I can still remember that Fourth of July the Indians came. The
year was 1869 and I was about to turn 12. Of course I thought myself
to be quite a bit more grown up that I actually was, and though
I've been sorely ashamed of it ever since, I must admit I threw
quite a tizzy that day because Mama wouldn't agree to go into Weatherford
for the Independence Day festivities. There was this particular
boy there, you see, and I was quite smitten. I just knew he would
be at the celebration and I thought Mama to be the meanest women
in the world for saying we couldn't go. But though I wheedled and
whined and threw the greatest of tantrums, Mama wouldn't budge.
A couple of days before, Daddy had left for Oklahoma Territory
to check on some business interests he had there, and I know Mama
didn't like to travel much when he was gone. Long about mid-afternoon
I had almost talked myself into forgiving her when she came and
sat down beside me where I'd been sulking under a big chinaberry
tree near the barn.
"Annie," she said, "I am truly sorry we couldn't
go into Weatherford for the celebration, but that does not mean
your day must be ruined. I was just thinking how your father had
said before he left that he needed to bring Nero home. Perhaps you
would like to ride over to your Uncle Clint's and fetch him? You
could leave the mare there and ride Nero back if you liked."
Of course, nothing in the world could have given me more pleasure,
and Mama knew it. Nero was my father's racehorse, you see, and I
loved riding him more than anything in the world. Daddy had left
him at Uncle Clint's ranch, about a half mile away, to service some
mares, and the thought of getting to ride him back home across that
small stretch of prairie was thrilling to me.
I quickly saddled the mare and before Mama could change her mind,
I was headed toward my uncle Clint Rider's place and all thoughts
of the boy in Weatherford and the celebration there were as gone
from my mind as if they'd never been.
I did not tarry long at Uncle Clint's. There was another man there
and the two of them were discussing business, so I just told him
Mama had sent me to get Nero and as soon as the stallion was saddled,
we took off toward home. I did overhear the other man saying something
about it being a near full moon and a good night for Indians, but
I paid him little mind. We'd lived on the prairie near Mary's Creek
for most of my life and though we'd heard about raids taking place
all around us, we'd never had any problem with Indians ourselves,
and so I guess I was just too ignorant to be afraid.
Nero was high-spirited that day, and so as soon as we were away
from the corrals, I nudged him into a run. I felt like I was riding
the wind, he was so fast. It had rained that morning, and now clouds
were forming again and I pretended the biggest cloud was a great
gray steed racing against us. I knew Nero would beat him to the
finish line. By the time we arrived home, I was as exhilarated as
if we'd actually won a true race.
I unsaddled Nero and fed him and then turned him into the lot.
Just as I stepped onto our front porch. Mama came out and pointed
toward a big rainbow spanning the eastern horizon. It was so very
Mama asked me to fetch her Bible and then together we read the
story of Noah and the flood and how God put the rainbow in the sky
as a token of His promise that He would never again send a flood
to destroy the earth.
I looked out again at the rainbow, but then suddenly everything
changed. There on the ridge were eleven Indians. I'd never in my
life seen an Indian before and so before Mama could stop me I ran
from the porch for a better look. As if they wanted to accommodate
my curiosity, four of the raiders began riding closer, though the
other seven stayed put on the ridge. Soon the four were close enough
I could see that there faces were painted. One wore two feathers
and some beads in his hair, and another was wearing a black hat
that had been beaten down and misshapen so as to hardly resemble
a hat at all. The first rider was wearing a shirt that was dark,
dark red and it reminded me all of the sudden of blood, and before
I knew it I was scared as I could be.
I turned and ran back to the porch, but then my curiosity got the
best of me again and I stayed there for a bit longer and watched
them ride closer still. Mama was urging me into the house, her voice
a frantic whisper, but I could not let the image of these warriors
go, and so I ignored her urgings and kept staring out at them as
they moved closer in.
Finally could stand it no longer and she grabbed my arm and yanked
me into the safety of the house, just as one of the warriors lifted
his bow and aimed an arrow toward me. My heart leapt with fear as
Mama whisked me into the dark safety of our cabin.
It was then for the first time that I really noticed how scared
Mama was. Her face was drawn and the skin around her mouth bleached
white by fear. She grabbed for Daddy's gun and then she gave me
such a look of utter hopelessness that before she said a word I
knew what the problem was. We had Daddy's gun, allright, but neither
one of us knew how to use it.
"Quick!" she said, "Get in the loft!" And together
we scurried up the ladder, pulling it up behind us. Desperately,
Mama looked around her and when she spotted the heavy trunk she
kept the linens in, she motioned for me to help her move it over
the loft opening. That done, we huddled together in fear, certain
that every noise we heard would be the last.
After a minute or two, we heard the cabin door thrown open and
heavy footsteps. Mama squeezed me tight against her as one of the
raiders grunted something to another, and we heard the scrape of
the table legs being scooted along the wooden floor boards.
My heart was pounding so I was certain they could hear it down
below and Mama was squeezing me so tight I could hardly breathe,
not that I would have wanted to scared as I was that they might
hear me. I was so scared it was a moment before I realized that
Mama's lips were moving and she was whispering something ever so
softly. I made myself focus on what she was saying and after a couple
of seconds realized she was praying, repeating the words of the
"Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for
the arrow that flieth by day," she whispered.
"Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
"A thousand shall fall at they side, and ten thousand at
thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee."
I guess it might seem funny to some, but there huddled in that
dark loft with savage Indians only moments away from discovering
our hiding place, I was suddenly comforted by Mama's prayer and
I felt myself begin to relax.
In the very next instant there was this loud shout coming from
near the barn, and we heard the Indians leave the cabin.
For the next several minutes there was so much whooping and hollering
and shooting going on, you would have thought a hundred raiders
or more were just outside our cabin. Then I heard Nero whinny, so
high pitched and loud it sounded almost like a scream, and my heart
sunk. The Indians were stealing my Daddy's horse and there was not
a thing in the world we could do to stop them.
We strained to hear what else was happening, but after a few minutes
more, the noise began to subside and we realized the only sound
we heard was hoofbeats growing faint.
Mama let out a sigh and I began to cry. She pulled herself into
a sitting position and then drew me into her lap, holding me and
rocking me as I cried and cried. When at last I looked up at her
face, it was tear-stained, too.
I doubt it was very long, but it seemed an eternity later, we moved
the trunk from over the opening, replaced the ladder and climbed
back down out of the loft.
It had started raining again while the Indians were still at the
barn and from the tracks in the mud it was easy to see they'd taken
Nero. Sometime later, a gentleman from Weatherford told us it was
that horse that saved our lives because to an Indian a good horse
was always more attractive than a good scalp.
Later that evening Uncle Clint came over to check on us and we
learned that after the Indians left our place they attacked his
ranch, doing no real damage other than shooting the place up a bit.
Others weren't so lucky though. A couple of days later we learned
that there had actually been two raiding parties attack the area
on the Fourth and again the next day. Over near Grindstone Creek
in the west part of the county, they killed a man and woman and
their infant daughter as they were returning home from the Fourth
of July celebration. The next day they killed another man over near
Campbell Prairie and hung his body in a tree.
Rangers tried to track them down and finally succeeded in killing
one of the raiders. But though some of the horse and mules they
stole were recovered, we never saw Nero again. But until the day
my daddy died many years later he always said he was grateful to
that horse for saving his wife and child.
I guess maybe I was, too.