These are short stories put up each Friday that you can read for free. By the next Friday the post will be taken down and a new one will go up.
“Shoulda been here by now,” George said as they came upon another slight bend in the river, “shoulda been past that village by now, and well within seeing distance of us.” They were on the shorter keelboat, the supply boat ahead of them now.
“Maybe the Rees weren’t as friendly as he supposed,” Colter said with a shrug. “Sure weren’t last winter when I ran into a small band out around the Yellowstone.”
“Must have been Blackfeet,” George said without taking his eyes from the river behind them.
“No, they were Arikara alright, and must have been having some kind of feud between them for–”
“There!” George shouted out, cutting off the mountain man’s words. “There he is!”
Colter spun about and sure enough, quite a ways back on the river and just then coming around a cliff-side bend in the river, was Manuel’s keelboat, the one that’d been taking up the rear behind the large supply boat.
“Looks like he made it after all,” George said with a laugh, then looked over at Colter with smile. “What was all this nonsense about the Arikara last winter, huh? I bet…”
George trailed off and the smile on his face was replaced by a frown. The half-Shawnee in him had heard or sensed something, and a moment later that was clear. Shouting erupted up ahead on the supply boat and the two trappers looked up to see the men hustling about, pointing off into the thick brush obscuring the bank.
“What the hell is it?” Colter said, but a moment later he knew, for an arrow sailing out in answer and embedded itself into the gunwale near their feet. More arrows flew out, and there was even a musket shot or two, all accompanied by whooping and shouting.
Colter looked back at George, and the scout seemed to have read his mind when he said, “Damn Manuel Lisa – how’d we ever think he wouldn’t piss off the Indians?”
As the mountain man and the scout cursed their luck at being thrown in with the shady businessman, further down the river and coming around the bend was the source of their frustration. Manuel Lisa hadn’t been around that long and hadn’t gotten this far West without getting into a scrape or two…and having gotten out of them. He meant to do the same now, for he’d left the Arikara on good terms. He’d also left with quite a bit of information, one tidbit being the split that’d occurred in the tribe over the spring when it was clear some leading chieftains were not returning from some hunting mission. That small faction of the tribe was what he guessed was assailing them now, and he only hoped his forty-two men could hold them off.
“C’mon!” he shouted out to the men poling the fifty-foot keelboat up the river. “Put your backs into it men – get us up to that fight!”
“Woo-hoo!” John Potts shouted out. “Got me one!”
Colter looked over at the private that’d accompanied him to the Pacific with Lewis and Clark and smiled, then reached over and clapped the German on the back. “Good, now steady yourself, reload, and get another.”
Potts looked over at Colter and nodded and started to do just that, putting the butt of his rifle down on the deck, getting his ball, powder, and patch, and then ramming them all down before bringing the gun up to prime the pan and fire another shot. Seventeen seconds later Potts was shouting “woo-hoo” again.
Colter took aim with his own gun and got another himself. The Arikara were numerous along the bank now, and he suspected there were fifty of them. Most were armed with bow and arrows, others with spears or tomahawks. So far none had swum out into the river toward them, but Colter suspected that might change if they grew desperate. A glance around a moment before had told him that none of the men on the boats had been hit, but by the looks of the bodies on the river’s bank, at least a dozen of the Indians had gone down, maybe more. The men were doing a good job of it, for each was an experienced rifleman. Besides Potts, there was also Peter Weiser, John Collins, and George Shannon on Colter’s boat, all alumni of the voyages with the Captains. Up ahead on the large supply boat was Pierre Cruzatte, who despite the bad eyes, had been employed by Manuel to go back up the river. Colter hoped the man didn’t shoot any of them in the backside like he’d done with Captain Lewis. Also from the expedition were George Gibson, Hugh Hall, Joseph Whitehouse, and Nathaniel Pryor. Manuel had done well recruiting the men in St. Louis at expedition’s end it seemed, though the highest ranking of them, Sergeant Pryor, was still in St. Louis or somewhere hundreds of miles behind them on the river, bringing Chief Big White back up to the Mandans, fulfilling the terms of the agreement the Captains had made before sending the chief downriver and then to Washington back in 1806.
Colter’s thoughts were interrupted, as was his aim, when a tomahawk slammed into the wooden beam right next to his head. George looked over at him with wide eyes.
“That was close!” the scout said. “Maybe we should signal up to the lead boat to open up with that swivel gun, eh?”
“Do you think?” Colter said with a scowl as he moved away from the Tomahawk, which had several large eagle feathers dangling from its handle. He took up position a few feet away and took aim once again, taking out a particularly nasty looking Arikara brave that was ready to hurl yet another of the axes.
George just shrugged and headed up to the front of the boat, put his hands to his mouth, and shouted out for the men to open up with the swivel gun. Two men had been standing beside the gun waiting to do just that, and right as they took the covering off of it a great gasp went up from the attacking Arikara. They’d seen what it could do at the villages earlier, after all. Within moments they were rushing back into the thick brush and trees, leaving their dead to litter the bank. A few minutes after that Manuel had caught up to them, and the last of the Indians had fled.
“What the hell happened back there?” George shouted out once the Spaniard was within earshot.
Manuel frowned, but then shrugged. He told them what he’d heard of the missing tribal members, and the subsequent breakdown. Both he and George looked to Colter, for they’d heard the mountain man’s story of winter adventure, but hadn’t believed it. Now they were beginning to wonder.
For Colter’s part, he just counted the bodies as the shore receded into the distance now that the three boats were moving again. Eighteen he counted, eighteen more dead Arikara braves. He shook his head and scoffed before turning away. He knew if the whites kept this up there’d be a war with the tribe.