For personal use and select distribution only © by Judith A., October 2006
By Judith A.
Chapter One | Chapter Two
Michaela slowly descended the stairs dressed in her nightgown, her hair loosely falling down her back, her eyes clouded by sleep. The room was dark, except for the faint glow of embers from a fire long left unattended. Halfway down the stairs, she noticed lamplight casting shadows in the direction of the kitchen. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she walked across the creaky floorboards toward the flickering light. She spotted Sully hunched over the kitchen table, deep in concentration. From the crumpled papers strewn across the table, the candle burned almost to the end, and the tense way he rested his head in his hand, Michaela knew he had been working for hours on his report to the Interior Department.
She paused momentarily and watched him work, admiring her husband's determination and dedication to protecting the land in the face of nearly insurmountable odds. Quietly approaching him from behind, she rested her hand on his shoulder.
"How much longer are you going to work on that?" Her voice was hoarse from disuse. "It's late."
Sully placed his hand over hers and smiled up at her, warmed by the thought that after all these years his wife was still restless in bed without him by her side. "Not much longer. I spent the whole night thinkin' o' ways ta convince the Government not ta build on Antelope Valley, an' I just figured out how ta do it. I wanna finish this report an' mail it tomorrow so we can get ready for our trip." Sully rested his pen on the paper. "Will ya be ready ta leave by the end o' the week?"
Michaela slumped into a nearby chair, still groggy. "Yes, I'll be ready." Chilled by the cool night air, she shivered, wrapping her arms tightly around her body. Though nearly summer, the Colorado nights still clung to the cold of winter in a stubborn embrace.
Aware of the chill in the air, Sully rose to stand behind her, draping his arms over her shoulders. "I'll get the fire built up again," he said as he rubbed her arms. After giving her a peck on the cheek, he crossed the room, squatted on his heels in front of the hearth to stir the dying embers, and placed a new log on the fire. "Do ya think Dorothy can be ready by then, too?"
Michaela joined her husband by the fire, warming herself by its radiating heat. "I'll speak with her tomorrow." She held her hands toward the fire, slowly turning them back and forth to bask in the warmth emanating from its flames. "I'm so glad she decided to come with us."
"Cloud Dancin'll be glad ta see her," Sully said, turning to glance over his shoulder at his wife.
"What about your work? Can they spare you for the entire time we're away?"
Satisfied with the blaze now roaring in the hearth, Sully rose to his full height beside his wife. "On the way there I gotta check out the forests southwest of Pueblo. There's talk of a lumber mill wantin' ta build there." He turned to face Michaela. "Ya got everythin' taken care of at the clinic?"
"Yes," she replied. "Jason will manage the clinic while we're gone and he's arranged for a colleague from Denver to assist him two days a week."
Earlier in the day, both she and Jason were needed to operate on Mr. Gibbons. Without the two of them, she wasn't sure he would have survived. Jason was a good surgeon, but she was still concerned about leaving him alone at the clinic for so long.
Sully noticed the tension in her neck and shoulders. "Then ya won't have ta worry ‘bout the clinic while we're gone."
"I trust Jason to handle anything that occurs in my absence," she said. The confidence in her voice was at odds with the tightness in her stomach.
Sully noticed the nervousness etched on her face. He stepped behind her and rubbed her shoulders and neck to ease the obvious tension. "Then what are ya frettin' about?"
"I'm not fretting."
"Yeah ya are," Sully said with assurance, as he continued to massage her shoulders. As much as she tried to hide her worries from him, he could always tell when she was concerned about something. Sully reached for her hand and led them both back to the table. Once seated, he leaned forward to touch her arm, encouraging her to open up to him. This trip had been Michaela's idea and it touched his heart to know she suggested it for him. However, he couldn't help wondering if she was having second thoughts.
Michaela hesitated for a few moments, lowering her eyes to the table. "I know we've been planning this trip for over a year." She paused then gradually looked up to meet his worried gaze. Sully nodded for her to continue. "Well…now that it's here…I don't know…I suppose I'm a little nervous."
"Don't ya wanna go?" His voice was full of concern and his stomach twisted in knots.
"Of course I want to go. I want to see Cloud Dancing again. I want the children to see the work you do and I want them to learn about the Cheyenne."
"But…" Sully leaned forward in the chair and rested his hand on her shoulder.
"It's a long trip over difficult terrain. We've never taken such a long trip with the children in the wagon before. Remember the difficulties we had on the cattle drive? And your work will add time to the trip. I'm not sure when to tell Jason to expect our return."
"It'll be all right," he reassured, lowering his arm to grasp her hand, and closing his fingers around hers. "We'll take it nice and slow. It's real pretty country."
"Yes, that's true." Michaela responded with forced enthusiasm.
Sully eyed her carefully. "We both want ta see Cloud Dancin' again. This trip‘ll be real good for the kids, Michaela. I want ‘em ta get ta know the Cheyenne. Josef don't remember Cloud Dancin' and he's never met an Indian." He swallowed the lump in his throat from the truth of his words. "It'll be good for us, too. We haven't had an adventure in the woods together in a while."
Michaela met his devoted gaze with the corner of her mouth turned up slightly. "No, we haven't. Just what kind of adventure do you have in mind, Mr. Sully?"
Sully reached up to cup her face in his hand. "With us, ya never can tell. But I can promise ya, it won't be borin'," he teased, lightly patting her cheek.
"That's what has me worried," she bantered. "How do we know Cloud Dancing will even be in Oklahoma when we arrive?"
