Where it all began: For two hundred years, the Mandan People, natives of the Plains, resided near the Heart River
region of North American at what was later declared part of Dakota Territory. Their home was called On-A-Slant Village. In 1780, The Northwest Company established a fur trading post in the area. As a
result, a year later, most of the Mandan People were wiped out by the European killer, Small Pox.
In 1804-06, Lewis and Clark visited the area and documented the ruins of the village. When the Northern Pcific Railroad headed west in 1872, and planned to cross the Missouri at that location, an Infantry Post named Fort McKeen was built to protect railroad workers and keep instuders off of the newly established reservation. Six months later, the open containment was renamed Fort Abraham Lincoln. Lt. Col. Custer and his men made the fort their last home.
The original address of Fort McKeen was "The Fort at the Crossing, Missouri River, Dakota Territory".
On the east side of the Missouri River, the city was called Edwinton, and later renamed Bismarck. But on the west, where parts of the fort and native village still remain, the city appropriately holds the name of the original inhabitants, Mandan.
Bismarck and Mandan, the "Twin Cities" of North Dakota.
A small river of blood flowed into the curls streaming from Lorna McGuire's bludgeoned temple; a confluence similar to the roaring, foaming convergence only feet away from her cooling body--the Mighty Mississippi and the Muddy Missouri.
Even in death, she smiled.
She had learned at an early age how to use the users. Hungry men who had an eye on her father's Saint Louis Steamboat Company. And when she tired of one, she laughed in his face. He either disappeared or Mitchell M. McGuire paid him off.
In the past, there had been no recriminations.
Until she laughed at handsome Duncan McCann's proposal.
With one hand pressing a hanky to her quivering lips and the other holding tightly to Spring, Mrs. Eileen Callahan still managed to wave goodby to Anita Mendez and her tearful children, who waved back from the levee below Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Imelda Tescher and son Milton hovered close enough behind her so she could feel their breaths on her hair. "We really are going, aren't we, Eileen? I never dared to believe we would even actually afford to go."
A sudden noise burst forth from the depths of the swaying wooden structure upon which they stood. It began as a low hissing sound that turned into a deep, bellowing, mournful roar of power as the Boatmaster pulled at the cord controlling the steamboat's whistle.
Eileen's hand slid into the newly sewn traveling bag, touching the money she had saved. With that promise in mind, she eased her hold on Spring. "It won't be long now, sweetie. You will get to see your daddy."
Eileen bit her bottom lip. It was going to be a difficult thing, seeing Donald Callahan once again. All of the unanswered questions. All of the unanswered letters. All of the complications she had encourntered since leaving her parents' home in St. Louis, Missouri.
She smiled at her friend, Imelda, and touched the cheek of the baby boy named Milton--the child who had been born at Fort Leavenworth, two months after her own baby was born. Their eyes--the eyes of the two babies! She closed her own, not daring to venture into the situation she knew Imelda would never discuss.
Imelda Tescher's full cheeks glowed with anticipation. Fulfilling an earlier promise to herself, she leaned close to Eileen's ear. "Milton and I are going to walk around the deck to see if we can find a man amongst the passengers who would like to become a father and husband."
"Just be careful, Meldy. The men on board this boat may be more hungry than they ever were at the fort, and down here on the first deck, I do believe we are the only two women."
Imelda's round cheeks raised in a smile. "Yes, Leenie, I'll be very careful. And please remembger in this new life we are starting, I am Mrs. James Tescher, who's husband was killed a few weeks ago. Being the brave, strong woman I am, my son and I are still departing for the west so I can fulfill the promise I made to become a school teacher in Yankton."
Eileen hugged the shorter, heavier-built woman. "And may I say Mrs. Tescher, you look like a wonderful school marm. Just be very careful that you pick the right man."
Watching Imelda make her way amongst the sweaty deck hands and flimsy-suited businessmen, Eileen closer her Irish-green eyes as tears of reality slid down slim gaunt cheeks. She had not confessed to Anita of her uneasiness. Or to Imelda her fear of being left alone.
Honor had held her tongue.
Her mother had tought her about honor when she was very young. Honor meant believing...even when there was no firm reason to believe. Honor meant giving the benefit of the doubt. Honor meant...finding the father of your child, even if...life as you knew it ended when that happened.
With nerve-shattering vibrations, the firebox, fed by an experienced engineer, burst into flames, transferring heat into steam and stream into horsepower. Slowly the side-wheel turned a revolution, bringing waves of muddy water over the wooden paddles, pushing the craft forward at an ever-increasing speed.
Black smoke belched from twin stacks that were fitted through holes in the upper deck and up past the hurricane or top deck, showering the passengers with tiny specks of soot and floating pieces of ash while filling the atmosphere with the bitter stench of hot engine oil and smoldering cottonwood logs.
Eileen pulled her daughter against her small firm bosom, praying. Her damp eyes roved the disappearing crowd standing beneath the hundred-fifty foot bank supporting Fort Leavenworth.
She stopped waving when the Mendez family had turned into dark pieces of sand littering the western bank of the Missouri.
The intensity of the early spring sun cast a rosy glow upon her skin as it radiated off of the side of the tiny cabin and onto the buffalo robe stretched over last year's dead grass.
On the north side of the dilapidated structure, the last crystallized remnants of snow held steadfastly to the ground. At their feet, where the sun crawled from slumber each morning, the muddy, restless Missouri surged in a southerly, meandering direction, ever-anxious to join with its sister at Saint Louis; the Mississippi. On the other side of the cabin, to the west, Fort Abraham Lincoln caught the wind blowing in from the plains, pulling at the unfurled flag, rattling the panes in the fancy house Elizabeth and George called home.
