“Jonny Boy,” Maddison James shouted across to his friend and fellow scout. “You take that side and I’ll go down this way. Meet you at the top.”
John Maclean waved his Stetson back at the man to show he understood and kicked his horse into action. It was easy to overtake all the lumbering wagons in the train headed west. The unwieldy Conestoga wagons pulled by oxen made sure that the pace of movement was very slow. John enjoyed the feel of the wind rushing past him and saw out the corner of his eye that Maddison was going ahead on the other side of the wagons. He grinned and kicked the horse again to make sure that he arrived at the same time as his friend.
“Everything okay,” he panted to the leader of the wagon train.
“We’ll run ahead and check for any problems,” Maddison added, and Malt Houseman waved them on from his horse’s steady walking pace. Malt was a seasoned leader of these trains that so often ended in disaster. He had a reputation for being careful. Malt stayed with his leading wagon and let the younger men do the riding and scouting.
Maddison and John trotted along side by side to see if there was danger ahead. The track was rough but passable, and just there, the land was flat and stretched away into the distance. There were no obvious places for an ambush.
“Looks pretty safe. Nowhere for anyone to hide,” John said.
“Malt will stop for the night beside the river up ahead,” Maddison replied. “Race you there.” He kicked his horse forward even as he spoke. John laughed and did the same. The two men did not really race but enjoyed the ride to the river they both knew was ahead. They slipped from their saddles and let the horses drink at the water’s edge. It was clean and clear water and a good place to camp. Visibility was good in all directions.
“No Indians near here,” Maddison said. “I guess they move wherever the best hunting is.”
“The army does a regular patrol as well,” John added as he took a drink from his water bottle and refilled it from the river.
“Glad we are working together again,” Maddison said. “Houseman is a good boss.”
They rode back still keeping a look out because you never knew what was out there and told Houseman that it was all clear and safe to camp at the river.
“Thanks. Just go back and ride behind. We will make two circles at the river. You can tell the middle wagons to start another ring when I have done the first.”
At the river, Malt took the first half of the wagon train into a circle, and John led the next half into another ring alongside. The pioneers traveling to a new life were used to the system by now and closed up the vehicles to release the animals into the center. It meant the stock was enclosed and could graze. Most of them started camp fires and began to cook food. Water was collected from the river, and folk shouted across to each other.
John and Maddison, along with the other hired scouts and guards, circled outside the wagons for any trouble they had not spotted. They left two men to ride on lookout while turning their own horses out to rest. Malt Houseman had a cook and chuck wagon for himself and his hired men. The stew made the night before was soon heated up over the fire. For the cook, the evening was the busiest time of the day because he had to feed the crew and prepare for the next day.
John took his plate of food and some dry bread that would mop up anything left on the plate. Coffee was permanently over the fires, and when they had eaten, most of the men took coffee. Some of them played a hand of cards while John and Maddison sat with two other men and talked about what might be ahead.
“Will you go back and work with another wagon train?” Maddison asked the others.
“I might stay this time,” John answered. “Don’t know what I will do, though. I am not a rancher or farmer. Maybe I’ll see if they need supplies.”
“Most of these travellers want to lay claim to land,” another man added.
“Brave folk,” Maddison said, “especially the women. “It is not for the nervous.”
“Indians have not made an appearance so far,” John put in.
“The army are doing a lot of patrols. Maybe it is keeping the peace,” Maddison remarked. “Let’s hope so.” The men played a hand of cards, and the wagon train settled for the night as darkness arrived. The pace of life was governed by daylight hours, and they would all be up as dawn broke, ready to trundle through another slow-moving day.
John rested his head on his saddle, pulled his Stetson over his face but slept with his guns still around his waist and a rifle close at hand. He went to sleep thinking about his mom and remembering that she would be worried for him.
I will write to her as soon as I can, he thought. The thought of the life he was leading made him smile as he drifted away. He loved the wilderness, the riding, and the adventure of it all. His folk had never understood the magic of that, but they had let him go anyway.
