Every summer the Durbin clan gathers up at the lake for a week at what they call the Spirit

Dance. There is a cabin there, but it is mainly used as a kitchen, bathhouse and restroom whenever

they all get together. For cleansing and vision questing, a new sweat lodge is built. They all sleep

outside under the stars or in tents, and the communal fire becomes the sacred source of life and

communication. As is the natural course of such matters, the gathering grows larger every year.
          The younger kids romp in the lake all day, their howls of joy and outrage skipping

across the water like flat rocks to echo off the sheer basaltic cliffs of the opposite shore. Everyone

sunbathes, swims, cavorts on skidoos, fishes, wind surfs, hikes and explores. In this family the lines

separating the generations are often blurred. Because of overlapping values and interests and similar

forms of expression and much more interaction between adults and children there is very little

generation gap. The usual attitude of rebellious, insolence that teenagers exhibit is practically non-

existent in this family. They were all weaned on the word yes. Experimentation, originality and

individualism is encouraged. Everyone is allotted an equal share of dignity and respect, so self-

esteem runs high.

          By and large, the Durbins like to learn, create, eat, fish, get high and talk about it. They also

share a passion for reading, writing, sharing stories, dancing and making music. During the daytime,

there is an ongoing Scrabble competition that spans the generations. Weish blood bearing metaphorical

flotsam courses through their veins en route to the mind (the sandbars come and go as if by magic).

Yes, they take their words, and Scrabble, seriously.
          There is a lot of Indian blood in the family as well, infusing it with an intimate relationship with

the forces of nature and a disdain for materialism yet a fascination for finely crafted objects (perhaps it

was the dash of calculating Dutch privateer that engendered the love of profit). Add to that a tributary

of wandering, hot-headed Irish and you have the basic recipe for the blood soup of a Helman. Of

course, I am speaking figuratively. It is not just the blood, not that red stuff. It is in the DNA (dead 

nuclear ancestors). Generally, the members of the Durbin clan can be characterized as intelligent, 

creative, ingenious, headstrong, enterprising, fun loving, spiritual without piety, fiercely independent,

slightly pugnacious and a bit wild - true Americans.
           Abel Durbin, a distant relative, founded America Town 150 years ago. Had it not been for his

foresight, courage, vision and greed, America Town might not even exist. The deep and earthy roots of

their pioneer heritage are a robust source of pride and helps keep them connected to the earth in a

society that leans toward the inorganic. The Durbins are not snobbish. Modesty is held in high

esteem. But the fact is, they are superior and there is always at least one brilliant mind or creative

genius in each family. They all take this for granted and eventually understand that superiority is

as much a stigma as an advantage.
          One night following a family feast, after the blood and butter sunset melted into the dimming,

shaggy, evergreen horizon, a blue mountain chill lay down atop the temporal luster of dusty-rose 

water. The bats fluttered like leaves suffused with spirit and fish made one last, glorious gasping leap

in the cottonwood snow before the cold evening shadow spilled like liquid darkness from the forest,

down the banks and across the quicksilver lake. The receptive water, the vigilant creatures, even the 

insects heard the hissing of warm air expelled into the atmosphere, felt the pressure of the encroaching

cold of mountain night. But to the Durbins, night, like death, was always somewhat of a surprise.
           Adults and children alike were drawn to the surging flames of the big bonfire where sparks

capered about in the air like confused fiery moths. Soon, voices diminished to an expectant chunter, for

it was story-telling time - what they commonly referred to as “tale spin”.
           Paw Paw Durbin, the current patriarch of the clan, was a favorite tale spinner. He was also the

Pipe Keeper, a lifetime responsibility and honor handed down from generation to generation - rather

like the family poet laureate, but more. His tales chilled you, warmed you, snared and scared you,

made you think and not think, laugh and cry. Paw Paw's stories were unforgettable and enduring.

           Everyone huddled together as closely as possible for warmth and security as Paw Paw stood

before them, his thick silhouette swollen against the backdrop of firelight; full, shoulder length, snow-

white hair fluffed out like goose down. He always stood to tell his stories, for the essence of Spirit

Dance - body language, freedom of gesture and expression, movement and space - was embodied in

every narrative.
          He stood before them now, his jaw set with strength, his eye with calm, fearless confidence,

straight and tall at seventy–something years - experience, wisdom and emotional stamina emanating

from his being. The power of his passionate intelligence manifested in his robust voice and gesture,

gentleness in his whisper, compassion in his eyes. The depth of his awareness, the subtlety of his

perceptions and a deep understanding of human nature rendered him immune to lies and subterfuge.

He could see right through you…if he wanted to. Whatever he was or was not, to disrespect him was

almost impossible. The children (which, to him, included just about all of them) held him in awe. His

stories, his outlook, even his faults molded their thinking and subsequently their futures.

          When the squirming subsided and the last throat had been cleared, after the hush of expectation

gave way to the primal drumming of the sonorous frog chant, he began, " As you all know, for a

century and a half, every year our family has this gathering and we call it the Spirit Dance. "

           Following a long pause during which he made eye contact with each and every listener, he

continued. " But do you really know why we call it the Spirit Dance? Do you know the true story 

behind it all? " He did not give them time to respond. " Well, I’m going to tell you that story tonight.

There’s been some confusion lately about what the straight scoop is and I’m going to clear this up once

and for all. I was told the story by my grandfather Oliver Durbin, who was told it by his grandfather

Travis Durbin, who not only heard the story from his grandfather Grant Durbin, but read the original

manuscript of the experience called Spirit Dance, written by Abel's son Grant as told him by his father,

Abel. All of them were Pipe Keepers. In fact, the pipe featured in this story is the very one we use 

today. Now that's what I call heritage. “

           He paused again to allow his audience a chance to absorb that complex and essential prologue

while he kicked up the fire a little, releasing a flurry of sparks upward in a mad rush to become stars.

" Unfortunately," he said, " that manuscript was destroyed in the fire of eighty-eight. But

I guarantee you, the story I'm fixing to tell you comes straight from the horse's mouth. It's been

memorized and passed from generation to generation, Pipe Keeper to Pipe Keeper. Not all that many

people could read back then you'll have to remember, and communications were crude to say the least.

This is the way true history travels - from person to person, fire to fire. It’s important never to forget

that we're living history right now. "

           Paw Paw closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them they caught the firelight with

a twinkle. He began his story as usual - with the traditional family introduction accompanied by Indian

sign that had been handed down through the generations. “ The sky (he held his hands horizontally

above his head with the index fingers touching and swung downward in a curve to each side) is the

Father (he thumped his right breast twice with his right fist and extended his index finger in front of his

face). The Earth (he pointed to the ground and rubbed his thumb and fingers together) is the Mother

(he thumped his left breast twice with a curved half open fist). And the fire (he held his hand in front of

him below his waist and flicked all five fingers upward) is the Law (he held his hand up to his neck and

moved two fingers straight forward). Then he took a deep breath and began in earnest.