"Guess what, Faith. Custer just got back." Private Donald Callahan nibbled at the rounded, bronze skin of her nipple.
"Yep, he did it, testified against some of the big man's relatives. I'm talking big, Faith. President Grant's family. He's one brave soldier."
Faith Tall Face voiced no opinion. She was aware that neither the French-Canadian blood of her father, nor the Hunkpapa Sioux of her mother carried any significance in the eyes of the United States Government. A governmnet that had set out to ententionally be responsible for the unweaving of her mother's people. Gold! Like in the Bible stories that the Catholic missionaries had crammed down her throat; betrayed for a few pieces of silver.
"Seems a congress committee thinks the poor old Indians aren't getting exactly what they were promised so Custer took his luck and went to Washington. He spoke against Secretary of War Belknap. Tarnation. He must want to see a firing squad from the bad side."
Faith Tall Face had her eyes closed for two reasons. One was to memorize the artful movements of his body.
He moved over her, more in search of relief than in anything related to fulfillment. Then he rolled off to pat her rounding bell. "You need to scrub a few more uniforms, Faith. It appears you're starting to put on some extra weight."
That was the second reason. He must never find out. And she knew if her eyes were open, pride would give her secret away. Her only friend, and sister, Mary Three Hands, had warned her to keep silent, reminding Faith of the white man who had beaten Mary until the unborn child had fallen out. The bleeding and pain had been far worse than a live birth, and Mary had never gotten pregnant again.
Faith smiled to herself. Mary Three Hands had been justly named, for her mouth was just as vicious and quick as her fists.
"You think it's funny to get fat, Tall Face? I can tell you're smiling behind those lucious brown lids. Well, let me tell you I got enough misery in my life without having to put up with a fat woman."
Her eyelids eased half-open, much as a contented cat would eye an incautious mouse. A husky voice purred from her throat. "Then...I am your woman, Donald?"
With huge dark eyes buffered by a frown, he sat up and began to dress. Callused fingers shook in the cool air. Donald buttoned his shirt before answering. "I have a woman, Faith. You've known that for a long time now. So don't start nagging me or I'll start calling you Mary Three Hands. I hate her guts about as bad as I do that fat darky, Aunt Fanny, and you just could make he hate yours, too."
"So," Faith asked, smiling wider, pulling the dress across her naked belly, "Which of Mary's hands has put shame into your pale cheeks?" She did not have to ask about the results of Aunt Fanny speaking to Custer about Donald's behavior with the Negro maids at the fort. Gossip spread at the stronghold faster than an autumn grass fire. It was already common knowledge.
"Oh, you mean she hasn't told you yet? My...one of her hands isn't working very good anymore." He glared at her with eyes the size of miniature coffee cups, and the same color as the hot steaming liquid.
A chilly breeze swept over the river up the short bank and across her naked body, bringing with it the power to raise small bumps in the duskiness of her skin. "We share a cabin, Donald, not our souls."
He shoved the black military hat back over his long brown hair. "It seems Mary Three Mouths called my name while...she was entertaining someone with a bit more rank than me. He slapped her up good, but still, he found me. Why the hell do you think I've been in the guardhouse for a week? And look how thankful you are to fnally get to see me."
He pulled a small coin from his pants pocket and tossed it on the blanket. "Whores are supposed to get paid, Faith. I guess I been cheating you all this time."
Faith rolled over to lean on one elbow as she touched the money with an index finger. "You should have said you were so poor, Donald. For this much money I should have only allowed you to massage my feet."
"You thankless dog..." he yelled, his bushy mustache flopping in the wind as he stormed up the bank of the river to the protective buildings of the unwalled fortress.
She watched after him, wondering about the life growing inside of her, knowing it must be a son. "Oh...but I do thank you, Donald. With all of my heart."
Stuart Winston Tydedale signed hs name on the bill of sale and waited for the clerk at Greenwood Agency to count out the monies owed for delivery of a thousand head of beef. The legal tender was the rest of what he deeded to start a ranch in Dakota Territory, having sold his lands in Oklahoma. His son nudged him with the gentleness of an overgrown bear.
"Don't forget the share you promised to your partner, Mr. Tydedale." Sarah Dumond's eyes sparkled from the face of their son, Grainger.
Stuart snorted his amazement. "I said my partner had to be at least eighteen to receive his share, Grainger, and the United States Government says yo have to be twenty-one or be the head of a family to file a land claim." Silver clippings of a fresh haircut clung brightly to the leather vest covering his back.
At age twelve, Grainger stood as tall as his father's chin. "I'll lie when I file my claim, Pa. Besides, I'm taller than most men in these parts."
"Yes, you are definitely taller than the average man, Grainger, but height is not recognized as proof of manhood. and you will not lie, son. If the government would find out, your land and all improvements would go to the highest bidder."
"Sixteen is not too young to start a family," the youth quietly said, his eyes taking on the distant look of contemplation.
Stuart chuckled out loud. "A family has to be fed, son. And there are other laws." Grainger Tydedale's impish smile held memories that twisted deep inside Stuart's heart.
"What government? What law? This is a territory, Pa, and law hasn't been set up yet. That's what the drovers were saying at the campfire. And that's why Marshal Ben Ash can charge a man with a killing but not with murder."
Stuart turned his back to hide a smile. "Nine years is not that long to wait, Grainger."
"Neither is eternity, Pa, when measured by the Lord's yardstick."