The next couple of days were much the same, and the folk in the wagons found the journey pleasant. Apart from one cart having a broken axle and holding everything up, there were no signs of trouble. John enjoyed his scouting, and the men brought back the odd animal killed to be shared around the travelers.
“I guess the army will be back along this way soon,” Malt Houseman speculated. “Ride out in both directions and see if you spot them.” Maddison took the road ahead with another man, and John said he would check the way they had come. John went at a steady pace because a slight movement could easily be missed if he went too fast. The Indian tribes were expert at keeping out of sight. John was a good tracker himself and scanned constantly as he rode. He had backtracked a few miles and did not expect to see anything except the army scouts that might be riding ahead.
He had picked up a little speed toward the river where they had camped two days before when the horse reared on its hind legs. The snake in their path had hissed immediately in front of him. Backtracking away from the creature, the horse stayed on two back legs, and John clung on for a few seconds as if he were riding in a rodeo. Then the gelding dropped the forefeet and leapt straight up again. John flew through the air, crashed to the earth, and his head hit a rock with a nasty crack. Everything went black.
The horse wandered away for a few yards and then started to eat the nearby grass.
Kanu Abey was pulling a sled behind her horse to collect food for the tribe, digging up roots and tubers that would bake and store or be traded for other things the tribe needed. It was hard work and she stopped for a rest. Into the silence she heard a frightened horse and immediately took her own horse behind a bush and out of sight. Her heart was beating quite wildly. The plains were usually safe for the people finding food but sometimes wild animals were a threat. She cautiously looked around and stepped little by little in the direction of the sound.
The horse that had reared was eating quietly, reins trailing the ground and showing no sign of distress. She went up and took the reins, the horse passive as she looked around for the owner.
If it is a runaway horse, it will be useful to the tribe, she thought and then gasped as she saw the man on the ground. He was as still as a stone, and she feared he might be dead. Then she glanced around in case there were others nearby. She went over to the figure on the ground and touched him with her toe. He moaned a little, and she dropped beside him to feel his forehead and see if he would open his eyes.
“What on earth should I do?” she said out loud in English. “I cannot leave him here to be eaten.”
Still holding on to the reins of the loose horse, she went for her own and brought the two animals and the stretcher behind her horse to where John still lay motionless. She moved the roots and tubers to the ground, and with a lot of struggling, heaving, and pauses to catch her breath, she finally had him on the sled. Then she smiled and put the tubers and roots on top of the man because there was no way she could leave all her hard work behind.
Kanu stood back and looked at the man. He could have been mistaken for a native American in some ways, but he was a white man. He had long, straight black hair tied with a thong. His handgun was tied down to his leg in a style she knew men favored who had to use the weapon in earnest. There was a rifle in the saddle scabbard. She reached over cautiously in case he came to and made a grab for her, but he was out cold. The gun slipped from his holster, and she put it in the bag she carried slung across her body.
Then she climbed onto her own mare and held the reins of the man’s mount. It was slow going, and she kept glancing back to see if he was safe enough.
Goodness knows what the chief will say, she thought.
The tepees that the tribe used when moving around came into view, and two young men stood up as they heard someone approach.
“Kanu Abey,” one said. “I thought you were looking for roots and berries.”
“I didn’t know what to do. He had fallen from the horse, I think, and hit his head.”
The two guards studied the man and went with her into the circle of tepees to find the chief.
Outside the main tepee, there was soon a crowd of spectators as the chief and the medicine man inspected what she had brought. The two guns were taken into the chief’s tepee, and they tried to rouse the man from his unconscious state, but he did not respond.
“He is a white man,” the medicine man stated.
“But was on his own,” Kanu said. Her mother, Alu, came and stood beside her.
“Bring him to my tepee,” she said. “We can make him comfortable and maybe get him to drink something. If he awakens, at least I can speak to him in his own language.”
Four young men picked up the stretcher and did as she suggested. He was laid beside the fire to keep warm and covered with a blanket. Kanu and her mother were left to deal with the unexpected visitor, and the chief took ownership of the horse and saddle.
