Chapter Nine

(Of Man and Sin)

THE PREACHER

In the old days I was unusual in the fact I lived with Comanches. They was more particular than other Indians on who their outsiders were and even the Comancheros or say Mexican traders that was the only bunch of men outside the Kiowas that could get close to the Comanches did not bother Comanche women. When I was pretty young I knew some Comancheros, got drunk with them and swept off into the plains, but I was already getting to know the plains anyway, the Olives being that way. When I got sick and almost died Comanche women saved my life. I was a beautiful baby, let me say that. Life chasing the buffalo was the finest a man can want. The women did the work. A man ate, he slept, he hunted and went for the buffalo, and for a little extra sport he did a little warfare. Comanche youth trained damned hard for war, but I just hung around and picked it up as I went along. They did not take me into account at first but I kept coming back around and got good and they had to by and by. All of that time they was having trouble with white men and I had to kill some white men. Comanches could out ride and out maneuver white men and beat them had to hand but the Comanches could never get guns to go around and especially ammunition to get good with the damned things and they was very bitter on the subject. I was respected in that I did some good moves with the lance, against Apaches and once Cheyene, but one time under gunfire against a bunch of Cherokees what was run down into Texas by whites and all having rifles, and, we got beat awful bad, but I was lucky among a gang of us what got so desperate we did a whooping run into the guns with lance and shield and got inside and ripped hell out of the Cherokee position going through, and I had done my shield ricocheting two three rounds and killed a man, and when the ones of us made it turned around up and down a dry river bed and in the flats of its canyon and come together we saw we did not have enough to go back the other way unless we were all going to die, and desperate as the Comanches was getting over everybody coming into Texas with repeating rifles, and as close to God and feeling wonderful as we were right then, some of them wanted to do it, that we all die good, and I didn't quite want to do it and then my horse sank, surprised me he'd been hit that way, and died and that let me out, I told'em I sure as hell wasn't going to follow on foot, I didn't care how many other men had lost their horses back there. I stood firm and it helped break the spell and they did not do the return one and it all kind of got me my reputation. I was a fighter and adventurer and did not need women though had a nice friendship with one of those that had nursed me back to health, especially after her man died. I bet she could have babies when I was born but she had good health and sweetness and I could come in from my exhausting way of life and in a couple days or so she would get me slowed down enough to get interested in some other flesh and blood in this world besides my own. She had a pretty sister had also been married with her husband and there were some cold nights we all three got in the buffalo robes together but she was in my case a mite possessive and her sister got taken up by a warrior and the life throbbings only get perfect anyway when two make it. She carried my child and she loved to be taken in her bowels and was good and sweet as ever right up to the bad night she dropped my baby but she had a time and did not recover and took a great fever and died in three days. The baby lived but in another year it caught some kind of white man disease and half white or not died too, a boy. I believe I loved that woman probably more than even Wayhe. It was something how fast civilization raked through Texas and this life I knew a taste of went with the coming of the others. It was how me and childhood buddies the McConchies and the others as they drifted was thrown against one another in the chase. Because, like I say, I backed out of the Comanches as they went down, and I believe they knew I would, just as I lost no testicals the time I refused to die against the rifles, and can you know that with no exception when a Comanche warrior died his mother and sisters and women all went into the most nightmarish kind of grief, like as not slashing their breasts and howling through the night, actual frenzies, upon which I hate to comment, as we know death, and life, and the beauty and the pain, the hunger, the quest for faith in the human path, our need to know that we are living and that, furthermore, it is alright, and that life ain't just staying in one place, all babies are the same, we know that. But I will say I would rather live Indian than with preachers and sin. I ain't a guilty man. Kelly and me once came upon a bunch of wagons, regular pioneers, some pretty tough people and they was about to get set for the night. We was a bit idle and rode up for a chat, Kelly about eighteen years old, me looking near Christianised in a hat and buffalo coat. They was mighty glad to see us, give us coffee and whiskey. We sit with them and they had a preacher, first one we had ever seen. We ain't seen white people since we left Arkansaw, he said. He was a wide shouldered big young fellow, had a clean face, had a neat moustache, had a firm lip, and a pretty but dull woman kind of hid behind him, and next he said, you boys working men? No, I said, after the surprise went. What about yourself? Oh, yes, he bragged, happy with it. Sirs, my work is the Lord's work. Why don't he do it hisself, Kelly wondered. Thing of it, Kelly asked a mostly serious question. After all, if you're just riding around and looking at the earth and picking a few antelope, and someone asks you about work, this is a strange question too. Preacher feller thought we was being blasphemous and these hard cases