It was the fall of 2018 when Lewis Randal led his family around the rock butte at the end of the trail. The granite wall rose seventy five feet into the sky. At the base of the wall was a platform about ten feet high supported by thick weathered wooden posts at each of the four corners; on the platform were human remains. A skeleton, still dressed in rotting jeans, a flannel shirt, boots, and a Stetson lay with several other items of an obvious personal nature scattered around the body.
This burial platform, done in the way of their Lakota Sioux ancestors, held the body of James Ambrose Randal. The former owner of the ranch known as Eagle's Nest and the patriarch of the Randal clan. Sitting on one of the upright posts was a golden eagle. The predatory raptor watched as Lewis and his family approached his resting place. Lewis and his son were within ten feet of the eagle before he flapped his wings and took flight.
"Awesome," said ten year old James Ambrose, Lewis's son. "The eagle almost let you touch him Dad." The boy was the namesake of the man on the platform. He had been the boy's great, great, great, great, Grandfather.
Lewis, his wife Alyssa, and his grandfather William along with young James were on their tenth traditional, yearly visit to the burial site. They rode horses to the foot of the mountain and hiked up the trail every year just after the fall round up and shipping of their cattle to market. This was the tenth year they had made the journey.
It had been strange the way that the 1890's James Ambrose Randal had come into their 2007 lives. Lewis had found Jim in a state of suspended animation induced by a Lakota medicine man inside a cave on this very mountain. Jim was in a walled off room with a small flame burning in a niche in the wall. The flame would slowly melt the rock surrounding it and the liquid would fuel the flame. As it burned it gave off a mist like smoke which filled the chamber.
Lewis, his grandfather William and Doctor Charley Samuels managed to get the then mystery man down the mountain to the ranch house. After examining both Jim and the melting rock, Charley thought that the smoke had somehow keep Jim alive and young but asleep for a hundred and seventeen years. Before Charley and Lewis could take samples for scientific testing earth tremors caused the cave to collapsed in on itself, almost catching Lewis and Doc Samuels in the cave in,
Jim lived with his great grandson William and William's grandson Lewis at Eagle's Nest for a few years but as time went on he began to age and age quickly. Once the process began, he died of old age in a matter of six months. Doc Samuels said he believed that whatever the smoke had done to preserve Jim had worn off.
"The eagles are still flying and nesting here," Alyssa said to her husband. She pointed to three eagles soaring over head.
Lewis smiled at his wife. "Course they are. That's why Jim named the ranch Eagle's Nest."
"Hey Dad, do you think you could've touch the eagle?" James asked. "That would be so cool."
"I think you'd have a better chance than me Son," Lewis replied. "After all you're named after the man the eagles are watching over." Pointing to the soaring golden eagle he added, "I think that's his spirit eagle."
Lewis and William put down their backpacks and began to empty them. They had carried food for a picnic up the trail. On the way up the trail Lewis had shot a grouse which they'd planned to roast over an open fire. Now Lewis had a better use for it.
Holding James's hand he led the boy over to the elevated burial platform. Lewis gave the boy the grouse and told him, "Hold it out so the eagle can see it. I think he will come down and take your gift."
He knelt down beside James and waited. The boy had a hard time keeping still because he was so excited.
One of the eagles began to spiral down in a decreasing circle, coming closer and closer. Lewis stepped back away from young James. With his wings spread wide, the golden eagle landed on the same post he'd been on previously. Moving his head from side to side he looked at the boy and his offering with first one eye and then the other.
After about a minute, the big predator hopped down to the ground in front of James. The bird turned his head and stared at the boy. Slowly the eagle stretched his head out and gently took the grouse in his beak. With a jump and the flapping of his powerful wings the eagle flew up to his nest on top of the rock butte.
The boy's eyes were opened wide and he danced with excitement. "Did you see that Dad? He took it right out of my hand." Turning he yelled at his mother, "Mom I got to feed Grandpa Jim's eagle."
"Yes dear I saw," Alyssa replied. "Now come and eat your lunch. We've got a long hike back down the trail."
As her two men came back to the picnic blanket, Alyssa gave Lewis a questioning look and asked, "Was that a safe thing to do?"
"Later," Lewis said.