“I think we will not speak English,” her mother decided. “We do not know who he is or what he was doing out there.”
“I will try and get him to take some water,” Kanu said and found a cloth to squeeze some moisture into his mouth.
Some of the other members of the tribe looked in from time to time and saw that the man was still unconscious. Kanu stroked his brow and kept his lips moist with water. They covered him in blankets because he felt very cold to the touch. Mother and daughter took turns sitting beside him through the night and making sure the fire was fuelled to keep the place warm.
At daylight, Kanu took over as her mother made something to eat. She took his hand, and it suddenly felt warmer.
“Mom,” she said in her native language. “He is warm now.” Alu came and felt the man’s forehead.
“Try a little more water,” she said. Kanu lifted the man’s head onto her knee and squeezed water onto his lips from the end of the cloth she had been using. She saw the movement as he swallowed and tried to get him to drink more. It happened again, and she saw the eyelids flutter but not open.
“Are you awake?” she asked in Nez Perce. The eyes that looked into hers were dark brown, but they showed absolutely no sign of emotion. “Hello.” She smiled at the man with his head on her knee.
“Where am I?” he croaked.
She told him, but in a language that he did not understand, and he struggled to sit up. She helped him to a sitting position and moved in front of the man. Her mother came and offered some warm food, but he simply looked at her with a blank expression, and Kanu took the bowl and spooned some of the liquid into his mouth. He swallowed it dutifully, and they managed to make sure that he ate most of it.
They mimed the actions of him riding and then falling. Kanu demonstrated being hit on the head when he landed. He nodded and understood what they said.
“Thank you,” he said and smiled at the two women.
Kanu Abey felt something inside her respond to that smile. His dark eyes were gentle, and she saw the edges crinkle as his face relaxed. John Maclean was a cheerful man. His disposition was friendly, and he was good-looking in an almost native American way. The smile made that clear to both women.
He looked at Kanu and saw a most beautiful young woman. She had obviously been the one who found him and probably saved his life. He took her hand.
The entrance cloth was moved aside, and the chief and medicine man came in and completely filled the space in the tepee. John stopped himself from shrinking back into the blankets. He knew as well as everyone else who rode these trails that Indians could be ruthless and cruel. Two women were one thing, but two large and imposing men were quite another.
Kanu and her mother both spoke in the tribe’s language to the chief. The two men sat down beside the fire, and they seemed less of a threat. The chief held up a hand in a welcome gesture, and John did the same. The man was obviously the one in charge, and he wore a mixture of tribal clothing and western things. He had a jacket and trilby hat on top of a deerskin shirt and leggings. A choker of beads and tubes hung around his neck, and a large feather was slotted into the hatband.
There was a lot of conversation that John could not follow, but it looked like Kanu was telling them about the bang on his head.
The medicine man asked her some questions, and she answered. He took a pouch from his belt and handed her mother some dried pieces of plant. She poured some boiling water onto them and stirred. Then Kanu offered it to him from a spoon. He asked what it was, but they said in sign language it would make him feel better, and he thought it best to sip some to keep them all happy.
John was gradually taking in where he was and that these people were helping him, but beyond that, everything in his head was black. He could not remember a single thing about how he arrived there, what he was doing before that, why he was out in Indian country or anything else. It was frightening and much more of a nightmare than being woken up by a beautiful Indian girl who looked so concerned for his welfare.
“That is good.” He pointed to the bowl and made a gesture of thanks by tapping his fist on his chest. The medicine man did the same. They spoke to the two women and went away.
The daughter pointed to herself.
“Kanu. Kanu Abey.” She pointed to her mother. “Alu.” Then she touched her hand on John’s chest. He knew she was asking his name, and without thinking about it, he replied, “John.” Then he breathed a sigh of relief. He could remember something. He made a move to stand up, and she offered him a hand. He pulled himself up from the floor, and suddenly his head was spinning, and he reached out to hold her shoulders.