          Abel Durbin looked out on the rich gold and green valley enclosed by snowcapped foothills as

far as could be seen and wept. From the summit on which he stood, beneath the shadow of Pilot Rock,

he could also view the shimmering, white-crested peak that the Indians referred to as Toohigh or

Tawiligetah, meaning Spirit Home. To the northeast another massive, snow capped peak rose to

penetrate the clouds and then another peak and another off into the distance.

          To the north, at the narrow end of the bottle-shaped valley at least thirty miles away, lay a

cluster of dark, basaltic mesas that contrasted sharply with the rest of the lush, green landscape. Abel

registered mentally that these were the Indian strongholds of which he had heard. The golden hills

bordering the east side of the valley appeared parched, dry and windswept, with but a dusting of snow

that would vanish by midday.

          The promised land; what he and his family had endured so much suffering and hardship to

reach, lay before him undulating dreamlike in the morning sun. He knelt in the snow and thanked God

as the tears rolled down his cheeks. Abel was a strong man, one of the strongest both physically and in

spirit, but he was not ashamed to weep, especially those rare tears of joy. His big, strong, callused  

hands belied what his large, soulful brown eyes made no attempt to conceal - the compassion and

sensitivity, intelligence and passion of the poet.

          " Abel! Abel! " his wife Jessica called from the wagon, " it's time to get going, honey. "

          " All right, Mama, I'll be right along, " he said as he wiped at his tears with his neck scarf.

          When he removed his hat and wiped the bandana across his head, a chilled breeze fluttered his

thinning hair.  He plopped his battered, old hat back on his head and looked up at the heavens. " I

promise, God, " he prayed, " as sure as I stand here before you. I'll live up to this life you blessed me

with. I'll raise my boys right and treat my woman right...and I'll always do my damn…uh…I'll do my

best to be the kind of man you want me to be. That's the least I can do. Thank you, Lord. Amen. "
          On his way back to the wagon train his friend MacDougal intercepted him. " It's a bloody, long

way to the bottom of this one, Abel," MacDougal said, " If we go down this side straight down we'll

have to slide 'em most of the way. “ MacDougal spat his contempt along with a stream of tobacco juice

into the snow. " Seems to me we'd best be takin’ the ridge and come down from the other end where

it's lower and not s' many trees. "

           Abel surveyed the side of the mountain down which they were going to descend. " Looks like a

good place for a slide. Lot's of big trees to anchor to. Jeffries is the boss. If he says it's best to go

down head first, I guess I will. He's gotten us this far. "

          " By the skin of our teeth, " MacDougal grumbled. " The real reason is lack of patience. Why r

ush it when we can ease it down? Just another needless risk, I say. But I'm just a little breeze

compared to the cyclone everybody else is stirrin' up. Tell me your feelin's in the matter, Abel. "

          " Mack, we're standing here because Jeffries has been right more often than wrong. Personally,

I'm just like everybody else. I say the quickest way down is best. One of the things I'm weary of is the

squabbling over every little decision. I vote let's go on down and get it over with. I've been yearning to

stand on my very own piece of God's green earth and listen to the babble of a fishing stream. I want to

lay back and not do anything for a while 'cept play with the kids and eat and…sleep. "

          " Well then, so be it, Abel. I won't change my mind, but I'll go along with the will of everybody

else and pull my weight as usual. It's just not my nature to risk anything for want of patience. It's not

myself or my possessions I'm worried about. It's what sits in that wagon over there, my family, that

matters to me. They're all I have and all I really want. And we'd best not let down our guard - there's

Injuns round here too, don’t forget. "

          " I understand, Mack. Relax, everything's going to work out fine. By  tomorrow we'll be down

there and none the worse for the experience. Come here, I want to show you something. "

           He led Mack back up to the spot where he had been standing and they both squatted and

gazed out at the magnificent view. "" Couple of days we'll be down there, Mack. We'll be home. There

were times there when I actually considered setting up house along the way and calling it quits.

Hardest thing in the world to watch your children suffer. But we went on because God wanted us to,

and with His help we made it. He gave us a dream for inspiration and faith for strength. And you know

Mack, this is even better than I could have imagined it. Our own land, man, think of it, as much as we

want to take on. It boggles the mind. No more wagons to push and pull or dust to eat, no more

hunger and harassment. I can't hardly remember what safety feels like. Home, Mack. What a sweet

word. I never fully knew the meaning of the word before. Home's more than just a place to stuff your

belongings, not just someplace you're stuck like a stick in the mud. It's a place you choose to plant

your spirit. Damn! That valley down there looks good enough to eat, doesn't it? Ain't life grand,

Mack! "

          MacDougal took a deep breath of fresh, mountain air and smiled. Abel's enthusiasm always

helped cheer him up. " Ah, yes. That it is. All in all I have t'agree with you. It's hard to believe we

made it. Caution and vigilance has become a habit we'd best hang on to But you’re damn right! It'll feel

good to dig my bare toes into that rich valley soil. And it's not a second too soon. Our supplies are

down to the bone. Jeffries has been drivin' so hard we haven't even had time to hunt proper. "

           Abel accepted the reference to Jeffries in silence. He did not like to talk behind people's backs.

What he had to say he said to their faces. " I hear tell the Indians around here have all kinds of stuff , "

he said. " Flour, beans, rice, coffee, even sugar and as you can see there's no shortage of meat. There's

thirty pound salmon in those creeks, too, you know. I tell you what, old friend," he lowered his voice

to a whisper," when we get down there, I'll break out that little surprise I been saving. I got a bottle of

the best Kentucky shine that ever exploded in the mind of a mortal. "

          MacDougal tilted his head back and laughed, fogging the air about his hairy face. He whispered

back, "Aye! Aye! So that's your little surprise is It? If I'd known you were hiding a jug I would have

been harder to put up with than I was. " He gave Abel a playful shove. " You rascal! You must

have a will of iron, man. "

          Abel smiled. " No, but Jessica does. "

           They stood and Abel put a hand on his friend's shoulder. " What do you say we go claim our

birthright, Mack? "

          " Right, Abel. And that whiskey is just the inspiration I needed. Guess I'm not as faithful as you.

But you'd best be figurin' on three days if you ask me. We're higher and that's steeper than you seem

to think. "

          Abel chuckled. " It's all down hill from now on, " he said, " all down hill. "

          As Abel approached his wagon, a beat-up weathered Conestoga with numerous big patches in

its filthy cover, his twelve year old son came running up to meet him. " Daddy, it's time to get in line, "

he said excitedly, " we're going to get to go first today. "

          Grant had his father's intelligent big brown eyes. Abel removed his son's weather beaten hat

and pushed the corn silk hair back off his forehead. They had truly come to respect one another over

the last few months. Whereas, back in St Louis they hardly ever spoke. He plopped the hat back on his

son's head, slung an arm around his shoulder and the two of them walked up to see how Abel’s

brother John was doing with the last minute inspection of the rigs.