During lunch James continued to talk about the eagle. He told the story to his Grandpa William at least three times. Each time William paid attention as if he hadn't seen the event and as if this were the first time he heard about it.
The Randals made the hike down the mountain, mounted their horses, and rode home. Back at the ranch, Alyssa made James lie down for an afternoon nap. After making sure James was asleep, she returned to the living room and rejoined Lewis and William.
"What made you do that?" She asked Lewis. "Our boy, and you for that matter, could have been hurt."
Lewis shook his head. "I don't think so," he replied.
"What makes you so sure?"
"There are some things that have happened over the last couple of years and especially in the last two or three months that gave me an idea," he answered.
"What things? What's been happening? And what idea?"
"Take it easy Honey," Lewis said trying to calm Alyssa. "Let me tell you what I've seen and then I'll tell you my suspicion."
Alyssa nodded and sat back to listen. William moved his chair closer because he wanted to hear Lewis's reason for letting James get close to the eagle.
"Y'all know that I'm the only one that can ride Jim's horse Joshua. Right?" Alyssa and William nodded.
"Yeah, it's sort of funny," William said. "That black horse will let just about anybody brush and curry him but he gets real ornery if anybody tries to throw a leg over him."
"Even with me it almost like he's tolerating me," Lewis added. I mean he's a better cow pony than any on the ranch but I can get more done riding my horse Casey." Lewis stopped for a few seconds.
"Two weeks ago James and I were in the barn doing something when I noticed he wasn't with me. I heard his voice outside and went to see who he was talking to. James was sitting on the top rail of the corral petting and talking to Joshua. The horse just stood there letting James scratch his ears."
"Like I said, he'll let anyone brush him," William said.
"Well he let James do more than that," Lewis continued. "I stayed back and watched for a minute or so. Joshua move sideways up to the top rail and James slid off the rail onto the horse's back. I started to run over but by then I saw James with both hands in his mane riding Joshua around the corral."
"No," Alyssa and William said at the same time.
Lewis nodded. "The horse was moving slowly and carefully with the boy. After a couple of minutes he brought James back to the corral fence and James got off. He patted Joshua one more time and started back to the barn. When he saw me he said, 'Hi Dad, I've just been riding Joshua a little.' Every day since then James had either played with or rode Joshua."
Alyssa and William looked at each other and then back at Lewis in disbelief.
"After a few days I ask James what made him start paying attention to Joshua," Lewis said. "He told me that somehow he just felt that he and Joshua would become friends."
Lewis knew that he had his wife's and his grandfather's attention. "I know it'll sound crazy ... but I think Jim's spirit lives on in our son."
Alyssa looked at her husband in surprise but William looked thoughtful. "Your idea is no more crazy than the way Jim came to us in the first place." Grinning at Lewis he said, "The Lakota believe that every man, woman, or child of the tribe has a spirit guide; sort of a guardian angel. They believe that the spirits are warriors from that person's ancestry."
William's father had been a half blood Lakota and his mother had been a full blood Lakota maiden. He always kidded that he was three quarters Lakota. Therefore he knew a lot about the Lakota way of life and their heritage.
For the next few days James's parents and grandfather watched the boy more closely. They saw that James was very comfortable with Joshua, the big black stallion. The boy asked his father to teach him to saddle a horse. It was funny to watch the boy stand on a barrel trying to put a saddle on Joshua; he just didn't have the strength or the height to do it yet.
What was more amazing was Joshua kneeling down so the boy could get the saddle on the horse's back. With the saddle on his back Joshua would stand and James could finish cinching up the saddle. Then the horse would put his head down so James could put on the bridal.
Every day when James returned from school the horse would be waiting for him with his head hanging over the top rail of the corral. It was obvious that Joshua and James had a special relationship. Lewis accompanied James when he rode Joshua several times and felt comfortable letting the boy handle the big horse.
Eagle's Nest was a working cattle ranch but three times a year the Randals ran a type of dude ranch. People, wanna be cowboys, would come to the ranch and go on a cattle drive. The guests paid well for the privilege of living and working their dream. The profit from the 'dude' part of the ranch was substantial.
This was the first year that Alyssa and Lewis let James ride a horse on the drive. In previous years he'd ridden in the chuck wagon with Helen. She was the wife of the ranch foreman, Tom Casey. Helen had almost adopted the Randal's when her husband quit his government assay job in Prescott to take up ranching again.
