The Second Hundred Years
Copyright© 2010 by woodmanone
I'm glad my traveling days are over at least for a while, Lewis Randal said to himself. It was 2007 and he was finally home; well as close to a home as he'd had the last three years. It had been a long, hard, and sometimes painful journey. His return home started in Iraq; his National Guard Unit had been activated and sent to "The Sandbox".
He'd been living in St. Louis, not doing much with his life. Lewis had a good job in the financial and procurement department of a large manufacturing company; a very pretty though spoiled fiancée, and a full social calendar. But he was dissatisfied with his life. Lewis wanted to do something that mattered; he wanted to make a difference. So he joined the National Guard.
His unit was basically a transportation company. Lewis thought that if they activated it would be to provide transportation for tornado or flood victims or to help in other natural disasters. It wasn't the smartest thing he'd ever done. Three months after joining up, the unit was called up and deployed to Iraq. On his way out of the country, he shook his head at his faulty logic. Who needs transport more than soldiers and their supplies in a battle zone?
Lewis had been in Iraq for one year and could see the end of his deployment on the horizon. On a morning patrol the Humvee he and his squad were riding in was struck by an RPG. The explosion threw him and one other guardsman out of the back of the vehicle; none of the others made it.
His buddy was wounded and Lewis put field dressings on his injuries. Bullets began to hit the ground around them so Lewis grabbed his friend and dragged him behind a rock wall. He tried to carry the man but found that his left leg wasn't working too well. He returned fire and held off the attackers; killing at least three of them in the first rush.
Lewis noticed during a lull in the fighting that most of his left little finger was gone; he also had shrapnel in his left leg. That's why it doesn't work, he thought; because of the adrenalin rush the pain hadn't started yet. Lewis bandaged his wounds and continued firing. Another patrol arrived in about ten minutes and the two survivors were taken back to base. That's when the pain kicked in. Both Lewis and his buddy were stabilized and sent to the Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany.
He was in Germany for better than two months. They operated on his leg and his finger and he had physical therapy after he healed a bit. While he was in therapy he received a Purple Heart, a Bronze star and a letter from Julie, his fiancée.
She said she was sorry but she had met someone else while he was gone and was ending their engagement; she did return the ring he'd given to her. Julie also said she would always think of him fondly and hoped that they could be friends.
Lewis took the letter and the ring and threw them into the hospital incinerator. He was angry; not so much because she'd broken up with him but because she did it while he was in the hospital. Typical he thought, it was all about her and she couldn't be bothered to do the right thing.
Months later as he topped a tall hill, Lewis stopped his Harley and gazed down into the peaceful valley spread out below him. It ran northeast away from his position toward the mountains that formed a boundary and closed off one end of the valley. The morning sun was shining and made everything look bright and new. There's the ranch house, he thought. Just like I remembered it.
There were times I thought I might never see Eagle's Nest again. The ranch had been named for the eagles that lived and nested in the tall rock buttes rising from the valley floor at the rear of the ranch house. Aside from the fact that I'd be dead, he said to himself with a chuckle, it'd be a shame if the ranch went to some damn developer after Grandpa passes on. Damn, it's good to be back.
Even though Eagle's Nest wasn't a working cattle ranch anymore for the Randal's, it was still home to Lewis. Two of the adjoining ranches leased grazing rights from the family. The money from the leases covered taxes and some of the expenses of the ranch. William paid the rest out of his pension. Now Lewis could help using his medical disability payments.
Lewis put the Harley in gear and rode down the hill toward the ranch house. The original part of the building was built in the late 1880s, using three foot diameter logs that had been taken from the forest on the ranch. A large extension using smaller logs had been added on the rear sometime around 1955.