          John shook his head in disgust. " We got a loose wheel on the second wagon Abel. Looks good

enough to me to make it down, but you better have a look at it. I don't want the whole decision on my

shoulders. I'd hate to have to fix it now. It'd set us back a whole day. There's no spares in the whole

train. I checked. I didn't notice it until late last night. "

          Abel inspected the wheel and put it through a couple of quick tests. "  Let's take a chance. I

think she'll make it. " 

          Abel's wife, Jessica, parted the canvas and stuck her head out of the rear of the wagon. She had

high cheekbones and smooth round features suggesting Indian blood. Inspite of having put on a little

weight over the years, she was still a sensuously attractive woman. Moral and physical strength

combined with humility and tenderness to lend her carriage a regal aspect. Despite enduring a terribly

difficult journey, she still managed somehow to remain relatively neat and clean. Jessica's black eyes

glowed with love and respect as she handed Abel the last cup of coffee from their supplies. She was

truly an unselfish woman and believed that to love her man and her family was to love God.

          " Abel, " Jessica said, " Mister James was asking if he could pull behind us on the slide. One of

his mules is favoring his foreleg and he's worried it might give out. That could be dangerous. "

          " Well, if you see him, tell him to go ahead and hook up Shyleigh. That's what he's getting at

anyway. I guess we can spare him now that we're so close. "

          There was always a lot of confusion and unexpected hassles as they formed up each morning,

especially when they were in a tight, forest clearing like this. If it was not carefully executed, some

god-awful traffic jams could ensue.

          Into the din of shouts, orders, curses, popping whips, bawling animals and the rattle, creak and

screech of wagons, a woman's scream penetrated. Abel grabbed his rifle and ran tn the direction of

the scream. He rounded the Thompson wagon and slid to a halt not ten feet from a band of seven

Indians clustered in the snow-dusted clearing, as tense as startled deer and just as ready to bound in

seven different directions.

          Jeffries, the wagon master, came striding up. " Don't nobody do anything rash. Lower that rifle

Mister Thompson. Trading's what they're after. This is a sort of welcoming committee, see. They

probably want to check us out and see if we intend to stick around. We might oughta let ‘em think

we’re just passing through. Say we’re headed north. "

          " Why lie to them? " Abel asked. " They'll find out different soon enough. "

          " We can stall’ em until late spring, "  Jeffries said.

          " But these people are going to be our neighbors, " Jessica objected.

          Jeffries scratched at his beard and said, " Ma'am, to Injuns a neighbor’s somebody you steal

stuff from. "

          " And what is a white man, Mister Jeffries, a liar with no honor? We are making a first 

impression here and it could be lasting. "

           Jeffries' reply was clipped with curtness. " I'm not concerned with lasting impressions, Mizz

Helman. My job is making sure you folks live to see your first crops. But, out of respect to your

feelings, ma'am, I'll try to avoid the subject. "

          Jeffries stepped forward and clasped his hands in front of him with the back of the left hand

down – the symbol for peace. One of the Indians advanced a tentative step and returned the sign and

then held up both hands and struck them past each other in a semi-circle – the sign for trade.

        Jeffries gesticulated in sign as he spoke aloud in English so everyone would know what was

transpiring. " Good. We want trade too. " The Indian spoke in a mixture of French and broken English

as well as sign. " Sugar, glass, blan-kets. "

          " Have glass, " Jeffries said. He assumed they meant mirrors. " No sugar, no blankets. Long trip.

We are very poor (he held up his left index finger and scratched downward on it with his other index

finger – the sign for poor). Trade bag almost empty. " He turned to Abel and John and muttered,

" Damn! We don't have much to trade ’em. "

          The rest of the wagon train members were edging closer to the proceedings. Children crowded

forward and peered through the legs of the adults.

          " You folks back up, please. " Jeffries said. " Mitchell, you and Vincent take a few men and stake

out some pickets. "

          Jeffries faced the Indian spokesman again. The Indian pointed to Jeffries' sidearm and asked as

he signed, Guns? Powder? "

          Jeffries' eye twitched noticeably. He had hoped they would not ask this. Personally, he trusted

Indians as far as he could kick them. He wasn't about to sell the devil firewood.

          " No guns or powder. " Jeffries said. " Need for long journey. "

          The Indians conferred for a moment and the spokesman again stepped forward, " Need

guns…hunt, " the brave repeated stubbornly.

          Jeffries features hardened and he repeated adamantly, " No guns, chief. "

          The Indians huddled again. The spokesman returned. He made the sign for fire and cupped his

hand and brought it to his mouth meaning water.

          Abel grimaced. He was the only one on the train with any whiskey and he really hated like hell

the thought of giving it up after a year and a half of hoarding it.

effries hesitated a few seconds and scanned the faces of the men in the crowd, then he turned

to the Indian and said, " Have firewater. We trade. Come. “ He held his left fist out in front of him and

tapped it twice with his right palm. “ We smoke. “  He gestured toward the cook fire and the crowd

parted for them.

          The Indians held a quick conference and the spokesman said in sign, " I smoke. Trade. They

stay. "

          Jeffries led the skittish young buck to the smoldering ashes of the morning cook fire where they

squatted. He removed a huge pipe from his inner coat pocket the bowl of which was intricately carved

into the face of a mariner, tapped it on his boot heel and stuffed it with the dregs of his tobacco. After

stoking the pipe, he handed it to the Indian who was unaccustomed to smoking straight tobacco,

ithe Indian nhaled it deeply, coughed a little and handed the pipe to John Helman.

          Mitchell returned and whispered something in Jeffries' ear. John handed the pipe to Abel, As

Abel took a drag, Jeffries said just above a whisper, " Now Abel, I know you got some corn liquor

hidden away somewhere. I've known you too long to think you'd go anywhere without it. I'm sorry. I

really am, but we 're going to have to have at least a jug or we just might not make it to the bottom

down there. "
        " Dammit, Jim, " Abel said under his breath, " there's only five of  'em and they got no guns. We

don't have to give 'em anything. It sets a bad example. "

          " Abel, don't be foolish. There's a lot more where these come from. These are just kids looking

to have some fun. Besides, Mitchell just told me there's a bunch more skulking around out in the

woods. This could get real sticky here any minute. If we were to kill one of these young bucks, you'd

never have a moment's peace in this valley. I’ve seen things like this get outta hand quicker n’ who

flung the chunk. We still got a chance at diplomacy here. You know I hate to order a friend around, but

we got to have that whiskey. "