James would ride one of the ranch horses around the camp and herd after the cattle had been bedded down but on the drive itself he rode in the wagon. As they rode the chuck wagon, Helen would tell the boy stories about his "grandfather" Jim and the history of Eagle's Nest.
This year he rode Joshua. The big horse seemed to be teaching the youngster how to herd cattle. It was both amusing and eerie to watch the two together. James would pull on the reins to guide Joshua in a direction and the horse would stop, standstill, and shake his head. After a few seconds Joshua would look back at James and then proceed in the correct direction and at the proper gait. James quickly learned that if Joshua offered any resistance to his orders that the orders were probably wrong.
"Who's controlling who?" Lewis asked Alyssa as he pointed to James and the big horse with a smile. They watched the boy and the horse work with each other. "Just proves that Joshua is the best cowpony on the place when he wants to be. It's really strange is all I can say," Lewis said shaking his head.
They were on the spring drive that took half their herd to the high country meadows to graze for the summer. James would be leaving with William in another week. They would be making their third yearly trip to Moose Jaw, Canada.
A band of Lakota Sioux moved to the area around Moose Jaw after the great Lakota chief, Sitting Bull, surrendered in 1881. Young James, Lewis and William were descendents of Iron Buffalo who led several families to Canada in 1891. When James turned seven, Lewis and Alyssa along with William decided that the boy needed to learn of his heritage. William agreed to take the boy north to visit the Lakota. The tribe celebrated a week of remembrance, a powwow, of their heritage and history each summer. That was the event that James and William attended every year.
This year would be the first time that William and James took a plane to Moose Jaw. The previous years they had driven the close to 1600 miles, but at age 72 the trip was very hard on William.
"It's going to be lonely without James," Alyssa offered.
Lewis nodded. "I know but he needs to go," he replied and then smiled. "I don't know who enjoys the trip more, James or William. Besides it will give us some time alone."
When they got to the high country meadows, they let the cattle roam. They would fatten up on the lush grass. The wanna be wranglers would camp overnight and return to the valley the next day. Lewis went to help James take care of Joshua but the boy wouldn't have it.
"My horse, my job Dad," James said. Lewis nodded and stepped back.
After James unfastened the cinch, the big horse knelt so the boy could pull the saddle off his back. Then Joshua held his head down and James removed the bridle. Lewis just smiled at the relationship that had developed between Joshua and his son.
One week later Lewis and Alyssa drove James and William to Love Field in Prescott. They watched the plane take off and drove back to Eagle's Nest. As they pulled up in front of the ranch house, Helen came out to meet them.
"Alyssa, your granddad has been taken to the hospital," she told them. "I called your cells but you didn't answer."
"We left our phones in the truck when we went into the terminal," Alyssa explained. "What happened?"
"He was working with a new colt, the animal spooked and kicked him. He's at the Yavapai Regional Med Center's ER."
Lewis and Alyssa didn't even get out of their truck. He turned the truck around and raced back to Prescott. When they arrived at the Medical Center, Lewis did a power slide to a stop in front of the ER. Running into the hospital Alyssa questioned a clerk concerning her grandfather. The lady checked a computer screen and told them a doctor would be right with them.
"Mrs. Randal?" The doctor asked a few minutes later. Alyssa nodded and he said, "I'm Doctor Davis. You're listed as Mr. Benson's next of kin and emergency contact on the card in his wallet. Mr. Benson was kicked by a horse and sustained critical internal injuries. We had to operate immediately."
"Is my grandfather going to be okay?" Alyssa asked fearfully.
"I'm sorry Mrs. Randal. Mr. Benson passed away during the operation," the doctor replied. "The extent of his injuries were too great for him to survive."
Alyssa turned pale and she leaned against Lewis for support. He led her to a chair so she could sit down. She cried softly with her hands over her face. The doctor followed them, worried about Alyssa.
"Josh's been kicked before Doctor," Lewis said. "Why was the damage so extensive this time?"
"Mr. Benson was kicked just below the sternum," Doctor Davis replied. He motioned for Lewis and they stepped slightly away from Alyssa. "I didn't want to go into details right in front of Mrs. Randal," the doctor explained.