with him was some so foolish as to bristle up but we held our smiles inside till our pure innocence let that man ride his storm out. Have you heard about Jesus Christ, he said. Ain't he the one they killed for disagreement, I asked him. He is the one that died for our sins, he said, and went on some about it. Is that right, we said. Sirs, he said, feeling better and poured a little more whiskey in the coffee pot. Brothers! Let me tell you about Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Well, go right ahead, we said even as our mother already had. He did not have much to say about Jesus but he was pretty big on hellfire and redemption and by tones of his voice first you were not sure he believed it all himself because it was mighty like play acting, you won­dered maybe he was making some fun, but understand that we had just never seen a preacher and he worked himself to a lather, was fit to be tied. He did it about an hour and then he stopped, and smiled real calm at us, though like a joke cept the smile happened to be part of his serious sermon, and he wanted to know if now we believed. It was a even more confusing question, and before we could judge some kind of answer he said, would you like to be baptised. That one really startled me, I just could not get over this man, and was studying all these dead serious folk backing him up, but Kelly settled it, said, hell no. The preacher frowned, and all behind him frowned. Kelly rose, pushed back his coat showing gun and knife, and frowned back. My brother is a squawman and you are in Comanche territory and likely to get killed. They was all on their feet by time I was and I asked, what's wrong with you people? They was looking us over with some new respect, looked over at our horses, one said, why don't you men have saddles? We went and pulled our rifles from the blanket folds, mounted and they all jumped back. You're squawmen, ain't you, screams the preacher. Lost sheep of the fold! Amen, amen, went the crowd. I had to get into the spirit of it and give them a long Comanche turkey gobble, and then did one of my own, eee-eee-eee-haw-aw-aw! One started to shoot but Kelly still took care of me and in mean temper shot the man's elbow when he bent, and that one moaning on his knees the rest went for cover, women screaming, preacher giving his best sermon, and we ducked into the darkness. Well, I almost hate to tell this one, all them innocent white folk, ho ho. Cept they was born in sin. All babies are the same. Cept maybe it's better to be born dead than in sin, ho ho. Kelly and me meant no real harm, just kind of got worked up and spent half the night running up and down and curdling their blood. Around midnight they was so upset a bunch of men jumped on horses and come after us, and Kelly and me split up and met back around the wagons, having great sport. There was shooting, the ones in the wagons was waisting a few rounds at ghosts before we even got back at the wagons. All this activity happened to bring in a party of Antelope Eaters, Comanches, alright. They knew a bunch of men was out there on horses but they come to the wagons first to check with us. I did not know these ones but called out in my Comanche and we had a quick powwow, a fair little body of warriors, fifty maybe. Will you help us kill these invaders, the leader says to me. Well, I guess we will have to, I laughed. This is my brother, same mother, as you can tell, and we have been here all night wondering when the hell we would get some help. To Kelly, I says, Kelly, looks like we have to join in wiping out these invaders now. That's too bad, said Kelly, but after all, the argument is infallible. Now, we did wrangle it how we did not like to kill women and children, said we had a personal fight with that main body of men running after us and now coming in fast to get back and every other warrior come with us to intercept and the others encircled the wagons and went to rapping fire arrows. In the dark we semi-ambushed or out flanked without losing anybody and did it hand to hand and there were a couple bad wounds among the Comanches but the Comanches are great here with their shields and clubs and lances and we wiped that bunch out. Meantime the others had set the wagons on fire. Kelly and I wanted no profits, we told them, and I made the excuse of Wayhe waiting for me since morning with buffalo hump stew and I was craving sleep and it would take us the rest of this morning to get to her lodge, and we took off and the Antelope Eaters still laughing and talking to us. I hollered that I lived with the Buffalo Eaters meaning we had a long journey ahead but after that one we decided to head on back down and see the folks, as they had already taken to sending my brothers out after me every three months or so to bring me back in. The preacher incident was a new era in my life on the plains. Towns was growing and people closing in and so on and I had some kind of fight every time I come into a town, not that I came in much. I used to run with a shield and lance sometimes, and knife and six gun and a rifle strung in my blanket, pipe and flint and steel and a few bullets in my bag and the lance was for buffalo and the rifle for any hostyle riders and the six gun hung on my shield in case they out maneuvered me. Let me say, it was a wonderful life. I can't express myself on that one. My name went something like Fighting With Hair In His Eyes, but I'll just settle for Wild Bill and they called me that too and what I'm saying is it is only after the Comanches went down that I dealt a little more with whites in the towns and along with my compadres come to be what you call a gun fighter and got fair with a six gun and slung one over each hip and got where if I was in town with only one hanging I felt off balance. By age of thirty I was in the new era, dodging the law makers.
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