          " Well, hell, " Abel protested, " it seems to me you might as well give ’em guns as liquor. I've

been guarding that jug with my life. It's like a kid to me. I haven't allowed myself to so much as smell

it since we left St. Louis. You don't know what you're asking. Offer them horses. I would just as soon

give them Shyleigh if I have to, but not my shine. "

          " We can't spare any horses, you know that Abel. Now don't be difficult. Go get that whiskey

unless you want a lot of innocent blood on your hands. You willing to risk your future here over a

bottle of moonshine? "

          Abel was at a loss. How could he ever make them understand what this meant to him? It was

deep and went back generations. This was Kentucky corn brewed by his Uncle Buck. Buck is long gone

now and so is the recipe. It was ten years old when he headed west. This is about family and sacred

tradition. It's like the Bible itself to him - thick with the blood of his ancestors. Besides, he had a

prearranged deal with the Lord. They were going to sit down and get soused together, just he and

Jesus. Now how could he explain that to all these people.  The thought of being bamboozled by these

punks out of his last jug of Kentucky Shine made his blood boil. Abel remained sullen and silent as

everyone awaited his next move.

          " At least ask them if they'll take a horse or a cow, " Abel said.

          Jeffries and Abel continued to argue in forceful whispers as the pipe completed its first round.

Jeffries reloaded the pipe, lit it and sent it on its way again, and then asked the Indian reluctantly, "

Only one jug of firewater. How about good horse? "

          The Indian frowned and fidgeted impatiently and shook his head. " No good…Many horses. "

          " Well then… how about…" Jeffries turned and spoke out of the corner of his mouth to Abel, " We

don't have anything else to offer 'em, Abel. This here's turning into a big scene. You’re making me look l

ike a fool. Get the damn whiskey. "

          Abel was silent for a moment and then blurted out, " The organ. "

          Jessica gasped, along with some of the other women. " Abel James, you wouldn't! "

          " Jessica, it doesn't even work. "
" It can be fixed. That organ is for the church. Have you lost your mind? God would be

disappointed in you. "

           Abel flinched. This statement hit him too close to home. He certainly did not want to let God

down. " Oh well, durn it, forget about the organ, " he muttered.

          The Indian was clearly offended and a bit amazed that a woman had insinuated herself into the 

trading and scowled at her like she was a talking dog.

          " No organ, " Jeffries said. He tried to convey in sign that the man and his wife could not agree.

           The Indian nodded as if he understood, but he did not.

          Abel thought of a stalling tactic. " Let's see what they have to trade. We haven't seen what they

have to trade yet. "

          Jeffries shot Abel an impatient glare and said, " Uhhh…What you trade? “

         The Indian spokesman gestured to his cohorts and said something in his own language. Two of

them hurried off into the forest and soon returned carrying a large game bag. They set the bag down

next to the fire pit in the trampled snow around the fire. At the request of the spokesman, the two

Indians cut the rawhide straps securing it shut and emptied the contents out on the ground.

          A cry of surprise arose from the wagon train members who had fudged forward again. There

writhing on the ground like a wounded snake was a beautiful, young Indian woman, bound and

gagged. She was fully clothed and appeared to be unharmed except for the chafing discomfort of her

leather bindings.

          Several of the white men instinctively went for their guns. None of them were going to stand by

and see a woman mistreated, regardless of her color. The Indians took a threatening step forward and

reached for their own weapon

          Jeffries, who was accustomed to this kind of trade, saw there was a bit of a communication

problem and spoke up quickly. " Hold steady! “ his voice rang out. “You men put those guns away.

This here's a fair and tradable item to these guys. She's not one of their own. Everybody just stay calm.

Abel, get that liquor. Now! "

          Abel did not need any more convincing. He hustled off to the wagon and from beneath some

boards in the back removed a wooden crate. He grabbed a claw hammer and ran back to the trading

circle, pried open the crate and took out a cane wrapped jug and blew it clean of sawdust packing. He

held it up and kissed it , whispered, " Sorry, Jesus, " and handed it over to Jeffries.

          " Untie woman, “Jeffries signed. “ Firewater yours. "

          As soon as the Indians cut her bindings and sheathed their knives, she turned on them with the

fury of a wildcat, drawing blood from the faces of two of them before they could restrain her.

         " You take! You Take! " the Indian insisted as he struggled to hold onto the woman and sign


          Jeffries smiled and his tobacco stained teeth flashed amber in the sunlight. " Well take her Abel.

She's all yours. "

          Abel was flabbergasted. " What are you saying Jeffries? Don't fool around now. Take the

woman and let's get this over with. You made the deal. "

          " But it was your possession that sealed the deal. These Injuns know that as well as you and

me. They take these things seriously. Take the woman so they, or this girl don't feel insulted. The rules

of the game say you have to take responsibility for what you trade for. " Jeffries chuckled. " Looks like

you bought yourself a wild Injun Abel. "

          Abel stammered.

          One of the women spoke up. " Well, somebody get the poor woman away from the heathens. "

         A number of people chimed their agreement.

          " Ohhhhh, all right, " Abel said. " Give me a hand here John, will you? "

         The Indians grabbed the whiskey and made a hasty retreat into the forest before anyone could

change their minds.

         Jeffries tried to explain to the Indian woman that they meant her no harm, but she either could

not understand or would not believe them. She fought them all tooth and nail and resisted the white

women even more violently. After an embarrassing struggle, Abel and John were able to forcibly take

the woman into their possession. They had no recourse but to tie her up again. 

          " Well, you got us into a good one this time, Jeffries, " Abel said.

          Jeffries snorted. " The way I figure it, I got us out of one. "

          " What do we do with her? "

          Jeffries shrugged. " Got me. All I know is we need to get rolling. Keep her in a wagon and

deal with her later. She'll probably come round when she realizes we aren't going to hurt her or make

her a slave. "

          " Aye, " Mack said, " that seems like the only thing we can do. "

          " Right, uh-huh. And whose wagon do we put her in? Mine, I suppose. "

          Jeffries shrugged. " Well, all the other wagons are filled to the brim with kids. You're the only

one in the train with a second wagon. She's already in there. I guess you are the most likely ones to

carry her. " This said, Jeffries shrugged and walked away mumbling to himself, leaving Abel and Mack

to deal with the Indian woman.

          As they loaded the wriggling, resisting Indian woman into the second wagon atop some

bedrolls Jessica had spread out, she bit Abel on the hand and he let out a howl and danced around in a

circle trying not to cuss in front of Jessica and the children.