"Mr. Benson's ribs and sternum were broken by the force of the blow from the horse," Davis told Lewis. "Both of his lungs were punctured as well as his spleen and one of his kidneys." The doctor paused and added, "There wasn't much that we could do. In fact I'm surprised that he was still alive when the paramedics got him here."
Lewis and the doctor walked back to where Alyssa was sitting. She was softly crying but the color had returned to her face. Lewis looked at her with concern while taking her hand. Alyssa returned his look and gave him a small sad smile as if to say I'm okay.
"I'm sorry we couldn't do more for your grandfather Mrs. Randal," Doctor Davis offered. Alyssa nodded and smiled at him. Davis shook Lewis' hand and left.
As he walked away Tom and Helen Casey stormed into the waiting area. Lewis' explained what had happened and the outcome. Helen immediately went to Alyssa, sat down next to her, and put her arms around Alyssa. Tom was standing with Lewis when a severe looking woman came out from the office area.
"Mrs. Randal, we need to settle some insurance matters and make arrangements for someone to pick up the body," the woman said.
Lewis turned and seemed to swell with anger. Tom stepped in front of him and grabbed his arm before Lewis could step toward the woman. "Take it easy son," he cautioned Lewis. "You raisin a fuss now it will only make things worse."
Tom faced the woman and asked her to step away with him. When they were almost back to the office door Tom said, "You blood sucking, money hungry bitch. Alyssa just lost one of the most important people in her life and y'all are only concerned that your books balance."
The woman's face turned red. Helen came over and pulled on her husband's arm. She pushed him back toward the Randals and turned to the administrator. "I suggest you don't get close to Lewis Randal right now. Go back to your office and I'll be in shortly to solve your problem," Helen said with a tightly controlled voice. The chastised woman returned to her office, glad to out of the line of fire.
Helen returned to Alyssa and Lewis. "Y'all go on home," she suggested. "Tom and me will take care of things here. We'll make all the arrangements for a funeral home and such. Y'all go on home," she repeated.
Driving home Lewis and Alyssa decided that they wouldn't call James and William until the funeral had been scheduled. "At least they'll have a few days with the Lakota," Lewis said. Alyssa nodded in agreement.
Helen and Tom returned later that afternoon. She told Alyssa that Roller Funeral Home had picked up Josh and would call her the next morning to see what she wished to do.
Alyssa heaved a sigh. "Guess I better call my Dad and Mom," she told Lewis. "Not looking forward to it."
She went into the office and closed the door. Not more than ten minutes later Alyssa came out, sat in Lewis' lap, and cuddled up to him. She was softly crying.
"You okay Honey?"
"Dad said to let him know when the funeral was and he'd see if he could break away from his office." Alyssa leaned back and looked at Lewis. The tears were gone and he could see anger in her eyes. "How about that? His father dies and Mr. Edward Benson will see if he can spare the time to come to the funeral." Her eyes were on fire, "What a sad person he's become."
Alyssa's parents, Edward and Sally Benson, had made it plain long ago that they didn't want to have anything to do with Josh's ranch or life. "That ranch and the little hick town are uncivilized," was what they'd said.
The next morning a representative of Roller called. Alyssa told them that her grandfather had wanted to be cremated. Roller agreed to do the work and bring Josh's remains out to her at Eagle's Nest. After the phone call Lewis excused himself to leave the house and took a drive. About two hours later he returned.
"I've set something up for Josh if it's okay with you Honey," he told Alyssa. She raised her eyebrow in a question. "Ted Cole over to Cole's Corner said we could have a viewing and a memorial service in the large meeting room at the trading post. If you want," Lewis finished.
Cole's corner had been an old time trading post for better than a hundred years. Now it was more of a general store and gas station that served the people living in the area, saving them a long trip into Prescott. It had a very large room that was used as a meeting hall, for special parties, and sometimes a dance hall.
Alyssa smiled and chuckled. "Grandpa would like that."
Everything was arranged for a Saturday service. The obituary was printed in the local papers and Lewis called a few of the outlying neighbors who might not get the paper. Several pictures of Josh were collected and a sort of memory board was made to place at the front of the meeting hall.
James and William came back for the service. It was James that insisted they return. He said he wanted to say goodbye to his Grandpa Josh.