"Cloud Dancin' told me he was gonna return to the Indian Territory to join the remaining Southern Cheyenne."
"I'm worried about how we'll find the Cheyenne when we arrive. The Cheyenne our children will meet have been living under very different circumstances than those we knew in Colorado."
"I'm worried ‘bout that, too," he admitted in barely a whisper.
Sully knew Cloud Dancing would be in Oklahoma. The Southern Cheyenne had been living in the Indian Territory in Oklahoma since shortly after Washita. At first Cloud Dancing had joined the Northern Cheyenne, who were living free in Montana, and for years he traveled between Montana and Colorado Springs. Four years ago he decided to settle in the Oklahoma Indian Agency with the other Southern Cheyenne. As starvation and illness ravaged the reservation, Cloud Dancing returned to the north for a time, but eventually he came back to Oklahoma for good. With their numbers declining from illness and warfare, his brother knew he needed to do what he could to keep the Cheyenne culture alive in his people.
What worried Sully the most was not whether Cloud Dancing would be in Oklahoma, but in what condition would they find him? After reports of the government cutting back on rations and medical care, he was worried they would find Cloud Dancing and his people starving and sick. When Sully was in Montana almost two years ago now, he had heard stories of the flight of the Northern Cheyenne from Oklahoma to escape their pitiful existence on the reservation. There was little reason to hope that the situation had improved. As much as he was looking forward to visiting with Cloud Dancing again, and reconnecting with the survivors from Black Kettle's village, he seriously wondered if there was anything he could do to help them.
After a long while, Michaela broke the silence. "Do you think Brian will come with us?"
"I hope so."
"I can't understand why he hasn't made up his mind yet. He seemed so excited when we started planning this trip."
Sully shrugged his shoulders. "He's older now. I imagine travelin' with his folks don't have the same appeal it used ta."
"What do you mean? He enjoys traveling with us." She brushed wisps of hair from her face with the back of her hand. "Why don't I speak with him tomorrow?"
"Michaela, don't push ‘im. He's gotta wanna come with us."
"Why wouldn't he want to come with us?"
"I'm not sayin' he don't. Just leave ‘im be ta decide. Promise me ya won't say nothin'."
Michaela sighed. "All right, I won't say anything just yet." She paused to change the subject. "You must be looking forward to seeing Cloud Dancing."
Sully's eyes brightened in pleasant anticipation. "I am. It'll be good ta spend time with Cloud Dancin' again. Last time I saw ‘im, I was so lost. I want ‘im ta know I'm doin' better and we're happy."
Michaela raised her brow. "Something tells me Cloud Dancing already knows that," she said with a playful smile.
"You happy Michaela?"
She smiled and squeezed his hand. "Very."
"I love you." Sully leaned across the table and gently pressed his lips to hers. Now I gotta finish this report ‘fore the sun comes up."
"I love you, too." Michaela rose from the table, pausing to brush the hair back from his face before taking her leave. "Don't be too long."
* * * * *
"Not coming?" Michaela's tone reflected her shock and disbelief. They were seated across from each other at Grace's Café having coffee.
Dorothy lowered her eyes to the table. "Michaela please, I've thought this through. I can't just leave the Gazette for that long. People count on me to tell them what's going on."
"I thought you had the next issue all ready and Preston was going to hire someone to print it while you were away."
"He is," Dorothy replied, her back ramrod straight against the chair.
Michaela sensed there was something more behind Dorothy's sudden refusal to travel. She could tell by her friend's rigid posture and the subtle way she shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "I don't understand. What changed your mind?"
Dorothy stirred her coffee while she did her best to avoid her friend's steady gaze. "I usually put out two issues a week." As soon as the words left her mouth, she knew how ridiculous her excuse sounded.
Michaela's brow creased in consternation as she studied Dorothy's expression. "I'm certain everyone will understand. Even newspaper editors deserve a vacation," she said with a lightness that belied the mood at the table. "Besides, Brian hasn't told us for certain if he's coming with us. If he stays, he could run the Gazette in your absence."
Dorothy raised her head in surprise. "Of course Brian will be going with you!"
"I'm not at all certain of that," Michaela said, taking a sip of her coffee.
"Why not?" Dorothy asked.
Michaela let out a frustrated sigh. "We're leaving in a few days and he still hasn't decided."
"Why wouldn't he go? It's such a wonderful opportunity for him. Think of the articles he can write about the trip."
Michaela raised her eyes and grinned. "If it's such a wonderful opportunity for a reporter, why are you changing your mind?"
Dorothy looked down at her hands in frustration. She had asked Michaela to join her for a cup of coffee at the café, intending to tell her she could no longer accompany them to Oklahoma, not to be buried under a barrage of questions that had no clear answers. Knowing Michaela as well as she did, she should have been better prepared. How did she feel about this trip? A strong part of her wanted to go. She wanted to see Cloud Dancing again. But an even stronger part of her was afraid, afraid of the feelings that seeing him again might stir. "I already told you," Dorothy replied firmly. "Now leave it be."
Michaela straightened in her seat and squared her shoulders. "And I don't believe that's the real reason," she challenged, her voice low to avoid being overheard in the outdoor cafe. "I thought Cloud Dancing was important to you. It's not often you'll have an opportunity to visit with him."