         This whole episode, including the doctoring of the bite and a lot of good natured razzing, set

them back a couple of hours. Eventually, the wagon train was underway again on the last leg of its

long, arduous journey, but the danger was not over by any means. Sliding down the mountainside was

rough, back breaking, dangerous work. They had to block the wheels, remove the teams and lower the

wagons by rope the last couple of miles, tying anchor ropes to the trees. Even the women and children

had to tug at the ropes until they were exhausted and caked with ice and mud. No one dared ride in

the wagons during the descent. The Indian woman had to be tied upright on a saddle horse half the


          It took three, long, arduous days to reach the valley floor and they lost a wagon and a mule in

the grueling process, but other than some bruises, rope burns and some mighty sore backs, everyone

made it down safely. When they pulled out onto level ground for the first time in weeks and entered a

vast, flat expanse of green pasture, they immediately circled the wagons and began shouting their joy

and relief like it had just rained for the first time in ten years. Abel took out his fiddle and started

playing gaily and John joined him with the mouth harp. Mack tuned up his banjo and went to picking a

wild, Irish jig. Except for Jeffries and his men, who kept a wary eye open for Indians and beasts,

everybody danced and sang and celebrated all afternoon and long into the night, then they collapsed

into sleep one by one.

          Home at last, but Abel really missed his moonshine.

          The following morning, somewhat refreshed but still aching from their strenuous descent of the

mountain, they pushed on toward the heart of the valley and made permanent camp. This would be

their center of operations for a while.

          Some of them intended to strike out farther up the valley. Some wanted to be higher up. Most

wanted good farm land, but Abel and his brother had their eye on the timber for their mill. They were

first class millwrights and itheir minds were set on a mill that they had brought along in the second

wagon to supply the needs of the community. Their hearts, however, were secretly focused on the

golden flash in the streams and rivers. 

          The young Indian woman slowly adapted to life with the whites. Though she could speak no

English, she managed to communicate that she was far from home and had no idea how to find her

way back. She had been kept in the game bag most of the way. She soon understood the whites meant

her no harm and she was welcome to live with them. For this she was very grateful and worked hard to

show her appreciation. But it was a sense of honor and duty that brought her running from her tent to

greet Abel as he returned from his daily explorations of the surrounding countryside. She had been

following him around like a puppy for days.

          Abel tried to explain to her that she was not his possession, but she could either not

comprehend or would not accept this. In her estimation, this man had not only traded for her fair and

square, but had saved her from a terrible fate. She was obliged to be his squaw. The fact that Abel

already had a wife was irrelevant to her. Her obligation had nothing to do with sex and family matters

unless he demanded it.

          She ran up to Abel and literally prostrated herself at his feet with downcast eyes.

          " No, no. Don't do that. Get up woman. I'm not your master! I'm nothing to you. You savvy?

Will you kindly get out of the way? "

          Undaunted, she followed at a short distance behind and when he sat down to remove his boots,

she hurried to assist him.

" I can do it, dagnabbit, " he said testily, " get back out of the way. " But she just tried all the

harder to get his boot off. When the boot suddenly slid off his foot, she went flying out the tent flap

and crashed into Jessica and the two of them fell in the mud.

          The women stood and brushed themselves off. The Indian woman cowered as if expecting to be

struck. Jessica merely looked coldly at Abel and said, " I came to see if you needed any help putting

away the horses, but I see you've got all the help you need. " She turned and flounced angrily away

with a rustle of soiled petticoats, shoes slinging mud.

          " No, wait, honey-pie, don't go off half-cocked. You're jumping to the wrong conclusion, I

swear it! " he called after her.

          " Gawldurnit!, " he muttered as he kicked his other boot out the tent flap. Just when everything

should smell like roses it had the distinct odor of manure. When he should have been relaxing and

taking it a little easier for the first time in months, his troubles seemed to have intensified. Here

he was in the Promised Land and everything was going all wrong. Now, for the first time in years, even

Jessica was mad at him. In a dark huff, he slipped his moccasins on, grabbed his rifle and stomped off

toward the river to clean up and hopefully cool off, unaware of the Indian woman scurrying from tree

to tree behind him.
The cold river helped cool him down some. His anger did eventually subside, but not his

despondency. He sat slumped by the river on a big granite rock, clouded with gloom, not paying near

enough attention to his surroundings. When he had worried this one problem to death, he immediately

started in on another one. Like everyone else, he had a whole pack full of troubles and sorrows to

choose from if he was in the mood to feel sorry for himself. Before he knew it, he was gnawing on a

head full of losses and difficulties and he started to get angry again. The way he saw it, it all

came down to that young Indian woman he had come to view as a curse.

          He glanced skyward and prayed earnestly, “ Lord. This is too much for me. I’m all confused. I

got stuck with a woman who follows me around like a dog and I don't quite know what to do about

it...uhhh…".  He paused for a few moments and gazed into the rushing river. " Of course, you must

know all that, Lord… Thing is. I really need some help here... Please… Help me get rid of this dang

woman. I can't just throw her away. Where would she go? And I don't want to insult her. She's been

through enough already. Truth is, I've sort of taken a liking to the little wildcat. I want to make sure

she's all right and all. But… well…you know…This is a real bothersome situation and it’s wreaking

havoc at home, you know? Well…uhhhh…I guess that's it. Amen. "

          While Abel was adrift in self pity an Indian had ridden up so quietly that Abel was totally

unaware of his presence until he saw him sitting atop a beautiful pinto pony not thirty yards away

across the river. By the time he saw the Indian and lunged for his rifle up on the bank, the Indian

could have killed him ten times over if that had been his intention. The Indian, a vision of the proud

warrior, remained completely still atop his fine paint.

          Abel, feeling a bit foolish, went ahead and cocked the rifle but kept it pointed at the ground as

they stared at one another. The communication that passed between them surprised them both. Abel

made the sign for peace.

          The Indian said in fairly good English with a strong French accent, " You have woman. "

          Abel raised the gun slightly and eyed him suspiciously, " So? "

          " Want woman. You have. "

          " Say what? " The rifle rose a bit more.

          " My woman. You have. Enemy steal. You have. I buy. "

          " Ohhhh. You mean a pretty little Indian woman about so high, long hair? "

          " Oui. I buy. "

          Abel eased the hammer down slowly and cradled the gun in his arms. He smiled and shook his

head, chuckled throatily, and then laughed aloud. His prayer was answered.

           The Indian's horse pranced sideways and he jerked on the halter reins. " Big joke, monsieur? "

          " In a way, yeah. You see, Me give. No want woman. "

          The Indian stiffened and scowled. " No want woman? "

          " I only bought her to get her away from your enemy. I already got a good woman and she's all

I care to handle. "

          The Indian just stared at him blankly.

           " Me give. Comprevous? " Abel said with a generous smile.

           The Indian was confused. It all seemed too complex to him. A typical white man deal. " We

trade gifts, " he said with a frown.

          " All right, all right, whatever. Just so long as you take her off my hands. "

          The Indian rode into the water and crouched atop the horses back as it forded the narrow river.

When ihe reached the bank, he slid to the ground .

          Abel backed away a few paces.