As he pulled up to the porch that wrapped around three sides of the house, Lewis' Grandfather stepped out to meet him. William Chayton Randal was visually striking and almost as tall as his grandson at 6 feet 1. Even at the age of 62 he stood tall with a slender work hardened build. He had dark hair with a streak of white over his right ear. His dark eyes and high cheek bones told of his Native American heritage. Lewis absent mindedly ran his hand over his own streak of white hair as he took off his helmet.
William was part Lakota Sioux from both of his grandparents. His grandmother was Chante, a full blood Lakota Sioux maiden. William's mother had been also been a full blood Lakota; his father was half Lakota. William always said he was more Lakota than white. His complexion was tanned and weatherworn; a combination of his genes and the years spent working outdoors.
He crossed to the top step and looked down at Lewis. "Wondered when you'd come home. It's good to see you boy."
"Hi Grandpa," Lewis replied. "If you can put up with me, I'd like to stay and heal up for a while."
William's face showed his concern as he stepped down closer to Lewis. "Your leg still bothering you?"
"Naw, it's pretty good. I got about 90 percent mobility; could have been a lot worse. Those doctors in Germany are really good. I sorta miss my little finger though," he said showing his Grandpa the stump. Lewis paused and added, "I think it's my mind and spirit that needs healing more than anything."
The older man looked at his grandson for a few seconds and put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Stay as long as you need to son. Stay here from now on if you want." William took a second to wipe the moisture from the corner of his eyes. "I could use the company," he said smiling. "C'mon let's get your duffle to your room."
He grabbed Lewis's duffel from the back of the bike and walked into the house. Lewis looked around again, smiled, and followed his Grandpa. Some of the happiest times of his life at been spent at the ranch; he hoped he could regain those feelings again.
That evening after supper sitting on the porch, Lewis told his Grandpa about his life in St. Louis, the reason he enlisted in the Guard, and his experiences in Iraq. He also told him about the 'Dear John' letter from his fiancée.
"Actually I think she did me a big favor by breaking up with me," Lewis said with a small sad smile. "I don't think we really loved each other. I think we were in intense like and lust but I don't think it was love."
"Really?" William responded.
"We worked for the same company, had the same friends, and had a good time partying together." Lewis paused for a minute. "You know when I was in Iraq I really didn't think that much about her; I just thought about getting back to Eagle's Nest."
"You may be right boy," William replied. "It don't sound much like love to me."
Lewis sat quietly for a few minutes staring across the valley as the sun set. "I'd like to stay a couple of months, maybe more, and figure out what to do with myself now. My old job doesn't hold a lot of interest for me."
"Well if you decide to leave, you'll have to decide what to do with the ranch," William told him.
"What do I have to do with it? The ranch is yours Grandpa."
William smiled and chuckled. "Ain't so boy. I gave the ranch to your Dad and Mom as a wedding present; all 1000 acres. I kept forty acres over by Indian Springs for myself. I'd planned to enlarge the line shack there into a cabin but your Mom talked me into staying here at the ranch house.
He stopped for a short time. "The day you graduated from college, your Dad had a new deed drawn up with you as the sole owner of Eagle's Nest. John didn't want to influence your decision about what to do with your life so he never told you. He was disappointed that you went to St. Louis instead of coming home. He and Ellie were killed in that auto accident right after you took that job."
William laughed at the shock on Lewis' face. "Center Corp development made an offer on the place three months ago. Somewhere around three million as I recall. I told him I didn't own the place and to stick his offer. Three million is a lot of money; I can understand if you want to sell the place."
He saw the concern on the boys face and added, "Don't worry about me. If you sell out it will make my land over by the spring worth a lot more. I'll sell out too and move to San Antonio. Always did like it there."
Lewis sat for a few minutes. Damn, three million dollars, he thought. I could go anywhere and do anything with that kind of money. I'd split it with Grandpa but I'd still have 'go to hell' type money. Then he smiled at William.
"Grandpa, all I could think about in Iraq was getting home and seeing Eagle's Nest; especially after I was wounded. I don't think Dad, or you, or Great Grandpa John or Great Great Grandpa Jim would want the place to go to a developer. No sir, I think we'd better just keep it in the Randal family."
