he replied. “I’ve encountered people of color before. Met up with a gunslinger, Tip Corey, a few years back. He turned outlaw because the law didn’t protect his Pa and some cowboys who had been taunting an Indian girl killed his Pa. He wanted revenge on the law, but my Pa stood up to him. Guess I did too, kind of. He wanted my Pa to throw the Marshal’s badge in the dirt. Corey said no one would pick it up. No one cared. But I did. Told him so. Told him if he killed my Pa, because my Pa’s belief wouldn’t let him dishonor the badge, then someday I’d come after him. He went for his gun, but Pa was faster. I think maybe he saw a little bit of himself in me, maybe he was tired of running, tired of killing. He was so fast with the gun…” Not knowing why he was telling the man so many, Mark stopped talking as if seeing that scene play out in front of his eyes again. “Pa’s hired colored people to work our ranch and I met a man of color who worked at the Hotel Santa Fe. People are people. Some good, some bad. Color of one’s skin shouldn’t matter,” Mark finished.

“I wish everyone believed as you do. Make my life a whole lot easier. Too many people still want to see my people as slaves.”

Mark interrupted, “But the War was over a long time ago. The Emancipation Proclamation gave all slaves their freedom.”

“I know Mark, but some people refuse to accept it, especially those back east in the south and those who came west to get away from the War. My Pa was born into slavery as was his Pa and his before him. It’s difficult to change that long of a history.” Rorie’s eyes held a far off look to them. Remembering something only he could see. “When all slaves were proclaimed free, my Pappy finally took a wife, before that he said he’d never born a child into slavery.” Feeling he needed to explain, Rorie continued, “Pappy’s owner at least didn’t force he slaves into marriage or force the women to have children they could sell. But still, it was a few years before I came into being. Pappy was so proud his son was born free.”

Mark quietly stated, “My Pa fought in the War for the Union. He was with the 45th Indiana Regiment. He doesn’t talk about it a whole lot. I’ve read books about some of the battles and I can’t imagine being there.”

“Where did you grow up?” Rorie asked.

“I was born in Enid, Oklahoma. My Ma died when I was six. We moved around a lot after that. We finally settled in North Fork, when I was ten. Guess you can say that’s where I really grew up. Whenever Pa had to leave to assist the Marshal or for business, seems the whole town helped raise me. There was Miss Hattie who owned the General Store, but after she had to leave to take care of her sister, Miss Millie bought the store and always kept a watchful eye on me. Can’t forget Micah… oh Marshal Torrance. He and Pa are best friends. Then there’s Lou Mallory, she owns the hotel in North Fork, but by then, I was getting old enough that I didn’t need all that watching after by the time she came to town. How about you? Where did you grow up?”

“I was born and spent my early years in Alabama. Things were tough. Many former slave owners were hesitant to give up what they felt was their property, people I mean, and for those who were given their freedom, others didn’t want to give former slaves the time of day. Luckily, my Pappy was given his freedom. Earning a living to support a young family was tough on my Pa. So he packed up what little we had and headed to Texas with Ma and me.”

The Mark asked, “How long have you been a scout for the Cavalry?”

“Oh, about five years now, I started when I was sixteen. I was small and rode lighter than any of the other scouts, I could get in and out of places most couldn’t or didn’t want to.”

“How’d your Pa feel about you scouting so young?”

“My Pappy passed on before I joined the Army, he was older when he and Ma had me. After Pappy died, Ma went back to her folks and I headed west. I didn’t want to be a burden on ‘em. I’d heard Ma and Pappy talking when they thought I was asleep. Even though we’s free, we weren’t free to do everything and I knew how much harder colored people had to work just to make a barely enough to survive.”

Soon the conversation waned, and both Mark and Rorie were asleep next to the fire. Lucas kept a watchful eye on the camp, he was proud of his son as he listened to the two young men talking. Finally it was midnight, Lucas returned to camp and knelt beside Mark and shook his shoulder. “Mark, wake up, your watch.”

“Yes, Pa,” Mark stretched his arms and yawned.

“Mark, drink some coffee before you head up, and I want you to keep my rifle. I don’t think you’ll need it, but just in case. I’d feel better you had it with you.”

“Yes sir.”

Feeling more alert after drinking the coffee, Mark carried his Pa’s rifle and went to where he had been told was the best observation point, yet out of sight to prying eyes. Soon it was close to three o’clock and Mark went to wake Rorie.

“Mark, you don’t know how much I appreciate the chance to really sleep. I’ll wake you and your Pa before sunrise.”

Mark crawled back into his bedroll while Rorie went to the vantage point to stand his watch.