           The Indian slapped his chest and declared, " Riding Wolf. " Then he handed Abel a leather bag

the size of a man's fist.

          "  My name's Abel, " he said as he eyed the bag and adjudged its heft.

          " A bell, bon ami. " the Indian said.

          Abel opened the pouch and peered within, careful not to look away from the Indian for too l

ong, and then dumped some of the contents into his palm. There in the sunlight sparkled some of the

highest-grade samplings he had ever seen, laced with jewelry grade gold. " Lordy mercy, " he gasped.

" Lordeeee merceee! " You got yourself a deal, mawnshure. Come on. Let's go get your woman. "

          The Indian woman, who had been hiding not far away, came running into the clearing and

threw herself into the arms of her lover. Excitedly, she began relating her experiences to him in their

own tongue. Her story ended with kind words for Abel and his family for taking her in and helping her.

         " You are good man, A bell. Riding Wolf owe A bell. May the Great Spirit give me a chance to

pay. But we go now. Land of enemy here. "

          As the Indian turned the handsome Pinto to leave, Abel blurted out impulsively, " No, wait! "

          Riding Wolf stopped and looked back over one shoulder.

          " Look, there might be a little something you can do that would even things up right quick. "

          There was a short silence while the unblinking Indian waited for Abel to continue.

          " How ‘bout tellin’  me where you got this gold. "

          The Indian answered without hesitation. " On mountain. Half day ride. White man hole in

mountain. "

          " You mean a mine? "

          " Oui. That word. "

          Abel's eyes lit up. " Take me there. I'll give you a fine horse. Two horses. "

Abel held up the pouch, his eyes pleading. " Take me to the gold? Is there more? "

          " Big trouble, " Riding Wolf said. " Much enemy. Much bad place of dead spirits rising. "

          " Have big guns, go at night, " Abel said. “ Uhhh…What are dead spirits rising? “ he asked warily.

          Riding Wolf paused again. He felt obligated to help this white man who had saved his woman.

He also wanted to strike back at his enemies for causing all this trouble in the first place. Riding Wolf

decided he would help. Ignoring Abel’s question about dead spirits rising, he said, “ Oui. I take.

Woman stay. Need one horse for woman. "

          Obviously disheartened, she obediently slid down from the horse. Riding Wolf tenderly stroked

her glistening black hair and said something to her that caused her eyes to brighten. She smiled

happily and melted into the forest in the direction of the wagon train camp.

          " We go now, " Riding Wolf said.

         " Fine. You wait here while I go get my horse. Understand? Don't go anywhere, now. "

          Riding Wolf gazed guardedly into the forest. " Go fast. "

          " I will. I will. You can bet on it. Just you wait here. "

          " Riding Wolf wait. Get horse, A bell. "

          Abel rushed back to camp to get Shyleigh. As he was saddling up, Jessica approached. " Abel,

honey, " she said sweetly. “ I'm sorry about this afternoon. I know I can trust you. "

          " Oh that's all right, mama, “ he said distractedly. He tightened the cinch and turned to her. “ I

know it's been trying. " He hugged her tightly and then said with a smile. " Besides, a big part of the

problem will be leaving us in a couple  of days. “ His smile widened. “ In fact, could be all our

problems are just about over. "

          He briefly explained what was happening and by the time he was finished she was worried

and upset again. He succeeded in placating her somewhat, passionately kissed her good bye and

ignored her objections as best he could as he rode hastily back to rejoin Riding Wolf.

           As the silent Indian led him up a narrow deer trail ducking limbs through the forest, all he

could think about was the heavy pouch of nuggets round his neck snug against his heart, and the

mine he imagined was filled with it.  As they ascended steadily higher along the path that wound

through the mighty firs and cedars, the trees began to thin a little and the underbrush of berries

and poison oak and buck brush grew less dense. When they came to a swift stream crusted with a

film of edge ice they turned eastward. Eventually, the conifers gave way to giant black oak and

madrone interspersed with polished black and maroon manzanita, a storm from the previous night

blanketed the open ground with a six inch layer of fresh snow.

          As the snow clouds began to gather close and heavy overhead, Abel turned the collar of his

coa tup around his ears to ward off the cold wind whipping across a little lake they were skirting.

Ensconced in an aura of steamy vapor, they traversed the snow muffled quiet punctuated by the

leathery creak and squeak of Abel's saddle and an occasional grunt as Riding Wolf pointed out to Abel

the signs of other humans and animals along the way. With the  setting of the sun, the temperature

dropped rapidly and the forest thinned out to scrub oak and the ubiquitous buck brush. The frozen,

golden knee high grass crunched like dry corn stalks. The horses hooves stirred up a mist of icy, starlit


          When the tree line was a hundred yards ahead, beyond which the terrain was increasingly rocky

and foreboding, dark sheer cliffs loomed darkly. Riding Wolf drew rein behind an immense patch

of blackberries and dismounted. " We wait for dark, " he said. “ No talk.”  This said, he threw a  blanket

on the ground , sat cross legged on it and completely covered himself with a second blanket except for

a small eyehole.

          Abel, unnerved by the sight of the Indian’s eye shining like black glass from the hole in the

blanket, hunkered down into his coat, pulled his hat down, clutched the pouch of gold and warmed

himself with dreams of wealth and prosperity. For the better part of two hours they waited in the

bushes beneath the cold shadow of the brooding cliffs.

          Finally, Riding Wolf stood silently, stretched and said softly, " We go. Do like me, A bell. "

          Leaving their horses, they crept from bush to bush, slowly working their way to the foot of the

cliffs with Abel shadowing Riding Wolf's every move.  When they reached the base of the cliff, Abel’s

heart was thumping from the steep three or four hundred yard climb, part of which required crawling

along game trails through thickets of thorns and brush.

          As Riding Wolf pulled Abel into the deepest of purple shadows, the Indians eyes caught the

emerging moonlight with a crystalline flash in the cold, purple darkness. Accompanying his words with

hand sign, he whispered more softly than the rising breeze soughing through the soap brush and

skittering up the cliff side, " Holes in rock where bury dead. Enemy here. No see. Kill as go up. " His

eyes grew hard and cold as he emphasized the last sentence with a throat slitting gesture.

          Abel was stunned for a moment. He had anticipated penetrating enemy territory in the dark of

night and stealing some gold. Sneaking up on people and slitting their throats was not his style. Riding

Wolf gave him no time to object, however. Within seconds he had clambered twenty-feet up the side of

the cliff and was urging Abel to follow.

          " Oh well, " Abel thought as he began the long climb, " Maybe we won't have to kill anybody.

Go with me, Lord. "

          Riding Wolf seemed to know where every handhold was and Abel, who had no great love for

heights, dared not look down as they ascended higher and higher. Suddenly, about a hundred feet up

Riding Wolf stopped and Abel followed suit. Not twenty feet above them, two Indians walked to the

edge of the cliff and proceeded to urinate.