William nodded and smiled. "Hopin you'd see it that way boy."
The next morning Lewis saddled a horse and rode out. He went all the way to the lower end of the valley into the foothills of the mountains. As he rode, he remembered his childhood on the ranch. It's almost like the rest of the world doesn't exist, he thought. I couldn't stand to see all this with houses or a golf course built on it.
"The eagles still nest up on the rim?" Lewis asked that evening. William nodded and Lewis said, "I think I'll ride up and see if I can spot a few early tomorrow morning."
"You can't ride a horse up there you know."
"I know Grandpa," Lewis replied. "But I saw a game trail on one of my rides that I can follow on foot and get higher up on the rim. Maybe I can get close enough to get some good pictures." After a few seconds Lewis said, "I might stay until dusk to catch their afternoon hunting. I'll take a radio and call you if I'm going to be late."
"You be careful in those mountains," William warned. "There was an earthquake around San Diego a couple of weeks ago and we felt the ground shaking all the way over here. There might be a lot of loose rock up there."
"Yes sir," Lewis replied with a smile. No matter how old I get I'll still be his grandson, he thought.
At first light Lewis was riding toward the rock buttes. He dismounted at the game trail and let the reins hang down. The horse was trained to ground tie and would stay put. Lewis got his backpack from behind his saddle and geared up for his climb. It was late September and sometimes winter set in early so he wore a backpack with a sort of survival kit. He had a poncho, a fire starting kit, first aid supplies, and one of the so called space blankets made of Mylar. In addition the pack carried a good supply of trail mix and beef jerky.
Lewis also had a small digital camera in the pack. He started his hike just as the sun came up over the mountain lighting his way up the trail. About thirty minutes into his climb Lewis came to a tall rock wall. He stopped to rest for a minute thinking, my leg's holding up fine.
Lewis found a small fire ring at the base of the wall with what looked like petroglyphs carved into the rock. This was an important place at one time, he thought. Looking up he saw two or three eagles soaring overhead but they quickly went past the top of the rock wall so he couldn't get a good view or take a picture. Maybe if I get to the other side of the wall I can find a way up that will get me closer to their nest, he told himself. He followed the game trail around the wall and stopped. Across a narrow shallow canyon there was what looked like another rock wall that had fallen and revealed the entrance to a cave.
I've been up here several times when I was growing up and I've never seen that cave before, Lewis thought. The cave was too great a temptation to pass up so he made his way across the small canyon to get to the opening. The opening was about ten feet across and the roof of the cave had a crack that allowed the sun to light up the first 30 feet of the cavern. Lewis quickly crossed that 30 feet and peered further into the cave. Might run a long way back into the mountain, he thought. I need a light.
Then he remembered his key ring. The ring only had two things on it; the key to his Harley and a small flashlight. The light was one of those that you could use to light up a key slot; it had been given to him by a girl he dated. He had kept the light and got rid of the girl sometime ago. He pulled the ring out of his pocket and as small as it was, the flashlight seemed very bright in the total darkness of the cave.
I'll just go another hundred feet or so, Lewis told himself. I can come back with a better light and explore if the cave goes on. He stepped farther into the cavern, following the path as it curved and opened into a large room. Lewis noticed that the cave was dry. It's not a living cave at least not this part he thought. If it was the walls and floor would be damp or even wet.
Off to one side of the big room he saw a small speck of light. What the hell? Lewis asked himself. There shouldn't be any light in here unless there's another opening to the top of the mountain. He played his light over the floor and stepped closer. There was a wall from floor to ceiling with a small opening near the top. That wall's man made Lewis thought. You can see that someone used mud as a mortar to hold the flat stones.
As Lewis stepped closer he saw a sort of thin smoke seeping out of the hole. He got close to the opening, peered in, and started coughing when he breathed in some of the smoke. Lewis stepped back and coughed to clear his lungs and catch his breath.