Dorothy stared past her friend to the mountains in the distance, wondering at the same time, if Michaela understood just how important Cloud Dancing was to her. There was a time when Dorothy believed she was in love with him. Those feelings terrified her and excited her at the same time. The reality of their different worlds eventually put an end to the relationship before it had even begun. Still, Dorothy cared for Cloud Dancing. More than anything, she wanted him to be well and content with his life. Yet, a part of her still wished he had chosen to remain in Colorado Springs with her. It hurt knowing that he chose to live confined to a reservation rather than live in the town that had protected him.
Dorothy shook herself, as though coming back to the present was painful. "He is important to me."
Michaela watched her friend carefully. "Then you should come with us."
"You and Sully can tell me how he's getting on. I'm just not sure I see the point in traveling all that way to see him again is all."
"The point!" Michaela was incredulous. "The point is he's your friend, perhaps even more than that. You care about each other. Don't you want to see him again?"
Dorothy inhaled deeply. "That was a long time ago Michaela. I've put Cloud Dancing behind me. It's been four years since I've seen him. I'm not sure it's a good idea to stir up all those feelings again."
"I see," Michaela said. She decided to drop the subject even though she didn't agree with, or understand her friend's decision.
Dorothy brought the cup to her lips trying to think of a way to make Michaela understand. "What if it were Sully? What if you and Sully couldn't ever be together…really be together? Would it be so easy to visit with him as a friend and only a friend?"
"Well, I'd…uh…if Sully were to, then…" Michaela turned her head skyward, searching the air almost as if she could pluck from it an adequate answer to Dorothy's question. "If Sully and I couldn't be together because…because Sully felt there was something more important to him than me and the children, and we both accepted that decision, I would do everything in my power to maintain our friendship," she responded with more resolve than she was feeling.
"You don't know that Michaela. You don't know how you'd feel if it actually happened. You have no idea how hard it would be." Dorothy paused for a long moment. "I always knew there was no real future for me and Cloud Dancing, but when he was living here, I could see him all the time, talk to him. When he started spending less time in town and more time with his people, I knew I was losing him. With all the fighting, I couldn't very well join him in the Indian Territory. I'd come to accept that I wasn't gonna join his life, so if he wasn't gonna join mine, then we'd have to remain apart. I've tried to understand why he had to join his people, but when he left, I missed him terribly. I felt so alone. These past four years, I've moved on with my life. I have the Gazette and my friends. I don't miss him like I used to." She paused to take another sip of coffee. "I don't wanna start missing him all over again and I don't wanna see him living on that reservation."
Both women ceased their conversation when they noticed Loren approaching the table. "Good afternoon, Loren," Dorothy greeted.
"Afternoon, Dorothy, Dr. Mike. Beautiful day we're having." Loren returned the greeting.
"Yes, it is a beautiful day. How are you Loren?" Michaela asked.
"Good as can be expected," Loren replied. As his eyes roamed back and forth between the two women, he sensed something suspicious in their interaction. "Dr. Mike, you wouldn't be tryin' ta talk Dorothy inta comin' with ya to that reservation now would ya?"
Michaela arched her back. "Loren, whether or not Dorothy comes with us to Oklahoma is entirely up to her."
"Last I heard she decided not ta go. It's the right decision Dr. Mike. Don't go tryin' ta change her mind by makin' her feel guilty," Loren accused.
"I'm not making her feel guilty," Michaela responded, flustered. "I only suggested that Dorothy might enjoy visiting with Cloud Dancing again. I believe she should reconsider."
"I'll kindly ask the two of you to stop talkin' about me as if I'm not here," Dorothy scolded.
Loren turned to face the woman he'd carried a torch for over all these years. "Don't listen ta her, Dorothy. You made the right decision. You knew it would never have worked between you two. It wasn't right, that's all."
"Loren, I don't want to discuss my friendship with Cloud Dancing," Dorothy said.
Loren continued, "There's no reason ta see him again. He's where he should be an' so are you. Cloud Dancin's an Indian. Why, I don't think you coulda got ‘im ta give up sleepin' on the ground like Dr. Mike did with Sully."
Dorothy rolled her eyes. "Oh Loren, really."
"I'm serious! Cloud Dancin's an Indian an' always will be. That's who he is and you can't change who a man is. No Dorothy, you're best stayin' here and not thinkin' ‘bout him no more."
"Loren, I'll kindly ask you to let me make up my own mind."
"Now see what ya gone an' done." Loren glared at Michaela then stormed off.
"I thought you had made up your mind," Michaela gently pressed.
"I have, but I don't want Loren thinking he can tell me what to do. I'm not coming with you Michaela. That's final."
"I wish you would reconsider. It was hard for Sully to see Cloud Dancing living in Montana, to see what has become of the Cheyenne, but he came to believe that Cloud Dancing made the only decision he could."
"The Indian Territory in Oklahoma is supposed to be far worse than Montana. I don't think I can bear to see him there," Dorothy added.
"It will be difficult, but we have to respect Cloud Dancing's decision. Sully believes he's at peace with his life."
"I'm sure he is," Dorothy responded, a hint of bitterness in her tone.
"But you don't approve?"
Dorothy swallowed hard. "Cloud Dancing could have stayed here in Colorado Springs. He could have stayed with me. He didn't have to go live on the reservation. When I think of what he and his people are going through there..." her voice trailed off and her eyes glistened with tears.
"Dorothy, you know Cloud Dancing had no choice. He's a leader among his people. He has a responsibility to teach the old ways to the children so they can carry on their traditions. As a medicine man, he has to do what he can to help the tribe survive."
"Do you believe they're gonna survive? Do they have a future Michaela? Cloud Dancing could have survived here. Is he gonna survive on that reservation?"