          Abel and Riding Wolf had no choice but to endure the shower of piss, for they dared not move

a muscle. The Indians finished their business and walked away from the edge of the cliff talking in low

tones. One of them laughed raucously.

          Riding Wolf signed.  " Only two. Use knife. Quiet. Quick. " This he punctuated with the throat

slitting gesture again.

          Abel didn't catch all the sign, but he got the message clearly enough and he felt as if he had

fallen backward in time. His face was blanched as the gently falling snow collecting in the brim of his

hat. His mind was spinning in a quandary. Damn, he thought, if only the man had not laughed.  He

said a quick prayer asking for the Lord to understand the way things are down here. After all, this was

for his family…right? Abel quickly flashed a rationalized that if the good Lord had not wanted him to

take the lives of these Indians, then why did he put him up the side of the mountain with a fortune at

his fingertips and piss raining down on him. Almost in the same instant, it occurred to him that maybe

God had nothing to do with it at all. He decided to approach this with that attitude, hastily deducing

that God was not going to be doing the throat slitting. What’s more, God didn’t need the gold – he did.

Maybe some things belong to men, he quickly concluded. He could only hope so, because there was no

turning back now.

          They climbed the remaining ten feet as quietly as possible, peered over the edge and spied a

shallow cave where the Indians sat with their backs to them before a blazing fire passing a jug of

whiskey. Abel immediately recognized them as two of the Indians from the encounter at the summit

and they were drinking the last few swigs of his jug of Kentucky shine. Maybe, it wasn't going to be as

hard to put them under as he had thought.
          Riding Wolf gave Abel the sign for courage and pulled himself up over the ledge onto the flat

surface. Abel took a deep breath and scrambled up right behind him. Creeping through shadow, they

quickly positioned themselves one to either side of the cave entrance.

          Riding Wolf nodded at Abel and then rushed into the cave with Abel right on his heels. The two

drunken Indians barely had a chance to react before they were lying in a spreading pool of blood.

          Riding Wolf immediately grabbed one of them by his long braid, jerked his head back, ringed

his head with his knife and removed the scalp with a sucking pop. He then dragged him by the ankles

to the cliff edge and tossed him over like so much garbage. Abel flinched as he heard the man

thudding against the side of the cliff on the way down.

          When Riding Wolf returned, Able was slumped in shock, his eyes tightly closed, fighting down

the bile rising in his throat, so Riding Wolf quickly dealt with the second Indian in the same nonchalant


          Riding Wolf gave Abel no time to belabor the incident, however. " Go now, " he said as he

stuffed the gory scalps in his belt.

          " Where to? "

          " Up, " the Indian said as he led the way out of the cave.

          " Think there'll be more of  ’em? "
Riding Wolf did not answer.

          Again they climbed, and this time there were no resting spots until they reached the top, nearly

a hundred and fifty feet above the first cave. Winded, they soon peered over the last shelf and then

scrambled atop the cliff.

          Riding Wolf pointed at a much larger cave. " Hole in mountain where white man diggers die.

Enemy call " Place of Dead Spirits Rising." The gaping hole was ominously black, about as welcoming

as death, but there appeared to be no guards. Riding Wolf motioned for Abel to wait while he scouted

the area.

          Able waited nervously as he leaned against a gnarled cedar that seemed to grow from solid

rock. He pulled his scarf up over his face and braced himself against the intensifying cold.

          " No enemy, " Riding Wolf announced  upon his return. " We go in now. "

          Abel was obviously still shaken from the throat slitting." Thank God, " he muttered as he stood stiffly.

          As he approached the cave entrance, Abel was stopped in his tracks by human skulls mounted

on long, feathered scalp poles that suddenly appeared out of the snow fogged darkness. "

           Riding Wolf strode forward and kicked the poles over onto the ground and entered the cave

without hesitation.
           So much for superstition, Abel thought as he hustled along close behind.

          " Firestick," Riding Wolf said as he removed a pitch limb wrapped with dry vines and moss from

a natural shelf in the cave wall.

          Abel produced a match, one of his last, struck it with his thumbnail and lit the crude torch.

Riding Wolf held it out in front of him as they advanced down the tunnel. Rounding a curve, they saw

the remnants of the miners, a scattering of bones, cloth and arrowheads no doubt strewn about by


          Riding Wolf tossed the remains of a wooden crate into the middle of the cavern and held the

torch closer.

          "Abel was awestruck. Holy Mother of God! " he whispered reverently as he saw the cavern in

detail for the first time. The miners had been working on a vein of gold six inches wide and several feet

long that streaked white-gold through pink quartz and granite across the damp ceiling of the cave. Abel

stifled a rebel yell and jumped in the air and clicked his heels. He came down laughing and began to

stomp out a little jig of joy.

           Riding Wolf was unimpressed. He considered the white man's reaction to the shiny rock

unseemly and was a little concerned that he might have a crazy man on his hands. He removed a

leather wrapped pipe from a pouch about his neck, unsheathed it, quickly stuffed it full of a green-gold

herb of some sort and lit it off the torch.

          " You really don't get it, do you? “ Abel said after he had calmed down enough to talk. " This

stuff is worth much money. Much, much wampum. All the horses and cows and whiskey and guns and

land and…anything in this whole wide world. Anything! This is what it's all about. This is what white

men spend their whole lives working for. Don't you see? Rich! Rich! We'll never have to work another

day in our lives if we don't want to. We can live like kings and give our women anything they want! "

          Riding Wolf considered what Abel's woprds while Abel frantically stuffed his pockets with gold.

“ Riding Wolf  traced his speech with sign as he spoke, " Riding Wolf rich now…no gold. Have all. "

           He lit the pipe and inhaled deeply and held down the smoke as he spoke. " Have forest, river,

sky, moon and sun, good horses, woman too. Make good sons and daughters proud. "  He exhaled the

smoke upwards. " No work. Hunt, fight. Woman has all. Has Riding Wolf. No need to be slave to shiny

rock. Here. Smoke spirit plant, A bell. Good Medicine. "  He handed the pipe to Abel.

          Abel imitated Riding Wolf, returned the pipe, coughed a bit, and said, " Ummm, that tastes

good. Look, things are changing, Riding Wolf. And fast. Many, many white men are coming from the

east. As many as the stars. White man ways will take over. There's just no stopping it. There's nowhere

far enough to run to. I hate to be the one to tell you, and now that I'm here I kinda wish it weren't so,

but It is. That's why we need this gold, and as much as we can get. Trust me. "

           Riding Wolf took a hit at the pipe and handed it back to Abel. " White man no catch Riding

Wolf. Much strong, much fast, plenty smart. "

          Abel sucked at the pipe and held down the smoke as he said, " I hope so. I surely do. I wish

you  luck. " He exhaled. " Whew, holy smoke. What 's in this pipe? But as for me, I'm walking out of

here with everything I'll ever need. Now is that so crazy? Damn good idea if you ask me. How about

giving me a hand carrying some of this stuff? "

          Riding Wolf looked like he had just been asked to do something impossible.  " No touch. White

man rock evil, " he said.  “ Open eyes A bell. What is real is free. Here…more. “ He handed the still

smoldering pipe to Abel with an urgency that Abel was sharp enough not to miss.