Soon Rorie was back in camp waking the McCains, “Quiet night all around,” he commented.

Camp was packed up after breakfast. Rorie made sure to do his best to obliterate any sign that a camp had been made.

“Mr. McCain, I appreciate your understanding my not wanting you to proceed on your own back to North Fork. My Captain would skin me alive if he found out later that something happened to you after I had met up with you and let you go.”

“I understand Rorie, no sense taking any chances.” Lucas replied, tying his bedroll to the back of his saddle.

All three mounted and rode off. Each one keeping a watchful eye on the horizon for any signs that the Indians might be close. The threesome eventually came to a small ranch, as they approached the owner stepped off his front porch lifting his rifle, as if to shoot, as they halted.

“You just get on out of here, we don’t want no trouble,” the man yelled looking straight at Rorie.

“Mister, I’m a scout for the cavalry and I got orders to alert all settlers that a band of young Apache’s have gone rogue from the reservation. They’ve been causing problems around this territory. We need you to pack up and come with us to the fort.”

“I ain’t doing nuthin’ no black says,” yelled the man.

“Sir,” Lucas interrupted, “I don’t care about the color of this man’s skin, but I have witnessed the renegades and I think it best for you and your family to come with us.”

“Well, now if it’s you saying so. Martha, get our stuff packed up, we’re heading to the fort.”

Sitting in disbelief, Mark couldn’t believe this man’s attitude. He believed his Pa, but not Rorie? Mark was about to say something when gunfire erupted behind him. “Get them horses to the barn!” the man yelled as he ran to open the doors.

Lucas, Mark, and Rorie wheeled their horses to the barn. Mark took control of all the horses once inside, as his Pa and Rorie grabbed their rifles, ran to the windows, and waited. Mark saw the old man run back towards the house, yelling as he ran, “Martha, get my rifle, get the shells!”

They waited; each wanting to know who was firing on them? Shots were heard striking the front of the barn and other shots were heard striking the house. Whoever was firing, was keeping their distance, not showing themselves. Soon the gunfire came more frequently, yelling and whooping was also heard.

“Guess we have our answer Mr. McCain. That band of Indians followed us here and now they’re gonna have some fun,” Rorie stated as he broke out a window and slipped his rifle through, taking careful aim so as to not waste ammunition.

“Fun?” Mark asked. “How can this be fun?”

“Mark, quiet! Get back in one of those stalls or better yet, get up in the hayloft,” Lucas ordered.

“Pa, I can handle a rifle. Let me help,” pleaded Mark.

“Mark this isn’t the time to argue. Your twenty-two won’t be much help. I need to know you’re safe so I can focus. Now, up in the loft!” ordered Lucas.

Mark slowly resigned himself to climb up into the loft. When he reached the top, he saw there was a board missing from the hayloft door and he could see the Indians approaching from his vantage point.

“Pa, they’re coming, I can see them from here. There’s two the other side of the wagon, trying to get to the water well.”

Lucas looked to where his son told him the Indians were, but couldn’t see anything yet. “Mark, just keep an eye out and tell us where they are.”

“Sure Pa!” Mark sounded much more upbeat now that he realized he could help.

Mark kept his Pa and Rorie informed as the Indians approached the barn, he also yelled to the house to let them know a few were approaching from the gully that ran next to the house. Without warning, the fight began in earnest. Most of the time, no one in the house or the barn had a clear shot at any of their attackers. The fight was almost fifteen minutes old when the unmistakable sound of a bugle horn calling charge was heard.

The Indians broke off their attack and left before the Cavalry Regiment arrived in the yard.

Lucas, Mark, and Rorie slowly exited the barn. George and Martha came out of the house. All stood and waited for the Captain to dismount his horse. Rorie approached his Captain first, to report on the situation.

“Thank you Mr. Washington, you’ve done an admirable job.” Then the Captain turned his attention to the others. “I’m Captain Adamson, with the 10th Cavalry out of Fort Stanton.

George introduced himself, “My name’s George Graves and this here’s my Misses, Martha Graves.”

“Folks, I need you to get your belongings together and accompany my unit back to the fort.”

Mr. Graves started to sputter, “I’ll not go in the likes of them!” The man pointed at the soldiers, the first African-American Cavalry Regiment.

“Sir, I’ll not have that kind of talk in the presence of my men!” Captain Adamson demanded.

“Men! They’re slaves, they got no business protecting good, decent folk. We came out here to get away from their kind. All high and mighty, just because the President signed a piece of paper.”

