Stand Your Ground
Kwa-Ra-Neema, they called him. “The Good Chief”.
Christ knows what the Comanch called him, in their heathen tongue, but the ones who learnt English said he was the Good Chief. The Good Man. The Friend of the White Man. Most of the folks I knew, the decent folks, called him Crow Eyes. But me and my brothers had a different name for him. We called him the man who killed our daddy.
Now Richard T. Brass never had nothin against the redskins. Long as they knew their place and kept their word he was happy to let ’em go on about their ways. Me and my brothers tried to tell him how they was thievin’ and always lookin to our women, but he didn’t listen, not at first and not at the last. Even in them first days of the Republic, when they started in to raidin’ our place, puttin’ the torch to what crops we had and stealin’ the livestock or killin’ ’em outright, he didn’t think they was so bad. “Desperate men drawn to desperate deeds, John, that’s all they is,” he told me. But I knew better than to think no redskin was a man, and they soon got desperate enough for all of us.
It was November of last year they mounted the strongest raid. Must have been twenty Comanch bearin’ down on us, screamin’ in that way they got like a hawk out of hell, determined to drive us off the land. They’d tried talkin’ to us right enough, if you can call that nonsense they utter talkin’. We ain’t belong here, this land ain’t ours, it’s a dead place, that’s what old Crow Eyes said to my daddy, time and time again. But what did he have to offer us to clear out? Nothin’ but threats and beggin’. Not a dime between ’em, his whole tribe. Some friends. That’s when they commenced to stealin’, and from then it was burnin’, and from the burnin’ rose killin’. That night last November, we put paid to all their calls on our property; me, Sam and Curtis must have buried five each of them Comanch. But the hardest grave to dig was that of Richard T. Brass, the man who raised us up; Old Crow put a bullet right through his heart. When the Rangers brought him in, I strung him and burned him my own self.
That’s why I didn’t know what to make when his boy come callin’ three weeks past. Crow Eyes’ people was dead or scattered but his oldest son was still livin’ out on the edge of the county. Big redskin he was, tall as the tree I hung his daddy from and with a mean reputation for killin’. Moon Horse he was called, and when I seen him comin’ I lifted up my Winchester and made as if to put him down, but he was alone and he’d brought home one of our good Palominos. Alls he wanted was a word, he said, one last word. He’d get it, I reckoned; I was a reasonable man. But it was the same old lies he learned from his snake-tongue daddy; this land ain’t yours, it’s a buryin’ ground, he said, you got to go or you’ll suffer nothin’ but miseries.
“Suffer from who?”, I asked him. “From you and your good-for-nothin’ tribe, half of whom I put underground my own self? I got a claim on this homestead, boy, signed by the hand of Mirabeau Buonaparte God-Bless-It Lamar himself, president of this here Republic of Texas, signed and numbered in Austin one year ago. It says this land is mine, paid for with Texas doller bills, and not belongin’ to no Comanch. So unless you got your own deed says otherwise, I suggest you be on your way.”
He got goin’ all right. Spittin’ cusses as he went. Said he felt sorry for me. I didn’t know what it meant, but I found out soon enough.
Tom Jack who tended the sheep was the first to go. We found him strung up by his feet, head dunked just far enough down the well for him to drown hisself and shake hisself to bits doin’ it. Course we reckoned the Comanch creeped onto our spread and done it, but after all, Tom Jack was just a nigger and when you lose a nigger you can always buy another one.
Spider Dave was next and he was plenty worse. He was a hand we hired out of Little River to break the horses; sometimes he’d be off on a drunk for a week at a time so we didn’t think nothin’ when he disappeared. We thought different when we found him out by the barn, his guts stuffed in his mouth like someone set to feed ’em to him. But Spider Dave weren’t no great loss; he didn’t even cost us to replace like a slave would.
Salmon Jessup was a trader used to ride through and sell us dry goods every couple months. Last week he rode through and kept on goin’ on account of he didn’t have a head or hands to tell his team to stop. We got a good pair of horses out of it and hell, it weren’t like we was kin, but Sam and Curtis started to worry. They was right to, because they was next.
Now Curtis was my brother, like or not he was kin. When Sam and me come out on Tuesday to find him sittin’ on a rocker on the front porch of the house with cats eatin’ at his eyes, we knew who done him and what had to be done about him. We rode out to the county line and had to put a brand to two squaws before they’d tell us where Moon Horse was, but it weren’t the answer we expected: they tole us Moon Horse had gone west and hadn’t been around since. We didn’t believe it, and we kept right on disbelievin’ it as we rode back to the homestead and dismounted, and Sam fell dead on the ground with his bones crackin’ like firewood, all down in a heap like a puppet with its strings cut.
Moon Horse was waitin’ in the house for me. That’s when he told me why they called his dadd y the Good Chief: on account of he was tryin’ to save us from what lay beneath the ranch. He said the burial ground weren’t for the Indians; it was made by the Indians, to hold somethin’ old and awful, some thing that had been here since before the eyes of men ever looked in Texas, some heathen spirit that they had bound to the soil and hoped to keep forever hid. That by tryin’ to drive us out, he was hopin’ to protect us from what was fixin’ to crawl up from its livin’ grave.
Same old Comanch superstition and lies. I put two bullets in him before I sent little Josey for the Rangers.
I reckon that’s them comin’ now. It don’t seem like they’d be so quick in comin’, as it’s a mighty fierce wind out on the plains, and I don’t remember the Rangers’ horses bein’ so heavy, that they’d make the mighty tread I hear shakin’ the ground. But it has to be them; Moon Horse was the last of them damn Comanch, so who else could it be?
It has to be them.