Michaela covered her friend's hand with her own. "I suppose that question depends on us. I do know that Cloud Dancing has to do what he can. He feels responsible for his people. If he didn't, he wouldn't be the same man we both care about."
"What can we do about it now? There's hardly any left. Those who survived this far are starving and sick. You know as well as I do that Congress cuts funding for the reservations every year. The government isn't gonna keep their promises. They give them land not fit for farming and call them lazy when they can't turn a crop. They send their children away for schooling hoping they forget where they came from. How much more time do you think they got before there's none left, or the ones who are left don't care about the old ways?"
"I hope that day never comes," Michaela replied in a whisper. Both women lingered in silence willing that last thought from their minds. "Come with us Dorothy. Write about how the Cheyenne are trying to survive. Tell their story so others will listen. Perhaps it will make a difference." Dorothy stared down at the checkered tablecloth pondering her friend's words. "Think about it," Michaela implored. "We leave in three days."
* * * * *
"I think you should go," Sarah told Brian as they walked through the woods hand in hand.
"You're always saying how you want to see new places. Well, you've never been to Oklahoma before. Even more than that, the Cheyenne matter to you. It's important for you to see them again. Besides, I'll be in Washington for the summer. You'll have more fun if you go with your family than if you stay here all by yourself," she reasoned.
"I suppose," he replied, taking a sip of water from his canteen. "I'm glad you got that job at the Smithsonian, but I wish you weren't gonna be away the whole summer."
Sarah gave Brian a quick kiss on the lips. "I'll miss you, too."
Brian smiled and put his arm around her as they continued to walk. "I don't know why I'm not sure about going. Lately I've been feeling…I don't know…." His voice trailed off, unable to find the words to explain the thoughts that had been going through his mind in recent weeks. At times like this afternoon, he was happy, but other times, he felt dragged down by emotions and unsure about the direction of his life. These jumbled emotions collided together in a patchwork quilt of images and colors that, like his life, was not fully formed.
Sarah stopped walking and faced him. "Brian, what is it? I can tell something's bothering you."
Meeting her gaze, he was moved by her unwavering support. "It's just..." He looked down as his foot kicked at the dirt beneath him. "Past few weeks I've been restless and uncertain about things," Brian began.
Sarah swallowed hard. "Restless?"
"Not about us," he reassured her quickly, as he brought his hand up to caress her face. "I've been wondering if this is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life."
"I thought you figured that out in Boston. That's why you came back here."
Brian reached for Sarah's hand, as they continued walking. "I came home last year ‘cause my ma needed me, and I knew I didn't wanna live in Boston. I'm pretty sure I'd like to settle down here, but I need to make sure I know what I wanna do with my life first. I should consider all my options and not just settle for something ‘cause it's easy."
"But you're a reporter and a good one at that. Surely, that's not easy."
Brian had to make Sarah understand. He led her down a narrow, winding path to a rock that jutted out of the side of the mountain. Before them was a panoramic, breathtaking view of the Rockies, that as far as he knew, only he, Sully and the Indians knew about. Taking a seat on the granite ledge, they gazed down at the wildflowers that blanketed the landscape, painting the valley in a rainbow of colors. A majestic waterfall, created from the melting spring snow, completed the picture, as it carved a path down the mountain to a stream far below.
Placing his hand in hers, Brian tried his best to explain. "Writing comes easily to me and it's something I can't live without. It's a part of who I am, but I need to make sure that reporting is the way I want to use words. I think it is, but I know I need to write about more than the land, the Indians, and what's happening in Colorado Springs. There's so much more going on in the world."
Sarah's body tensed and her posture became rigid. "I thought you liked writing about that?"
"Mostly I do, but I wanna write about other stuff, too."
Brian's face broke out into a huge grin. "Inventions. Think of what electricity and the telephone are gonna mean for us. Imagine being able to talk with someone who lives clear across the country!" Brian's voice rose from his excitement and his face became flushed. "And electricity, I can't even think of all the things that are gonna change ‘cause of that. My pa's worried all of this will change our way of life, but I think it's exciting. Who says things have to stay the same? I think these changes are good. They're gonna make our way of life better, but all Sully can see is the problems they're gonna cause."
"You and Sully don't have to agree about everything. Look at your ma and Sully."
Brian grinned. "True."
"So you're not sure you should go on this trip because you don't want to write about the Indians anymore?"
Brian kept his gaze fixed on the water as it made a path down the side of the mountain. "That's not it exactly."
"Then what is?"
He paused for several long moments to collect his thoughts. Lately words had failed him when it came to describing his feelings. "Sometimes I get confused about what I think about things. I know what our government is doing to the Indians is wrong. But, I also believe we need to work to make things better within the reservation system. It's not realistic to demand they be shut down. That's what my pa wants. He also wants to protect most of the land from development. I don't agree with that. There has to be a balance because we need towns and cities. I'm real glad the train is moving west and connecting the country, but I don't like the greed and corruption that comes with it. I agree with my folks about most things, but lately I don't agree with my pa about everything. It's hard to talk to him about it. I don't want my ideas to only mimic what I learned from them. I need to form my own opinions. Does that make any sense?"
"Then use this trip to do just that. Challenge your opinions and question what your ma and pa think. That way you'll know for sure what's in your own mind. I can't think of a better way to do that than visiting a reservation. Who knows? Maybe your pa will learn a thing or two from you."