“Mr. Graves, if I had my way, I would leave your bigoted kind to the Indians, but my orders are to bring ALL settlers back to the fort. This country is being torn apart by your kind; closed minded, sniveling...” Mark could see how much control the Captain was exerting to keep his temper close to civil.

Taking a deep breath, the captain continued, “The 10th Cavalry Regiment has distinguished themselves on many occasions and I will not hear you talk of them in such a manner. Either you keep your tongue civil or I will gag you for the trip to the fort. Do I make myself clear?! Now, get your belongings loaded.”

Turning to Lucas, “Mr. McCain, Rorie told me that I have you to thank for saving the ‘hide’ of my scout. He’s quick and fast, but sometimes…..”

“Glad help out. Thankful that I was there when I was. My boy and I were heading back to North Fork from Santa Fe, what’s the chance we can finish our trip?”

“Right now, none. I have my orders and that includes any travelers this regiment encounters. This unit is smaller than when we left the fort. We’ve been picking up settlers and travelers, and when we get so many, I break out part of a company and send them on to the fort.”

“Well, if it matters, I was with the 45th Indiana in the War and would be happy to lend my gun during the trip, if needed.”

“Thank you. What of your boy? Can he handle himself with a rifle?” Captain Adamson regretfully asked.

“Hunting game only. I’d prefer he never know what it’s like to take the life of another, for as long as possible.”

“Mr. McCain, he may have no choice if it comes down to it. I see he carries a twenty-two, not much use against Indians at distance, I’ll have one of my men provide him with a stronger rifle.” Seeing Lucas’ expression change, “Mr. McCain, I respect your desire, however, I need every able bodied person to shoot, when the time comes. I’m afraid it is a matter of when, not if. I am sorry.”

The sounds of the Graves getting their wagon packed was broken by Martha’s scream. “George! Able’s place! There’s smoke coming from Able’s place! My Boy! My Boy!”

Every man turned to look in the direction of the smoke; less than a mile away over flat terrain. Captain Adamson yelled for Company A to form up. Lucas and Rorie mounted as well, “Mark, you stay here and help the Graves, I’ll be back as soon as possible.” With that, Mark was alone with the Graves and a few men from Company B.

*****

Upon arrival at the younger Graves’ place, the barn was already fully engulfed in fire. In front of the house, a young woman was cradling the head of a young man in her lap; she was screaming, “My girls! My girls! They took my girls!”

Adamson ordered some of his men to search the property and report back. He ordered others to harness up the wagon team and get them hitched. They weren’t going to wait to load anything other than the younger Graves and food stuff, and herd their livestock.

Able Graves suffered a scalp laceration and regained consciousness half way back to his parent’s place. During the return trip, Captain Adamson discussed with his lieutenant the need to go after the girls.

Soon, Lucas, Rorie, the younger Graves, and the rest of the 10th arrived back at the elder Graves home. They all left the place together, never looking back. Just the other side of a hill, they met up with the rest of Company B and a larger group of settlers.

“Mr. McCain, I think at this point, I need to send Company B and all these settlers back to the fort, I was all set to send them on earlier, only I heard the gun fire and came to your aide. It’s up to you if you wish to accompany me in search for these girls or go to the fort with your son. The decision is yours.”

“Captain, if you could use my rifle, I’ll stay. Just let me have a few minutes with my son.”

Captain Adamson watched the discussion between Lucas and Mark. He could tell the younger man wanted to stay with his Pa, but his Pa was adamant, he wanted his boy safe. Adamson admired the younger man and was thankful he gave in to his Pa’s wishes. No telling how the boy would react when it came time to fire at a living being, even if they were Indians.

Mark watched as his father, Rorie, and the 10th headed out to track the Indians to recover Molly and Mikaela Graves. Then it was time for Mark to leave with Company B and the settlers.

*****

At the pace the settlers were moving, they were a full two days out from the fort; having to travel slowly due to many of the settlers only having Oxen or mules to pull their wagons.

Mark rode next to Sergeant Booker and struck up a conversation to help pass the time. Booker was only too happy to talk to Mark.

‘Real knowledgeable boy,’ he thought, ’Not too many people ever taken an interest in what it was like to grow up just after the War. Wanting to see it from the side of a people who been freed.’

Soon Booker’s thoughts turned to something more serious.

“Boy, you any good with a rifle?” Booker asked.

“Yes sir, just to hunt game. Only used it once on a person; tagged him in the shoulder.” Mark remembered when the Ortega Gang had struck their homestead.

“How did that make you feel?”

