Montana Territory, Summer 1861
“Rusty, come, bring your rifle! Crow have taken many horses. We can join the war party!” Rusty had seldom seen his friend, Burned Face, move so fast. He was putting his powder horn and bullets in a parfleche, the carryall bag of the plains Indians when his father, Tall Elk, came and took his rifle from its place tied to a lodge pole.
“Can I really go? Shall I bring a second pony?”
“No, that will be your duty. Each brave will have a second horse. You six young braves will follow the party and take care of the tired horses we leave. The Crow will not ride as fast with the horses they took, but they are miles ahead of us. White Hawk will lead. Stay with the other young braves, hear that my son.”
Rusty wears his long red hair in a single braid off to one side. In it he wears two eagle feathers. He is now much tanner and most of the freckles he had when first captured are gone.
The five young braves and Rusty rode in the dust of the war party that was in pursuit of the horse stealing Crow. Red Falcon, son of Twisted Nose, was in charge. All were armed and hoping they would get a chance to fight or count coup. Rusty was the best armed with the new Hawkins rifle and a Colt six-shot pistol. Burned Face had his short stagecoach shotgun that he was proud of. He had decorated the stock with brass tacks. He rode a roan pony with two handprints painted on it, one for the gold miner and one for the Crow he had killed. Rusty’s pony had six painted hands, one of which had a line across it, meaning that it was a shared kill. His sister, Late Setting Sun, made that mark for the Crow she had hit with her fish spear, saving Rusty’s life.
They pushed their ponies, following the dust of the warriors across the rolling plains east of the Rocky Mountains and north of the Yellow Stone River, the land claimed by the Northern Cheyenne, a claim confined by the treaty of 1825 that allowed wagons going to Oregon on the Bozeman trail to cut through their land.
“There, look! We have a rider following us,” said Likes To Sing.
“It must be your sister, Setting Sun. She is becoming a manly-woman,” said Burned Face.
“I never heard a person called that. What does it mean?”
It means, Rusty, my friend, that she is still a woman, but can do many things as good as a man. Things like race and fight.”
“Then, am I to blame for teaching her?”
“No, Rusty, long before you came, she was beginning to be strong and would challenge boys in races. Here she comes. Are you going to order her back to the village?”
“She will not listen to me, but I will try.”
“Does the family know you are joining us, my sister? I don’t think your father, Tall Elk, would like you being here. It is my place to order you to return to your girl duties.”
“Two of the horses taken were mine. Why are you braves riding so slow?”
“Our fighting braves are each using two ponies. When one is runout, he will change mounts. This will make them ride faster than the Crow. We are to take care of the mounts that the warriors turn loose. It will get to be hard when they have left us some tired horses and we must keep following them and not let the ponies get so far behind. We must count them and when we have all, return them to the tribe’s herd. You ride with Rusty at your side,” said Red Falcon.
“Is your rifle loaded?”
“No, I came too quick, I can load it while riding.”
“Do so, sister warrior; it is just a heavy stick without powder and ball,” said Rusty.
In two hours they began to find ponies walking or standing and grazing the rich grass. An hour later, with most of the ponies now in their charge, they began to have a string over a half mile long.
Several miles ahead of them, a brave rode to White Hawk, the leader of this pursuit.
“There are not as many tracks of horses with riders. Some have used the low hills to cover their leaving. Do you think they are going back to our main herd?”
“How many?” said White Hawk.
“Maybe five..., six, not ten. Shall we send word to the village?”
“No, they know we have dropped off horses and may only have a few young braves to take them. I will send some fighting braves back to protect our horses and young braves.” He rode to Tall Elk and told him about the missing Crow.
“Send four braves back.”
“No, Tall Elk, two will do. The Crow have few rifles, many of our young braves have guns. But send them now, two good fighters.”
Running Bear and Blue Scar, two veteran warriors, were not pleased about going back but obeyed their leaders.