“Oh,” he said and put one hand on his head. She steadied him. He made a circular movement with his hand and pointed to his head. “Dizzy.” She nodded and let him hold on until his head cleared. Then he pointed to the entrance and indicated that he needed to go outside. She went with him and led him to a private place that men used for what was needed, and then she stepped away.
“I wonder if I should speak in his language?” she asked herself. It felt rather like being sneaky to know how to talk to him but pretend not to. She saw him come away from the men’s area, and he was fairly steady on his feet.
She made a decision. This man was likable and had never felt like a threat.
“Would you like to walk around and see where you are?”
The shock of hearing her speak in English was a greater surprise to his system than falling off the horse.
“You speak English?” he asked incredulously.
“I am sorry that I never let you know, but I did not know who you were.”
“That is understandable, but how do you speak like this so easily?” She smiled and told him that her father was a Scottish trapper who loved the wild places.
“It is a dangerous way to earn a living, and he was killed in the end.”
“I am so sorry,” John said and meant it. “I love riding out and being in this big open wilderness as well.” Then he wondered how he knew that.
“Something scared your horse, I guess.”
He nodded. “Snake.” Then he looked at her with a smile. “I remembered something, but where I came from and what I was doing is a complete blank. It is as if I just started to live from when I woke up.”
“If you have remembered your name and the snake that frightened the horse, the rest will come back to you in a little while.” She waved a hand. “Come and meet the Nez Perce tribe.”
The two of them stopped by the medicine man sitting by a fire and moving small stones around on the ground. He looked up. Kanu told him that she was taking the visitor around the camp. The man nodded solemnly and answered in his own tongue.
“He says, you are welcome and have you any tobacco?” She laughed. John smiled at the request but shook his head and said sorry. He pointed to empty pockets. The man shrugged his shoulders and went back to his mysterious stone moving.
Another woman with a young child in her arms came over to see them.
“This is John,” Kanu said and introduced her friend, Mulii. John offered a hand, and Mulii shook it. “John’s horse threw him, and he hit his head. He has lost his memory,” Kanu explained.
“It will come back,” Mulii told him in English. “I speak a little English but very slowly.”
“You are all being very kind,” John said. “I will have to find a way to repay the tribe.”
“We are used to trading,” Mulii told him. Speaking the language helps.” Then she nudged Kanu. “Here comes Mister Love himself.” Kanu smiled and took John’s hand as two men approached.
“Hello, Brave Stag,” she said, “and Running Stream. This is John, and I am letting him see how we live here.”
The two men said hello in their own language, and Brave Stag said something to Kanu. Mulii was still there and stood close beside her friend as Kanu replied to the man. Her voice was firm, and he understood that she was refusing something or other. Kanu held up her hand clasped in John’s. Mulii said something and waved her hand. John knew that meant go away. The man’s face darkened, and he turned on his heel. His young friend followed him, and they disappeared into the chief’s tepee.
“He is not a nice man,” Mulii said as she prepared to take her little one away.
“He does not frighten me,” Kanu said.
“Take care, though. He will be telling the chief you are given to him. He will tell the other men that you are a danger and should be sent away.”
“But I am not given to him and will not be. They know very well that I could walk away from here.”
“Still keep yourself safe, Kanu. I worry for you.”
Kanu kissed her friend on the cheek and kissed the baby as well. “I will.”
“What was that about?”
“The chief wants me to marry, and he thinks Brave Stag will be the right one. I told him no, and I meant it. The man is so full of himself he thinks all the women would fight over him.” She laughed and tugged at his hand. “We have quite a few horses as the chief and his family love them. They also help as we move around to look for food to store and trade. Then we go back to the more permanent village with bigger wigwams and some wooden buildings.”
Lots of the people came to speak to Kanu and meet the man who had arrived unexpectedly. The men tended, like the chief, to wear a mixture of white man’s clothing and Indian dress, but the women still favored the doeskin dresses that were traditional. The men were suspicious but did not make any threatening signs.
The tepees were in a circle of sorts, and there were temporary fences made of wooden poles to contain the horses and the goats they had for milk. As Kanu and John completed the circuit of the village, he staggered a little bit, and she caught him by the shoulders.