“Sick to my stomach.” Mark then recounted part of the story from his experience with the Ortega Gang; having left him and his Pa for dead. “Don’t know how I felt afterwards about the shooting, I only wanted revenge. See I thought they’d killed my Pa. I couldn’t think straight. Later, when I had the chance to kill the outlaw leader, the U.S. Marshal was quicker than me.”

“Boy, I hope you never have to find out what it is to take the life of another.”

“My Pa feels the same way.”

“But if it comes down to it, can you do it again? Can you shoot another person? I’m not asking you to outright kill, but can you shoot to wound, to incapacitate?”

“If I have to in order to save another’s life, I hope I can.”

They continued to ride in silence; each keeping a sharp eye on the horizon.

*****

When the procession of settlers reached a river, it was decided the location afforded enough protection for camp to be made for the night. The eight wagons were positioned to afford the best protection should they be attacked. Soldiers mounted guard to keep an eye out for any signs of Indians approaching and soon all the settlers turned in for the night.

It was some time after midnight when Mark was awakened by a noise. He couldn’t tell what the noise was, but something didn’t feel right. Mark got out of his bedroll and went to have a look. He scanned the wagons and all looked in order, then he looked around outside the camp. Mark saw two young boys, not even in their teens, walking along the river. He decided to follow and get them back to camp; he knew they should be in their parents’ wagons asleep. Mark followed their voices and footprints until he came to a small stand of trees, when he felt a sharp stab of pain in his leg and fell to the ground. As he looked down, he saw both ends of an arrow protruding from his upper leg. He hadn’t heard the Indians when he looked up to see they had the young boys in their arms. Both boys were too scared to struggle. One of the Indians came over to Mark and through broken English he said, “We take. You … quiet or …die.” The brave broke the arrow and pulled the ends from Mark’s leg, then hauled Mark to his feet and led him to where their ponies were waiting.

As they rode in silence, Mark wondered how he could have been so stupid. He should have alerted one of the soldiers when he saw the two boys wandering off, honestly he wondered where the soldier was who was supposed to be on guard. He rubbed at his throbbing leg and he felt his blood running down the front and back of his leg, ‘Pa, how do I get myself and these boys out of this?’

It was still dark when they arrived at the Indians’ camp, in front of a cave almost hidden from view. Mark only realized it was a cave when he saw others come out and greet his captors. The younger boys were pulled from the horses they were riding and carried into the cave. Another Indian, who carried himself as the leader of the band of renegades, came up to Mark. With steely eyes he looked directly at Mark, as if trying to size him up, trying to sense if he was going to be more trouble than he was worth or was there something else….

“My name is Cochae,” he said in perfect English as he pulled Mark from the pony. “What do they call you?”

“My name’s Mark McCain,” as he leaned against the pony to steady himself.

“Those two, are they your brothers?”

“If you’re asking if we have the same parents, no. They were part of a group of settlers the Army was taking back to the fort. Pa and I met up with them a ways back.”

Cochae made a motion for him to walk to the cave. Mark started to take a step forward when his leg gave out and he fell to the ground.

“My leg, one of the others put an arrow through it,” Mark tried to explain.

Cochae looked towards Mark’s leg and from the light from the full moon he could see the wet of blood on Mark’s pant leg. Cochae started yelling at the others. Mark couldn’t understand what was being said, but by the tone he could tell Cochae wasn’t too pleased. Two of the renegades picked Mark up, holding him by his upper arms, and carried him into the cave. He was set down near a fire before Cochae walked over, carrying a knife, and cut Mark’s pant leg. He watched as Cochae placed the blade of his knife in the flame and watched as it turned red/white. Mark started to squirm; he felt something being forced in his mouth as two renegades pushed and held his back down against the ground. Mark did his best not to scream, he bit down hard on the object in his mouth, closed his eyes as tight as they could be shut, hoping it would prevent tears from rolling down his face. His fists clinched as tight as he could make them, his nails drawing blood from the palms of his hand, wanting to strike out but couldn’t as his arms were held down. He tried to block out everything as the heat of the knife seared through his leg. Mark was soon lost to the pain as the darkness of oblivion overtook him.

*****

Mark was fighting against the fog as he brain sought to regain consciousness, having dreamed he was back home in Enid in his bed, he only wanted to stay in the warmth of his dream. In time, he became aware of crying, someone was crying. ‘Why’s Ma crying?’ Mark struggled to open his eyes, wanting to comfort his ma, everything was blurred. He wiped his eyes and blinked a few more times allowing his vision to come back into focus. He realized he wasn’t home; it had only been a dream. Sitting on the ground next to him were two young girls. As he looked around the cave, he saw the two boys sitting against the wall. Mark moved his arms to prop himself up into a sitting position.