Edward and Sally Benson apparently couldn't find the time out of their important life in Los Angeles to make it to the service. They did send a wreath which Alyssa promptly threw into the trash dumpster out back of Cole's.
Late Saturday afternoon, Alyssa, Lewis, William, and James rode their horses to a spot beside a stream that ran through the Benson ranch. The stream had a wide deep hole where Josh liked to fish. Alyssa spread Josh's ashes across the stream and watched them float away.
"Goodbye Grandpa," she whispered. "I love you."
Before returning home Lewis and Alyssa talked to the ranch hands that had worked the Benson spread. "Y'all keep doing what you been doing. Keep the place going please." The men nodded. "Don't know what's going to happen to the ranch but we'll see that you get your wages."
Seven weeks after Josh's funeral, a lawyer from Prescott called for Alyssa. "Mrs. Randal, I'm Sam Reynolds of Reynolds, Reynolds, and Judd. I was Josh Benson's attorney and friend for close to thirty years."
"What can I do for you Mr. Reynolds?"
"I would like to schedule a time convenient for you to read Josh's last will and testament," he answered. "Would this Friday at say 10 AM be acceptable to you?"
"That's fine with me, but I thought the ranch and everything would go to my dad."
"I can't divulge what's in the will but Josh left explicit instructions that you be present at the reading," Reynolds explained. "I'll inform your father Edward of the time. See you Friday Mrs. Randal."
Alyssa and Lewis entered the attorney's office at 9:45 and were shown to a conference room. Sam Reynolds introduced himself.
"It's nice to see you again Mrs. Randal." Alyssa looked puzzled and Reynolds added, "I met you a few times right after you came to live with Josh."
Alyssa smiled, "I remember now. You used to come out and play chess with Grandpa sometimes."
"That's correct, I'm surprised you remember." Looking at his watch he said, "We'll wait until your father gets here to read the will. Or 10 o'clock, whichever comes first."
Alyssa introduced Lewis to the attorney and they talked for a few minutes about Josh. Right at 10 Reynolds opened a folder on the table and started to read the will. Just then Edward and Sally Benson breezed into the room as if they owned it.
"Hello Alyssa," he said. "Got a hug for your old dad?"
Sally nodded and said, "Hello dear."
Edward had taken a step toward his daughter when he saw the anger on her face and the laser like stare in her eyes. He stepped back next to his wife. They sat in chairs facing the desk.
"The timing on this is most inconvenient Reynolds," Edward said. "Let's get on with it. I have to get back to Los Angeles."
"I'm sorry you were put out but Josh's instructions were that the reading of his will was to be at Alyssa's convenience," Reynolds replied. "Now, shall I read the will or do you want to complain some more?"
Edward and Sally were surprised at Reynolds' attitude. He nodded for the attorney to begin.
Reynolds began to read: "I, Josh Benson, being of sound mind and body and being under no duress have written this document as my last will and testament." Reynolds interrupted the reading to show a one page hand written document signed by Josh, two witnesses and notarized.
"I've had the will transcribed to make reading it a little easier." He held up the transcript which also had Josh's notarized signature. Turning to Alyssa he smiled and added, "Josh never could write worth a hoot."
He continued reading: "When I die I bequeath my ranch, all of the stock and equipment, and the house to my great grandson James Ambrose Randal."
Hearing this Edward loudly protested, "That's not the will my father made. I saw and read his will the year that Alyssa went to live with him."
"Please be quiet Mr. Benson," Reynolds ordered with steel in his voice. "Josh rewrote his will the day after young James was born. He had me destroy the previous will. May I continue?" Edward nodded.
"The ranch, ranch house, and the stock and equipment have been put into a trust for my great grandson. I ask my granddaughter Alyssa Benson Randal and her husband Lewis Randal to administer the trust until James reaches 21 years of age. At that time he may do as he wishes with the land and property. I hope it will give him a good start in life."
"This isn't right," Edward said with anger. "I'm the next of kin, I should get the ranch. I'll fight this and..."
"Quiet Mr. Benson," Reynolds ordered again. "If you continue to disrupt this reading I will have you removed from my office." This last statement was given with an evil little grin. It was obvious that Sam Reynolds had little use for Edward Benson.