Brian stared out at the wildflowers, doubting he could ever change Sully's mind, especially about the Cheyenne. "That's a risky place to start where my pa's concerned."
Sarah placed the palm of her hand against his back. "No one said it would be easy."
* * * * *
The family trunk, hand crafted with the finest cherry wood available, sat open at the foot of the bed. Inside, it carried the well-worn smell of many seasons, a mix of aged wood, fragranced with dried lilac hanging on the inside cover. One look at the smooth, hand-tooled surface was all that was needed to identify the craftsman as none other than Byron Sully. It had been a gift from her husband, in honor of her invitation to speak at a prestigious medical convention in Chicago. A gift that told her he was proud of her.
Earlier in the day, while removing the blankets and photographs that usually took up residence in the chest, Michaela's mood turned melancholy. Now, lightly brushing her fingers over the stained wood and brass hinges, she tried to push away her fears, fears for the Cheyenne, fears about Sully's reaction to seeing his family weakened and defeated, and fears about taking the children on such a long trip. As each day brought them closer to their departure, she couldn't deny that the light in her husband's eyes burned brighter. For him, and for all of them, she would try to reason with the acrobatic butterflies in her stomach.
In orderly rows across the top of the bed lay dresses, trousers, shirts, stockings, and socks, each folded in neat piles. Michaela stared at the stacks of clothes, her mind quickly calculating how long they'd be gone and the weather conditions they'd likely encounter, trying to determine if she had enough of the appropriate outfits for the trip. All morning she walked back and forth between her room and the children's rooms, carrying clothes and arranging them on the bed. Then she went into her own wardrobe to select clothes for herself and Sully. Satisfied with the selections, she began moving the piles from the bed to the trunk with the same methodical precision she used to lay them out.
"I wanna bring this dress," Katie announced from the doorway, holding up a green flowered dress with a velvet collar.
With her arms full, Michaela turned around and sighed. "Katie, it's far too warm in Oklahoma to wear that dress. It's also your nicest dress. You won't have any occasion to wear it on this trip."
Katie knew by her mother's tone of voice that she wasn't going to win. Sighing dramatically, she tossed the green dress over a chair, then walked to the bed and pulled one of her dresses from the bottom of a pile. This caused all of the others to tumble to the floor. Ignoring the mess, she held up a bright yellow dress she'd always disliked. Her mother had purchased it to complement her hair, but Katie thought it made her look like a big yellow bird. "I don't like this dress. I don't wanna bring it," she said, her face scrunched up with displeasure.
Michaela leaned over to pick up the outfits that had fallen on the floor. "Katie, please leave your clothes alone," she said with noticeable irritation. Taking the yellow dress from her daughter, Michaela re-folded it, and placed it in the trunk. "Please hand me the stack of Josef's shirts from the bed."
"All right," the little girl grumbled, vowing to herself that she would never wear that yellow dress again.
Josef and his friend Luke Slicker, who had been playing in the little boy's room, came bounding into the room giggling and not paying attention. In an effort to retrieve a toy Luke had taken from his room, Josef grabbed Luke's arm and he tumbled into the bed disturbing the meticulously folded piles.
"Josef." Michaela's tone was sharp. "You know better than to run in the house."
"Sorry," the little boy said. "Can we go outside and play?"
"Yes, but stay right out front where your father can see you. He's in the barn."
"Yes ma'am," Luke replied.
Josef didn't hear his mother because he had become distracted by the contents of the trunk. "Where are our toys?"
"You won't need toys on this trip," Michaela responded, placing another stack of clothes in the chest.
"No toys?" the little boy whined. He looked up at his mother with pleading blue eyes.
Though they didn't have room for too many extra items, Michaela thought permitting a few toys might just keep them busy over the long trip. "All right," she relented with a sigh. It was impossible to resist his crestfallen expression. "You may each bring one toy and one book, but it's your responsibility to take care of them. We won't be delaying our travels to look for them if they should become lost."
"Is Wolf comin'?" Josef asked, as he leaned against the edge of the bed.
"Yes, he'll ride in the wagon with you and Katie."
Katie handed her mother another pile of clothes. "I wanna ride Cheyenne to Oklahoma."
Her mother reached out to smooth back her hair. "No sweetheart. It's far too long a trip for you to ride her. You and your brother are going to ride in the wagon."
"I don't wanna leave Cheyenne."
"She'll be fine. Robert E. and Matthew will take care of the homestead and the animals."
"How long you gonna be away?" Luke asked.
"About a month," Michaela replied as she arranged the items in the trunk.
"That's a long time. What we gonna do there?" Josef asked.
Michaela took a deep breath, her patience wearing thin. It was proving almost impossible to entertain the children and complete all her preparations for the trip. After she finished packing the clothes, she still had to organize medical supplies and the food, not to mention ensuring that all the chores were done before they left. Excitement, mixed with anxiety about the trip, was wearing on her nerves, making her unusually short and ill tempered with the children.
"You'll do the same things you do here," his mother replied. "You'll go fishing, hunting, and looking for animals in the woods."
"Why ya gotta go so far away to do all the same things you do here?" Luke asked.
"Well, we're not going away just so we can fish and hunt. The reason we're going, is to visit a dear friend of the family and his people," Michaela explained.
"Oh," Luke said, not understanding why anyone would travel so far to visit Indians.
Michaela was falling behind in her packing and growing tired of the endless questions. "Now, why don't you and Luke go outside to play, and Katie, please hand me that pile of dresses over there."