Mark softly called, “Molly, Mikaela?” Both girls turned around at the sound of their names. They scooted ever closer to Mark. The boys, realizing Mark was awake, quickly crawled over to him. The boys were Jacob Miller and Tyler Tate.

Soon Cochae entered the cave, “So you are awake. Pleased to hear you did not scream like a woman,” as he pointed to Mark’s leg. “If you are hungry, I will send in breakfast.”

“Cochae, you’re wrong in keeping us,” Mark stated.

“Wrong am I? What would you know about wrong?” Cochae demanded.

“Keeping these children from their parents, it’s just not right,” Mark replied.

“Right! All my life the white man has said he was doing right by the Indians. Taking care of the Indians. Forcing the ways of the white man on the young. Taking our land. Killing the buffalo. The only one who did right was the man of your God at the reservation. Yes, he taught us the white man’s words, but he asked us to teach him our language, our heritage.

“Right?!” Cochae spat on the ground, next to the fire. “The soldier’s in charge of the reservation taunted us. We get the poorest of food, the oldest of white man medicines, the thinnest of blankets, grains infested with..” Hatred burned in the Indian’s eyes. “I watched my wife die with my child as she tried to give birth. They would not allow the birthing woman to come. They stood outside our hut and laughed at her cries and screams of pain. I still hear those screams when my eyes close at night. Right? You talk of Right?

“The man of your God came, he had heard, he called the army doctor, but it was too late. My wife andmy child died that night. The white man must pay!”

“But there are better ways than to attack innocent settlers. It was members of the Army who did this, not these children, nor their parents. You’ve been educated. You know there are laws! Let the law punish these men,” Mark pleaded.

“Would the white man punish their own for actions against a red man? I think not, we must claim our own vengeance. You are too young to understand,” Cochae turned his back to Mark.

“My Pa always says that vengeance can eat a man alive. Turn what was once good into something wrong. Vengeance can burn through one’s soul. Your hatred might be just, but you’re directing it against the wrong people. There are better ways to help your people. There are other ways.

“Please, Cochae?” Mark’s tone of voice was taking on a maturity beyond his years. “It’s not right to keep these children, nor is it right to put your own people into such jeopardy by your actions. Don’t let your hatred win, be bigger than those soldiers at the reservation. Think of your people back on the reservation. You’re looking for ‘an eye for an eye’, and then those who retaliate will seek ‘an eye for an eye’. How long does it continue? When does it stop?”

Cochae walked out the front of the cave, confused in his thoughts. ‘This boy, his words are not the words of a child. I need time alone.’

****

Rorie was happy to have Lucas along. He was impressed with Lucas’ ability to track and read the subtle signs left by the renegades.

They traveled for two days before the signs were totally lost. After searching for more than two hours to try to pick up any signs, they reluctantly returned to meet up with the Calvary Regiment.

“I’m sorry Captain, but that storm last night totally erased any and all sign, we tried,” Rorie’s voice intoned how sorry he was to declare his defeat.

“Well Mr. McCain,” Captain Adamson was saying, “I appreciate all your assistance, but it looks like we should head back to the fort ourselves. Get you reunited with your son. Don’t relish the thought of telling the Graves family that we lost their girls.” Adamson asked his sergeant to turn the unit around and head back to the fort.

*****

The rest of the 10th Cavalry returned to the fort, the soldiers rode straight ahead and waited for orders to dismount as they watched Lt. Colonel Wesley Musgrave take Captain Adamson’s report. Lucas was looking around for Mark; surely he heard the Regiment return. The order to dismount was given. Lt. Colonel Musgrave motioned for the Captain, Rorie, and Lucas to follow him into his office.

“Mr. McCain, I thank you for all the assistance you have given my soldiers. However, I have some distressing news for you.”

“My son? Where is he?” Lucas felt fear start to rise within.

“Mr. McCain, your son and two other boys disappeared from the group their first night after you separated. My soldiers followed their footprints, it appears that maybe the two youngest took off together and your son might have tracked them. It’s unfortunate, but my men found signs of blood on the trail. They tracked them until they lost all sign in the river. Company B thought it best to get the rest of the settlers back to the fort. They did return with your horses.”

“Lt. Colonel Musgrave, I have to go after my son. If you’ll pardon me,” Lucas turned to leave.

“Mr. McCain, I cannot let you go out there on your own.”

“Sir, he won’t be alone, I’m going with him. Mr. McCain’s a good tracker. He and his boy saved my skin, so I’m going with him,” Rorie told the Lt. Colonel.

Both men proceeded to the door and were gone.