          Abel took a deep drag on the pipe. Exhaled the smoke and said, " No. No, it’s just energy...

power. You can do good things with it. It depends on who has it.”  He glanced down at the pile of gold

he had collected and shook his head in frustration when he realized he could only take half with him.

“ Aw, hell,” He said in frustration, “ for crying out loud, that's…that's…a shame is what it is. Oh well,

God knows you've already helped enough. I guess I can handle it. I can throw it over the cliff.  Or l

ower it down maybe. Hell, I could even come back and get it all. Why not? “

          Riding Wolf had heard enough. His coup was accomplished and revenge meted out. His debt to

the white man paid in full.  " Go now, " he said as he set the torch on the cave floor and packed away

the pipe. " Danger here. "  He picked up the torch and led the way out. Abel, shouldering a pack and

dragging a rotten potato sack stuffed with gold ore lumbered along awkwardly behind.

          As they rounded the bend in the tunnel, Riding Wolf stopped dead still and signed for silence.

Pointing eastward he whispered, " Many enemy come on horse. Big trouble. “

          " Dammit! You sure? I don't hear anything. Then let's get the hell out of here, " Abel said as he

bolted for the exit.

          Riding Wolf caught his arm in a vice-like grip. " No good. "

          " We'll hide in the mountains. "
" No place hide. Find easy. "

          “ Then we'll blow them apart. I saw some dynamite back there.  How many you think there are.

I still don't hear anything. "

          " Maybe two tens. " He held up both hands with his fingers spread with his fingers spread.

          " Twenty of ‘em? Well hell! What are we gonna do? We're sitting ducks. I'm getting out of 

here! " He made a dash for the cave entrance, but heard the Indians rumbling up over the hill and

jumped back into the shadows.

          The first group of riders rode past the cave as if they did not intend to stop, but the second

wave noticed their sacred ground had been disturbed. They reined up about fifty feet from the mine,

puzzled expressions on their faces.

          " Hell's bells, " Abel said as he ran back to Riding Wolf. " They know something's up. What

now? "

          " Come, " Riding Wolf said as he headed back down the tunnel.

          When they reached their dwindling fire, Riding Wolf quickly threw some more wood on it and

said, " Vite! Clothes off. "

          Abel, clearly alarmed by the sound of voices echoing down the cave, did as he was told, though

he had not an inkling what the Indian planned.

          Riding Wolf reached into Abel's pack and withdrew the small sack he had traded for his woman,

which was filled mostly with gold dust. " Quick. Like this, " he said as he scooped handfuls of the dust

and sprinkled it over his head and body.

" Gawdalmighty, " Abel mumbled as he imitated Riding Wolf.

          Riding Wolf paused and fixed Abel with a withering look. " No talk, white man. A bell

get bones. "

          Abel hesitated but a few seconds and then began muttering as the two of them quickly gathered

the bones of the miners into a pile at their feet.

          Riding Wolf produced a handful of leather strips and said, " Like this, " as he tied one of the

ribcages to his neck so it hung in front of him like a breastplate. Other bone fragments he lashed to his

person in a haphazard, illogical manner. He picked up a skull and held it beneath one arm.

          Abel mimicked the Indian in every detail except the skull. He just could not bring himself to pick

it up.

          Riding Wolf picked up the skull and shoved it under Abel's arm. He then scooped up handfuls of

dirt and tossed it over them both and snuffed the fire and the torch. In the sudden deep darkness he

whispered," Come. We spirits. Make spirit song. Do spirit dance. "

          Abel stared at where he figured the Indian was standing with a mixture of dumbfounded terror

and indignation. " What kind of sounds do spirits make? I don't know how to dance, " he whispered

back into the blackness.

          "Riding Wolf was incredulous. " A bell never hear spirits? Like lonely wind through trees. Dance

or die white man. Dance or die. "

          Several of the riders dismounted and approached the cave cautiously stopping every few steps

to  announce their approach. One of them tossed a burning bush into the cave entrance as  they

edged cautiously forward. When they were a few feet within the cave's entrance, Riding Wolf’s 

booming voice echoed from the  depths of the cave like a cannon shot as he bellowed in their

language. " That is far enough. Leave the place of spirits rising unless you have come to join us. "

          The Indians froze and instinctively huddled closer together, muddled around for a moment and

then broke for the the cave entrance like a covey of quail.

          " I'll be damned, " Abel whispered in amazement, " it worked. "

          Riding Wolf knew the Indians would not give up so easily. “ Quiet. " commanded. "  Enemy

no go. “

          Sure enough, a few of them did return to the entrance of the mine, but this time they did not

venture as closely. One of them, apparently a leader of some sort, judging by his headdress of elk

antlers and painted deer hide, stepped forward and raised his arms while bowing his head

respectfully. " We mean no interference, “ He intoned.  " We only want to protect your privacy and your

resting place. If you are spirits of our ancestors, we ask that you show yourselves so we might rest

easy in our minds and go on our way. "

          " It is very bad medicine to see spirits rising, " Riding Wolf answered, his spirit voice echoing out

of the cave. " Please, brothers, if you survive, your lives will be ruined. Do you not know this? "

          The Indian replied, " I am Howling Wind, medicine man to our people. I only will look. It is a

chance I will take. I am familiar with the spirit world. "

          " What'd he say? " Abel asked. “ What’s going on? “

          " Dance or die, " Riding Wolf whispered to Abel.

          " You have been warned, " Riding Wolf called out to the medicine man. " It is your spirit you risk.“

          Riding Wolf nudged Abel around the bend into the dimming, orange-red flicker of the burning

bush. Then they moaned like the wind and danced and rattled their bones. All the Indians except the

medicine man covered their eyes and scurried away.

          The shaman hesitated a few seconds in order to save face, and backed away slowly. Then he

turned tail and swung atop his pony and led the rest of the Indians pounding away to the east over the

top of the mesa and never looked back once.

          Riding Wolf, by his standards, had just pulled off the most bodacious, cunning and hilarious

coup in the history of his people, something that would be sung around the council fires forever. As his

enemies rumbled off into the distance, he turned and smiled at Abel for the first time since they had


          Abel Durbin, however, had no earthly idea that he would be sung about in the same way by

generations to come. In fact he was so enthralled by his spirit dance at that moment that he was

oblivious to the world.