As Michaela and Katie busied themselves with the rest of the packing, Josef and Luke left the room. They raced each other down the stairs, their footsteps thundering like a herd of elephants. Once outside, they sat on the porch steps laughing and arguing about who was the first one down the stairs.
"Wanna play Cowboys and Indians?" Luke suggested from his spot on the stairs, his chin rested on his hands as he caught his breath.
"I get to be the Indian," Josef announced, eagerly jumping to his feet.
"Figures, your pa's one of ‘em anyway."
"My pa ain't no Indian," Josef defended.
Luke walked down the stairs and faced Josef. "He wears funny clothes like the Indians and my pa says he was one before you were born."
"He was not."
"Was too." Before Josef could respond, Luke started running around the front yard. "You can't catch me you Indian savage," he shouted.
Josef knew his cue in this game of Cowboys and Indians. Letting out a fierce warrior cry, he bounded off the steps and gave chase. "I'm gonna get you and scalp you."
Just then, Sully exited the barn after hearing the boys' ruckus. He stood in stunned disbelief as he listened to the words coming from his son's mouth.
"Then I'll get your whole family and burn down your house," Josef yelled, running right past his father.
Sully reached his long arms out, grabbing his son by the shoulders as he ran by. "Whoa, what do ya think you're doin'?"
"We're playin' Cowboys and Indians," Josef replied, oblivious to his father's distress.
"Come here," Sully said, guiding him over to the front porch. His calm exterior was at odds with his heart that was banging against his ribcage. "You too, Luke. I wanna talk to ya."
Luke took several slow steps to join Josef and Sully on the stairs. The boy knew by Sully's expression that they had done something wrong, but he didn't know what. "We was only playin' Mr. Sully."
"I know that Luke, but do you two know what you were sayin'? Josef, why did you threaten ta scalp Luke an' burn down his house?"
"I was playin' an Indian. I didn't mean it for real."
"Do you think that's what an Indian does?"
Josef nodded. "Indians killed lots of people movin' out here and they scalped ‘em and burned down their houses."
"If it wasn't for General Custer more people would've died," Luke added, trying to be helpful, and proud that he knew so much.
Sully shuddered at their words and struggled to maintain his composure. "Where'd you hear that?"
"School," Josef replied.
"It's true Mr. Sully. My ma says Indians burned down her house when she first got here, before she married my pa. She says it's good they're on reservations now."
Sully took a deep breath. "Josef, I've been teachin' you how the Cheyenne live, their respect for living things. Is that what you think they do?"
"No." Josef shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know." In the mind of a seven year old, the Cheyenne in his father's stories were good, but the Indians he learned about in school were bad. "Mary Hodges' pa was killed by Indians and our history book says they're bad. They hurt people. They killed Custer and he was a hero. Mrs. Slicker says we had to put them on reservations so they wouldn't hurt no more people."
"Both of you listen ta me," Sully began. Every muscle in his body stiffened from the depth of his rage at what he had just heard. With several deep breaths he tried to restrain his anger so as not to frighten the children. After all, his anger wasn't directed at the children, just the one-sided way they were being taught. "The killin' of Mary's pa was wrong, but when that happened, we were in a war an' innocent folks died on both sides. But what you're bein' told ain't the whole story. Did ya also learn in school that the Indians lived on this land for generations before the whites decided ta settle here? Did they teach you that whatever the Indians did, it was so they could keep their way o' life? They only wanted ta live free an' raise their families same as you an' me."
Josef remained quiet. He didn't understand all the words his father was saying, but he knew he was mad. His father often spoke of the Cheyenne and told him stories, but he couldn't remember meeting a real Indian. All the children in school said the Indians were bad. His history book called them savages and celebrated the Army's victories. Once he remembered his sister saying what the other children said were lies, but he didn't know what was true and what wasn't. The little boy didn't know what to think. His father always told him the truth, but didn't books always tell the truth, too?
"Josef, did they teach you any of what I just said?" Sully repeated.
"No," he replied, his eyes fixed steadily on the ground.
"I didn't think so. Josef, I thought we taught you better than this." Sully stood up and faced the boys. "I'm gonna take Luke home now, and I want you ta go up ta your room an' think about what your ma and me told you about the Cheyenne. When I get home, you and me are gonna talk about this. And I wanna see that school book." Finished with his lecture, Sully walked away and began hitching the horses to the wagon while the boys remained on the stairs with their heads hung low.
"He's mad," Josef said.
"He gonna hit ya?" Luke asked.
"No. My pa don't hit us."
"I don't know what I did was so wrong. I didn't say nothin' bad about the Cheyenne."
"I reckon he's gonna tell ya. Told ya he was one of ‘em."
* * * * *
Sully gazed out his bedroom window, his troubled mind clouding his view. All evening he had been too disturbed by the game he saw the boys playing to think about anything else. Even his talk with Josef earlier did little to improve his mood. His son felt badly, there was no denying that, but Sully wasn't sure if it was because he disappointed his father or because he understood the error of his game. In talking with Josef, he discovered that his son didn't understand how his hostile words about the Indians were related to the Cheyenne. Josef's words, "I didn't say anything bad about the Cheyenne," echoed over and over in his head. Somehow, in his son's mind, the Cheyenne his father talked about weren't the same as the Indians he learned about in school. One was good and the other bad. Sully tried to correct that, to impress upon him how violent words can lead to violent actions, and how believing what you hear or read about people can lead to blind hatred. He told him he needed to meet and get to know different people, to judge people by how they treat others, and form his own opinions. Only time would tell if his messages got through to him.