“You have done too much. That is my fault. Come and eat something.” She pulled him towards her mother’s tepee and let go of his hand as they went inside.
John suddenly felt lost without the touch of her hand in his own. He looked around a little bewildered, and she came back to lead him to the fireside.
“Sit,” she ordered, and he sat. There was stew in the pot over the fire, and she ladled some out for both of them. “Eat. It will build up your strength.”
“Thank you, Kanu. Thanks for saving me and looking after me.”
The door curtain was pulled aside, and a man came in. He was not an Indian. He was large, rough, and dirty, and he smelled dreadful. The awful scent wafted around the tepee. John took an instant dislike to him.
“Got some stuff,” the newcomer said without any words of greeting. “Anything to eat?” He stamped across the floor and sat on a bundle of blankets beside the fire. “Who might this lump be?” He looked at John as he spoke.
“Connor, if you want the chief to buy them, go and see him. I told you before; I am not your trading partner.” Alu stood upright and determined with her arms folded in front of her. Kanu stood beside her mother, and they said nothing more.
“Can you talk sense into these two?” the man asked John. “Women are strange. They are happy with what the trade can buy for them but not in how to make money.” There was silence. John stood up. Kanu realized for the first time that the man she had saved was perfectly capable of looking after himself. He was not bothered at all by the scruffy trapper that had trudged in unannounced. John had a lean and wiry body used to living on campsites and dealing with threats. He had no guns with him as the chief had taken possession of those.
“Do you want this man to leave?” he asked Alu, and she nodded.
“Pah!” the trapper said and spat on the floor. “Seen how big I am?” He looked at John, who simply took his arm and twisted it up his back before the man could respond. Then he kicked the trapper’s leg away from him and dragged the weight of the man outside. He dumped him on the ground, and the two women followed them out. Two braves came running ahead of the chief to see if help was needed.
“Connor, tell the chief what you have for sale,” Alu ordered. The man, disgruntled and embarrassed by being thrown out of the tepee, pointed to the three sets of moose skins dropped from the back of his horse.
“We could find moose ourselves,” Kanu added, and the chief had enough understanding to know what she meant. He flashed her a quick look and waved his hand.
“No trade today.”
“Take them and go,” Alu told him and turned to go inside her tepee. Instead, the trapper took Kanu by the front of her dress and pulled her towards him.
“She can come with me. I can sell her as well.” He pulled Kanu towards his horse, and two things happened at the same time. Kanu whipped out a little dagger from her clothing and slashed it across his face. John took a clenched fist and gave an uppercut to the jaw that snapped the man’s head back, and everyone heard the nasty cracking sound it made.
The two young braves were obviously impressed. The chief spoke to them, and they put the moose skins back on the horse, threw the man over his saddle, and gave the animal a sharp smack on the rear end. The man struggled to stay on the jolting horse, and after some yards, he was tossed from the saddle. The horse with his skins attached kept on going, and the big, scruffy man started to shout and run after it.
Indian and white man alike all burst out laughing.
“Who on earth was that?” John asked Kanu after they all stopped enjoying the departure of Connor Dennis. Alu answered instead of her daughter.
“That was a man my husband went trapping with, and when Scot died, he thought I would marry him instead.”
“He is a horrible man and thinks Indian women are given away by the chief. Then he just comes in as if it were all arranged,” Kanu said.
“It is sometimes frightening,” Alu added. Kanu hugged her mother and said she would talk to the chief and have the man stopped from coming into the camp.
“Shall I come with you?” John asked, and she smiled at him.
“That would be a help. Not all white men are like the awful Connor Dennis.”
The smile that Kanu gave him did something to John Maclean’s heartstrings that had never happened to him before. He had walked out with girls. Women found him attractive, but none of them had made any lasting effect on him. He could not think at the time how he knew that. It was just something he felt inside. There was something about this girl that had saved his life that called out to him. She held out a hand, and he took it. It felt so completely natural to hold this woman by the hand.
“You were pretty good with that little dagger,” he told her. “I was impressed.” She almost gave a little skip as they started towards the chief’s tepee.