“Fools, the children are probably already dead!” as the Lt. Colonel slapped his gloves to his thigh and walked back to his desk.

“Sir,” Captain Adamson interrupted, “Sir, he served with the Indiana during the War.”

“So you want to go with him too?”

“And part of Company A.”

“Do it!”

*****

It was several days later when Cochae returned to the cave. He observed that Mark had quieted the girls from crying and the boys sat on either side of the girls. There was a new boldness in the two younger boys; their eyes no longer had the look of fear.

“Mark, you spoke of other ways. Would the white man really believe the word of a red man?” Cochae asked.

“If, your words are true. I know a red man who’s a U.S. Marshal, Sam Buckhart. The white man believes his words and gave him a badge and a duty to protect all and capture those who have broken the law, whether they are white or red. You said the man of my God witnessed the treatment of your people back at the reservation. Would he speak for you, I mean confirm what you say happened?”

“We left him so long ago. He saw my anger. His words were kind, but….” Cochae paused, “His words were as yours are now. You’ve given me cause to think. Wisdom from a boy, no, a young man, one so wise beyond his years. You believe?” Cochae asked.

“Yes, I believe. Because it’s the way my Pa raised me.” Mark struggled to get to his feet. His leg still hurt, but at least he could stand on it. “You might still be punished for the wrong’s you’ve inflicted upon the settlers.”

“We’ve killed no one; all I’ve allowed my braves to do is torment, steal, and burn. I was waiting. My anger wanted one big battle, at the fort, anger against the soldiers and those they protected.” Cochae fell quiet, then he continued, “But my anger has lessened… since I met you.”

Cochae motioned for Mark to join him outside. Mark limped to keep up.

“Mark, if I were to let you take the children back to the fort, would you carry my words to the white man’s law? Would you make them see as you’ve made me see?”

“All I can do is try. I can’t guarantee they’ll believe me, in their eyes I’m still a child. But if I were to bring my Pa back here, have him listen to you, I’m sure my Pa could make them see reason.”

“In the morning you will take the children to the fort, return them to their parents. I will wait and welcome in to my camp the father of the young man who talks so wise.”

*****

Before the sun has risen above the surrounding hills, Cochae had three ponies readied. Molly and Jacob were put on one and Mikaela and Trevor on the other. Cochae assisted Mark to mount the pony given to him. Cochae led Mark to the path that would eventually lead them back to the fort.

“Mark, ride safe, my braves will wait at the cave. We will cause no more trouble. That is my promise to you.”

“I’m not exactly sure how to get to the fort,” Mark stated.

“Follow this trail until you come to a stream, turn east and follow. You should come to a watering hole before noon today. And if you follow the stream, you should arrive at the fort tomorrow by nightfall.”

Mark left Cochae and led the children back to their parents and he, hopefully, to his Pa.

*****

It was shortly before noon when Mark noticed a dust cloud on the horizon. He and the children had stopped at a water hole to rest the horses and satisfy their own thirst.

The younger children were hiding behind some boulders, fearing other Indians were coming for them. Mark was leaning behind a tree, thankful for its support, his leg still pained him. Slowly the group of riders drew near. Mark waited and worried, ‘Who are they?’ Finally, he saw that the travelers were his Pa, Rorie, Captain Adamson and a few soldiers.

“Pa!” Mark yelled as he limped out into the open.

Lucas reined in Razor, jumped down from the saddle, and ran to hold his boy in his arms.

“Mark, what happened?” Looking down at the dried blood and seeing the bandage showing from under the tear of Mark’s pant leg. “Son, have a seat, sit down. Let me look at it.”

“I’m fine Pa, really.”

As the others dismounted, Molly, Mikaela, Jacob, and Trevor came out from where they were hiding.

“Mark,” a look of disbelief was on his Pa’s face as he saw all four children were safe. “You found them. How?”

“Actually it wasn’t me who found them. That first night after you headed out after the girls, I followed Jacob and Trevor down to the river. I knew it wasn’t safe for them to leave the wagon train.”

“How did the three of you get away from the wagons?” Captain Adamson asked.

“I don’t’ know where the guard was,” replied Mark.

“What happened after you left the camp?” Rorie asked.

“Once I caught up with the boys… well… the Indians caught up with me. They took us to Cochae.”

“Cochae?” queried Captain Adamson, “He’s the one who’s been causing all this trouble?”

“Yes sir, but he’s ready to stop, he’s promised me he would. He let us go if I took his story to the fort.” Turning back to his Pa, “Pa, he told me of how the soldiers at the reservation mistreated his people, how because of their actions, his wife and child died during childbirth. His anger, his hatred, his grief drove him. Pa, I told him you would listen to his story and take his words to the Army.”