His children had never had an opportunity to get to know the Indians as real people. Sully thought back to when he first arrived in Colorado Springs; there were several thousand Indians living freely on their land. Today there were none. In less than twenty years, the United States government had sharply reduced their numbers and placed the remaining Cheyenne in the Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Some had fled the reservation and moved north, but he believed their freedom would be short lived, as they, too, would be placed on reservations. Even Cloud Dancing, a man who had lived free for so long, now lived confined to a reservation.
With no Indians to learn from, his children were being taught about them in school. The people he regarded as his family were being described as nothing more than savages, an obstacle to be overcome in the name of progress. What his children were being taught disturbed him. Mrs. Slicker was a good teacher, but she never liked the Indians and she certainly wasn't about to tell the whole story. Even if she did, the history books told their own story of the Indians, exactly how the government wanted it told – that killing them was a good and necessary action. Sully couldn't bear it if his children accepted that as the truth.
He tried his best to teach them about the Cheyenne. He taught them to respect the land and the animals just as the Cheyenne had taught him. He told them Cheyenne legends just as he had done with Brian, but by having known no real Indians they were just stories to Josef…like the Arabian Nights or Robinson Caruso. It had been different with Brian. He had experienced their everyday life and customs, along with the brutality of what the Army did at Sand Creek, and later Washita. He had seen the Indians starving on the reservation, witnessed them fighting to keep their culture alive, and had made a friend called No Harm.
Sully's own flesh and blood never played with Indian children and never saw their suffering. Aside from some bits and pieces of stories, like their ma saving the life of Chief Black Kettle or how they had found Live in Hopes, he hadn't yet told them the full story of the Indian massacres at the hands of their government. Instead, he had chosen to wait until they were older, not realizing the mistake he had made in postponing the truth. They had heard it first in school, and then only from one perspective. No one would tell them the Cheyenne's side of the story unless he did.
As much as he tried to keep the Cheyenne alive in his children, it was an uphill battle. Josef was too young to remember Cloud Dancing. Katie remembered him and seemed to have more of an awareness of the Indians than her brother. She was fascinated by her mother's use of Cheyenne medicine in her practice and enjoyed accompanying her to collect plants, roots and herbs. Josef was interested in nature and animals, but he held none of the same curiosity about the Indians that his sister did.
Sully worried that everything he was working so hard to preserve would be lost in one generation, starting with his own child. His children would have no memory of the Cheyenne. They would grow up to see the Indians the way most other whites did – as savages. His body trembled as he meditated on those thoughts looking into the distance before him. He couldn't let that happen, and this trip they were taking was an important first step.
Michaela opened the door to the bedroom and noticed her husband staring out of the window, completely unaware of her presence. Moonlight creeping through the window illuminated his features, revealing slumped shoulders, arms crossed at his chest, and a quivering chin. All were telltale signs that he was upset about something.
Both he and Josef had been sullen all evening. She knew her son had disappointed his father, but with preparations for the trip keeping them both busy, they hadn't had a chance to speak about what happened. She couldn't imagine anything Josef could have done to upset Sully this deeply. Perhaps it wasn't only Josef. Perhaps he was having his own anxieties about visiting the reservation. She wanted to go to him, to offer comfort, and share some of her concerns about the trip, but she stood still with her hand on the doorknob, not wanting to add to his burdens.
As the door creaked shut Michaela remained frozen in place watching her husband. Silence permeated the room until Sully turned around to face her. "Kids asleep?"
"Yes. Josef rolled over and fell asleep immediately. He didn't even want a story." She paused to give Sully a chance to respond, but he just stared at her, his face an unreadable mask. "Do you want to tell me what happened between the two of you this afternoon?"
"Is everythin' ready for tomorrow?" he asked, avoiding her question.
"Yes. We're all packed and I've tried to anticipate every possibility."
A reluctant grin flickered at the corner of his mouth. "I'm sure ya did."
"Sully, please tell me what's bothering you."
Sully held out his hand beckoning Michaela to join him at the window. "The kids ain't gonna remember the Cheyenne."
Michaela went to her husband, slipping her arms around his waist from behind, pulling him back against her. Her touch was warm and welcoming. "Of course they are Sully. They're learning about them from you…and from me. And they'll learn even more on this trip. Isn't that one of the reasons we're going to Oklahoma, so they can learn and won't forget?"
"I overheard Josef playin' with Luke. He was an Indian an' he was sayin' he was gonna scalp Luke and burn down his house."
"Oh dear! So that's what has you so upset."
He jolted around to face her, raising his voice. "Wouldn't you be?"
The anger in his eyes took her by surprise. "Of course I would be…I am." Michaela was deeply disturbed by what her son had said. The Cheyenne were her friends, too. Images of Snow Bird, Cloud Dancing, Black Kettle, and many other brave and proud people flashed before her eyes. It was important to her that their children learned to view the Cheyenne as she and Sully did. Together they would help them understand who the Cheyenne were and what was happening to them. Michaela felt this trip could be an important first step toward achieving that goal. Clasping her husband's hand, she looked up at him. "We should speak to Josef about this right away."
Sully turned back toward the window. "I already talked ta him about it."
Michaela rested her hand on the small of his back. "I'm sorry. I was too distracted by the last minute packing to notice that something serious had occurred with Josef. We should have spoken to him together."
Sully's face calmed a little. "I should've told ya right away. I was so upset that I took Luke right home. The minute I got back, I talked ta Joe."
"How did it go?"