“I can ride, shoot a gun, use a bow and arrow and fight like a man if I have to.” She paused. “If that doesn’t work, I can bite like a woman.” She laughed. “Dad knew what the dangers were in the world and made sure I could look after myself.”
“He must have been a good man to have as a father,” John observed, but he thought that he had never met a woman like this before, although how he could know that he was not quite sure.
“I still miss him, but Mom loved him so much that she still cries when she thinks nobody is watching.”
She told him that her mother and father had met when he was trapping and trading the skins.
“He was good at it and tried to kill outright. He hated to see the animals suffer a lingering death. He brought some beautiful pelts and furs that were valuable.” She paused. “Any of us could find moose skins. Do you think that idiot did not realize that we catch them all the time?”
“Well, the man did seem like a fool. What will the chief say?”
“I don’t know,” she said and called out to ask if they could come inside.
The chief indicated that they sit, and the medicine man was in there as well. He was smoking a pipe of sorts that gave out a pleasant woody smell.
“The medicine man is called Smoke,” Kanu said and smiled. Then she repeated what she had said to the man himself. Smoke took the pipe out from his mouth and waved it in the air. He said a few words, and Kanu translated them as the smoke would lift his headache.
“How did he know I had a headache?” John asked, and Kanu repeated that as well. Smoke waved his hands around his own head and told Kanu that he could see the pain around John’s head.
“He does have a wonderful sense of things, and he can tell when people are not what they seem.”
“Tell him that I think that is wonderful.” She repeated the words, and he was rewarded with a lopsided smile that left the pipe held between the man’s teeth.
“Has he anything that will bring back my memory?” John asked hopefully, but Smoke said no. He gave Kanu some more of the dried tree shavings and told her to make a drink.
“It will bring you calm, and that is when you will remember.”
“That or another bang on the head.” Kanu smiled. Then she turned to the chief and asked if they could stop Connor Dennis from coming into the camp.
“My mother is frightened, and you saw what he did to me. He brings rubbish to trade. I could do better myself.”
As she talked to the chief and the medicine man, it started to dawn on John that this tribe thought very highly of Kanu. She was treated almost like one of the men. It was a strange thought and another side to her character steadily finding its way into his heart.
Chief Tall Timber nodded and rattled off some words to the medicine man. The two men talked for a little while and then told Kanu that they would tell all the men to stop the trapper from entering the camp. She smiled and translated.
“Good,” John said and made a gesture of thank you by tapping his chest again.
He asked Kanu to tell them that he was glad they were looking after him.
“I will help protect you and your mother,” he said. “I cannot remember where I came from, but I seem to know how to protect myself.”
“Then you will have to stay awhile,” she responded and knew that she wanted him to do that very much.
“Following an Untamed Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
As the daughter of a Scottish trapper and a Native woman, Kanu Abey’s life is shared between two worlds. She is always in demand as a translator and as a trader of goods to the white people. When she finds an unconscious white man in the forest and brings him back to her tribe, the careful balance of her life is shattered… Kanu never expected her heart to be captured by this stranger, but she can’t ignore the fact that there is something special about him. With his presence causing increasing tension, will she dare to stand up to her own tribe for a chance at love?
John Maclean’s love of adventure and riding horses has led him to the northwest, working on a wagon train. Yet his biggest adventure is about to start when he wakes up in a teepee with a Native woman caring for him and no memory of anything before this moment. His first glimpse of Kanu takes his breath away and in time he is enthralled by her kind spirit and unfaltering strength. As he recovers, he immerses himself in the ways of her tribe, and before long a yearning for love and life awakens in him… Will he be strong enough to follow his heart’s desire when echoes of his old life come chasing after him?
Kanu and John’s paths cross serendipitously and their fates take an unexpected turn that changes them forever. Caught up in a whirlwind of battles, separations and unforeseen dangers they will need to find the courage to face the consequences of their feelings. Can they bridge the chasm between their two worlds and find a soul mate in one another, against all odds?
“Following an Untamed Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.