“Mark, I’m just happy you’re safe. We need to get you back to the fort to have the doctor take a look at your leg.”

“Pa, No! I promised. I promised Cochae that I would do my best to make sure the white man knew why this happened so those responsible could be brought to trial. He said he wanted peace for his people. Please Pa, just listen to Cochae. I don’t think the Army would listen to me, they’d think I’m just a kid, but if you were to….” The look in Mark’s eyes pleaded with his Pa.

Lucas turned to Captain Adamson, “Well, what am I supposed to do?”

“Mr. McCain, I think I can entrust the safe return of the children to the fort with Company A, but I think your son should take us back to Cochae.” Turning to Mark, “Boy, are you up to the ride?”

“Yes sir,” Mark replied with more enthusiasm than he felt.

Captain Adamson ordered his men to take the other children back to the fort and report the turn of events to Lt. Colonel Musgrave, then to wait for their return.

Lucas and Rorie helped Mark get back on his horse. Then they rode. Returning to the cave and hopefully, Cochae.

*****

It was early evening when they arrived back at the cave. Cochae and his braves were standing around the fire, watching the riders approach. No one had a weapon in hand. They waited. Had the boy kept his word or had he brought death back with him?

Mark stayed on his horse and rode forward, leaving the others behind him, he began to speak. “Cochae, as promised I brought my Father, I also brought Rorie Washington who’s a scout for the Army, and his captain, Captain Adamson. They wanted to hear your words. So you know they come in peace to listen, they gave their weapson to me. This is my pa’s rifle, and the guns belong to the captain and his scout. The captain says if your words are true, he too will speak on your behalf in front of the white man’s law.”

“Return the weapons to their owners,” Cochae stated as he motioned for the others to come closer and join Mark McCain near the fire.

So it was that Lucas and Rorie assisted Mark down from his horse and to the camp fire. They sat and listened to the horrors that Cochae said were inflicted upon his people on the reservation. Mark could no longer keep his eyes open and was soon asleep. Lucas noticed his son drifting off to sleep and started to wake him, when he heard Cochae say, “Let your son sleep. I am sorry for his injury. That was not the plan. Taking children captive was never part of our plan. I have punished my braves who did this. Your son is wise beyond his years. He made me believe that there are good white men, not just the man of your God.”

The conversation continued late into the evening. At its conclusion, Cochae promised that his braves would return to the reservation and return to the ways of the elders. He, Cochae, would go to the fort and tell his story, and he would also accept his punishment for the wrong he had done.

*****

It was a few days later, when the fort opened their doors to allow entrance to a tired group of riders. Captain Adamson pointed Lucas in the direction of the fort infirmary to have Mark’s leg looked at, and then he and Rorie rode on either side of Cochae to Lt. Colonel Musgrave’s office.

This was the second time in as many days that Musgrave looked on in disbelief when he saw the group return. In his office, he listened to Adamson’s report and then intently listened to Cochae’s story. “Cochae, this country was torn apart not so long ago by the white man fighting brother against brother, father against son, to end slavery. We’re still trying to recover. We’re not perfect. It takes time for people to change.

“I don’t wish to see war come between our people. I am well aware of what happened on the reservation, the Father wrote to this fort of the treatment you received at the hands of the soldiers. I sent a Company there to investigate, and should have a full report by the end of the week. I promise I’ll have most of those responsible behind bars and they will stand trial for their cruelties. White, black or red, no one deserves to be treated as your people were.” Musgrave paused, looking at the man in front of him, a proud man. “It takes courage to fight an injustice, but it takes strength to choose a different path, the right path to seek justice,” he said.

“I am ready to accept whatever punishment the white man says for the wrongs I have committed.” Cochae stood in front of Lt. Colonel Musgrave and hung his head.

Musgrave continued, “Cochae, since you didn’t murder any settlers and the children were returned safely, I’m fixing to be lenient with you. This country needs to heal, ALL people of this country need to heal, and maybe with this first step, it can start. I’m sending you back to the reservation, any punishment will be passed down by your elders.”

“Sir, then the boy was right?” Cochae incredulously asked. “Mark McCain, he said if my words were true, the white man’s law would believe me.”

“Cochae, the law is the law. I already knew the story and the horrors before you rode through those doors this morning. Things have changed and are changing at the reservation. I hope someday you will come to trust all white men and consider us brothers. Times are changing and this country is growing. We need to learn to settle our differences in ways other than the gun and violence. I’m tired of fighting, been doing it for too long a time.” His attention drifted to a vision in the future when all men were equal.