"I'm not exactly sure. He thinks Indians raid villages an' kill folks. He don't know nothin' ‘bout ‘em. He thinks…Custer's…a…hero," he stuttered these last words, barely audible.
"He's only seven years old Sully. He'll learn about them from us. You'll see. He was very upset this evening. You're the world to him. He doesn't want to disappoint you."
Sully inhaled deeply. "I know he felt bad, but I can't have ‘im sayin' those things an' do nothin'. When we get back, we're gonna talk ta Theresa ‘bout how she's teachin' the kids about the Indians, and we gotta take a real close look at their schoolbooks."
"I agree, we should speak with her, but I also think that as Josef gets older it's the lessons we teach him that he's going to remember. We'll teach him the kind of person to be. And he couldn't have a better role model for a man than his own father," she soothed, running her hand up and down his back.
Sully relaxed a little at her words. "This trip is even more important now, Michaela. I want Josef ta see the Indians for who they really are. I want ‘im ta play with Cheyenne children an' understand first hand all the things I been teachin' ‘im. Maybe then when we get home, he won't be so quick ta believe what Mrs. Slicker or the other kids tell ‘im about ‘em."
"I want that for him, too, Sully," she said softly, her voice unsteady.
Sully sensed her unease and could see the worry lines etched across her face. "What is it?"
"I'm concerned about how we'll be treated by the Cheyenne. They've been through so much and I can understand their anger, but I don't want the children to see it and be afraid of them. Sully, you've been their friend for years and some of them treated you with hostility in Montana. If we face that same kind of treatment, it will only make matters worse."
"I don't want that either. I been thinkin'. Maybe things‘ll be different this time."
"You don't have any reason to believe that, do you?"
"We're goin' ta Oklahoma, not Montana. These are Southern Cheyenne. We even know some of ‘em from Black Kettle's village."
Michaela reached for his hand. "What makes you think they won't have the same anger at whites as the Northern Cheyenne? From what we know their conditions are even worse."
"Up north they were tryin' ta live free. The Southern Cheyenne have been livin' on this reservation for years. They're tryin' ta get along with the whites. They're tryin' ta farm and sendin' their kids ta school."
"That's true." She hesitated for a moment, gathering her thoughts, concern for him growing stronger. "Sully, I don't want you getting your hopes up about this trip either. I couldn't bear to see your heart broken again. The Cheyenne way of life as you knew it is over. The reality is they aren't free to hunt buffalo and perform their ceremonies. They live on government rations and send their children to white schools. I know how you long to help them, how you still feel a bond to them as your family, but we're going there so we can visit and so our children will see firsthand the life of the Cheyenne people. It'll be two weeks for us all to spend time with Cloud Dancing and rebuild some of the ties we've lost since he's decided to be with his people. This trip is for the children and for us, too."
"It might not be any different," he murmured. Then he walked toward the dresser to remove his beads and his shirt. "Michaela, about the time. Can ya try ta be flexible?"
"Let's not plan everythin'. We'll come home when we're ready."
Michaela's body tensed. "Sully, I told Jason four weeks and it's only proper to abide by my commitment to him."
"Ya gotta give him a general idea, but it don't have ta be exact." Sully finished undressing and climbed into bed.
Michaela stood by the washbasin. She could feel the familiar fluttering in her stomach return, as her concern about their trip heightened. As much as she was looking forward to seeing Cloud Dancing again, she was also worried about how this trip would affect Sully.
Though she never spoke of it to her husband, at times she was ambivalent about the place of the Cheyenne in their lives. She wanted her children to know and respect these brave and noble people. Yet, at the same time, not sharing their struggles on a daily basis left her family in less danger. She almost lost her husband at the uprising at Palmer Creek and she never again wanted to feel the despair of not knowing whether he was dead or alive. These feelings filled her with guilt. She loathed what was happening to the Cheyenne, but she was relieved they didn't have to witness their day to day suffering. She couldn't bear to see the pain in Sully's eyes at not being able to help them or suffering from the government's repercussions if he tried.
Sully lay in bed, his arms behind his head, propped up on a pillow. "Michaela?" He was still waiting for a response to his question.
Michaela startled, realizing that she never answered him. "All right, I'll try to be flexible."
He chuckled. "Can't ask for any more than that. Now come ta bed. We gotta be up early tomorrow."
Michaela changed into her nightgown, crawled under the covers and instinctively moved closer to the warmth of her husband's body. She willed herself to push her fears aside for Sully's sake.
Sully lowered his arm and placed it across her back. "It's real important, Michaela. I want Josef ta play with Indian children and get ta know the Cheyenne as people."
"He will, Sully. We can't change what's happening to them, but we can make certain that our family knows who the Cheyenne are and tells their story to others." Snuggling closer to her husband, Michaela rested her head on his shoulder, bringing her hand up to rest on his chest.
They both reflected on their own thoughts for a while before Michaela spoke again, "You know, this is the last night we'll be sleeping in a real bed for quite a while."
Sully ran his hand from her shoulder to her elbow in a gentle caress. "We won't have much privacy on this trip either."
"I was thinking the same thing."
"Maybe we should make the most of our last night alone, huh?" Sully rolled over, locked his eyes with hers, and leaned forward to place a gentle kiss on her lips
Michaela wrapped her arms around his neck to draw him closer. "What do you have in mind?"
Again, Sully covered her mouth with his, his hands moving along her body in the familiar way she loved. She didn't speak…words weren't necessary as her body answered his perfectly.