"This will is perfectly legal and binding. Take legal action if you wish but you'll be wasting your time and money. God himself can't break this will." After a few second Reynolds said, "There's one more statement."
"I leave secure in the knowledge that my son Edward and daughter in law Sally will never have to come to this 'uncivilized' country again. Edward you've turned your back on the very place that supported you and paid for your fancy eastern school. Now that place has turned its back on you."
Reynolds folded both pieces of paper, placed them in an envelope and handed them to Alyssa.
Edward Benson turned to his daughter. "Alyssa, honey let's..."
"Don't talk to me," Alyssa broke in. "You couldn't be bothered to come to my wedding, you've only been to see your grandson once in ten years, and you couldn't find the time to come to your own father's funeral." She paused to gather herself. "You've turned you back on everything but your high society life in L.A. Grandpa was right. This country, Grandpa's friends that watched you grow up, my husband, my son, and I have turned our backs to you. Don't come back, don't call, and don't write, we don't want anything to do with you."
Lewis smiled without humor. Don't pay to rile my wife, he thought.
"Thank you Mr. Reynolds," Alyssa said as she stood. "Come out to Eagle's Nest for supper now and then. My husband makes the best bbq ribs and brisket this side of Kansas City."
In the truck on the way home Alyssa said, "Never thought Granddad would do something like that."
"I had an idea," Lewis replied.
"You did? Why?"
"The day I met Josh, before you came into the room, he told us that his son Edward thought the ranch was uncivilized. He seemed to be disappointed and a little angry," Lewis told her. "He's said a few other things over the years. Nothing outright, but he wasn't happy with your father."
Alyssa sat quietly for a few minutes. Turning in the seat toward her husband she said, "Maybe we should try to work something out with Dad and Mom. I mean he was Granddad's next of kin and all."
Lewis didn't respond. He just stared out the windshield of the truck and drove. His silence spoke volumes.
"What'da you think?" Alyssa asked.
He sighed, took a deep breath and answered, "I think you'd dishonor Josh's memory. Wait, let me finish," he ordered when Alyssa started to speak.
"Josh wanted to leave the ranch to someone that would care as much about it as he did. It's his legacy that'll live on after him." Lewis paused for a few seconds. "He knew how you felt about the place; I mean you chose to leave L.A. to live out here. Josh knew that you, and me, would pass on our love of this valley and our life to our son."
Lewis took a second to look at Alyssa. "Leave it be Honey. Let Josh have his legacy."
Alyssa smiled and moved across the truck seat next to Lewis. "I love you," she said.
They were met by a whirlwind when they arrive at Eagle's Nest. James came running out to the truck and was talking before it stopped.
"Dad, Mom, come see what Joshua found," the boy said. He was so excited he could hardly stand still. James grabbed their hands and pulled them toward the barn.
"Take it easy son," Lewis said.
"C'mon Dad, you gotta see this. You too Mom." James led them to Joshua's stall. The big horse was outside in the corral watching.
"Look," James said pointing to the back wall of the stall.
The old wooden wall had a jagged opening that Lewis had never seen before. The walls were old and well worn for good reason; the barn had been here for well over 100 years. Lewis could see the teeth marks that Joshua had made while chewing a hole in the wall. Inside the opening was a bundle wrapped in what looked like buckskin. The opening was about head high to James. Lewis stepped into the stall, reached into the opening, and pulled out the bundle.
It was about 8 inches wide by 10 inches long. The buckskin was dry and cracked. Lewis carefully and slowly unwrapped it to find another layer of buckskin. Twice more he peeled away layers. After the last layer was opened he saw a small book or journal 6 inches by 8 inches.
Lewis, followed Alyssa and a skipping James, took the book out of the dim light of the barn to the bright sunshine. Opening the cover he saw a name written on the first page. His eyes grew wide; he took a deep breath and looked at Alyssa.
"What is it?" She asked.
"Yeah, what is it Dad?" James parroted.
Lewis had to swallow before he could speak. "It's a personal journal," he replied.
"What's that?" James asked.
"It's like a diary. You know, people write down what happens to them and how they feel about different things."
"Whose journal Lewis?" Alyssa asked stepping closer to get a better look.
"You're not going to believe it." Lewis smiled and said, "It's the personal journal of Great Great Great Great Grandfather's Lakota bride Chante Randal.