*****

Lucas assisted Mark into the Army infirmary to have the doctor look at Mark’s leg. The doctor slowly removed the bandages in order to evaluate the injury. Pain showed in Lucas’ face as he saw the burn marks left from the knife after cauterizing the injury caused by the arrow.

“If I do say so, this leg should heal up nicely, in time. Don’t see any signs of infection. Whoever cauterized it knew what they were doing. Son, your leg muscle is going to be stiff and sore for quite a while longer, but you need to continue to use it; get the muscle moving again. Try not to favor it too much. If need be, use a crutch for balance, but use the leg. I’ll give you some medication to prevent any infection, just in case. And an ointment to soften the tissue and keep it pliable.”

Turning to Lucas, “Just get him home, he’ll recover.” The doctor turned back to rub a salve on Mark’s leg and re-bandage it.

*****

Lucas and Mark exited the hospital to see Rorie and Cochae leave the Lt. Colonel’s office. “Well?” Lucas asked as they approached.

“The Colonel already knew the story.” Rorie replied, “Right pleased that Cochae came in on his own. I’m to take him back to the reservation, his elders will see to his punishment.”

A smile came over Mark’s face.

Cochae approached Mark and placed his hands on Mark’s shoulders. “Mark, it takes a wise person to challenge another’s heart and make it change to see the truth. I, Cochae, am honored to have you as a friend.”

Then turning to Lucas, “Mr. McCain, you’ve raised a good son, a son who understands all men are brothers, a son who sees beyond the color of one’s skin and sees into one’s soul. If my child had lived and been male, I hope he would have grown up to be as your son is.”

Cochae and Rorie walked away to return to the reservation.

*****

Lucas turned his attention to Mark, “Well son, seems you have been listening to me when I’ve been reading from the bible. You did a mighty fine thing. I’m really proud of you. Now, seeing as how this uprising is over with, what say we head for home?”

“Yes Pa, I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed for a change.”

“I thought you wanted to spend a little time hunting on our return trip?” Lucas asked.

“Hunting those two boys is all the hunting I want to do for a while,” replied Mark. “It was too much trouble.”

Lucas could see his son was growing up and he was honored by the words Cochae had spoken of Mark. ‘I’ve done my best to raise him in accordance with the Good Book.’

*****

As they rode home, Lucas didn’t know exactly how to answer the questions his son asked.

“Pa, do you think, someday, that maybe…”

“Maybe, what?” Lucas asked.

“Can we really be brothers? Will we truly accept people for who they are and not care about the color of their skin?”

Taking a deep breath, Lucas thought for a moment. “I don’t know son. But maybe through your experiences you can help show others what it means to live as brothers…”

“How do you get through to people like the Graves, they’d never met Rorie and were set against him. And then there were the soldiers at the reservation…”

“Mark, any journey starts with one step. You can be that one step, and I’ll be right beside you.”

“I think I understand what you’re saying.”

*****

Several days later, father and son arrived back in North Fork. Knowing his son was a lot more tired than he let on, Lucas asked, “Mark, how about we spend the night at the hotel and head to the ranch in the morning? Right now I think we deserve to sleep in the fruit of your labors from helping Lou.”

“Sure Pa. Right now any bed sounds good, as long as it’s soft and has a big feather pillow. I’m tired of sleeping in my bedroll on the ground.” Then as if the little boy in him took over, Mark asked “Pa, next time we go on a trip, let’s take the stage or the train, please?”

They pulled up in front of the livery. Lucas steadied Mark as he stepped down from BlueBoy.

“Nils, you mind taking care of our horses for the night?” Lucas asked.

“No problem. What happened? We expected you back days ago?” Nils queried as he took the lead ropes to the pack horses while Mark and Lucas led their mounts into the livery.

“I’ll tell you in the morning, right now, both Mark and I are heading for the hotel.”

Nils watched father and won walk across the dirt street of the town they called home.

They walked over to the hotel and into the lobby. Lou was nowhere to be seen, ‘Just as well, I’m too tired,’ Lucas thought. He signed their name and grabbed a key from one of the bins behind the counter and went up to their room and soon, both father and son were fast asleep.

************

References:

Sammy David, Jr. portrayed Tip Corey who was introduced in the episode, Two Ounces of Tin.

Michael Ansara portrayed an Indian who was a U.S. Marshal in the episodes, The Indian and The Raid. Michael Ansara reprised the role of U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart when his character was spun off for its own series, Law of the Plainsman.

The events surrounding The Ortega Gang reference is from my story, The Return of Johnny Drako.

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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