Holding his breath he looked through the opening again, leaning one hand against the wall. Lewis almost fell as part of the wall collapsed. A cloud of the smoke flowed out and then seemed to clear up a little. The opening was now almost man sized and Lewis was able to see behind the stacked stones.
The wall had closed off a small room to the side of the bigger room. Lewis saw a very small, very bright and intense flame burning in a small cavity cut into the back wall of the room. The smoke wasn't as thick and he could now breathe without a problem so he stepped through the opening in the wall and moved closer to the flame. There was an oily substance at the bottom of the circular niche. The walls surrounding the niche were wet, sort of like they're sweating, Lewis thought. I wonder if that's what fuels the flame?
He turned to look around the room and got a major shock. Lying against the rear wall of the room was a man's body lying on a bed of dried and crumpling pine boughs. Lewis stepped closer to the body to examine it. If I didn't know better I'd think he was sleeping, Lewis said to himself. He doesn't look he's been dead too long.
Lewis squatted down and took a closer look at the body. The man had long dark hair, a long beard and he really did look like he was sleeping. Lewis started to look for some identification in the pocket of the man's twill work pants but the pants almost fell apart as he touched them. He thought he felt a movement and shuddered; I hope I don't get into a bunch of bugs or maggots. Something made him look at the man's face. The man's eyes were open and he slowly turned his head toward Lewis.
Lewis jumped back and fell on his rear. This guy is alive. The man was trying to say something but all Lewis heard was a rasping croak. He took his canteen a put a few drops of water on the man's lips and into his mouth. The voice was still a rasping whisper but Lewis heard a questioning, "Spirit Healer?"
He gave the man a little more water. "No, my name is Lewis Randal, Mister," he replied. "You just take it easy, don't try to move. I'm going to call for help; I'll be right back."
The man closed his eyes and Lewis rushed out of the cave. He knew that the tall rock wall might interfere with the radio signal so he quickly crossed the canyon and walked around the tall butte.
"Lewis calling base ... Lewis calling base. Are you there Grandpa?" There was no answer. He called again. "Grandpa, this is Lewis. Come in please."
"Hey Lewis. What's the matter? You get lonely and want someone to hold your hand."
"No sir. I found a man; he's almost dead. I need some help up here."
"Slow down son. What do you mean you found a man?"
Lewis quickly explained about the cave and how he found the man. "I thought he was dead but then he opened his eyes. I gave him a little water and came out to call you. We need a medic and someone to help get him back down the trail."
"I'll call Doc Samuels, he lives about five miles away," William said. "Either way I'll come up and meet you. What can I bring with me?"
"Bring some blankets; this guy's clothes are falling off him. And maybe more water or Gatorade or something. That's about all I can think of," Lewis replied. "Oh yeah, bring some kind of lanterns or flashlights," he quickly added.
"I'll be there within a couple of hours. Leave a marker to show the way to the cave. Base clear."
Before going back, Lewis left several piles of rock as markers to lead the way to the cave. He found some dry wood and took it with him. As he was building a fire the men opened his eyes again and tried to speak. Lewis went to him and gave him a little water. "Take it easy, help is on the way. We'll get you down the mountain and to a doctor."
It was almost two hours later when Lewis heard someone calling his name. "I'll be right back Mister," he told the man. He left the cave and saw his Grandpa, another man, and a woman making their way across the small canyon toward the cave. That must be the doctor, he thought. But who is the woman.
Lewis waved at the trio and waited for them to join him at the cave entrance. William handed Lewis a large flashlight and he carried an electric lantern. Lewis motioned for the others to follow him and led them to the side room. On the way William introduced him to Doc Samuels and his wife, Dotty.
Charley Samuels was about the same age as Lewis' grandfather; but where William was tall and trim Charley was short at 5 feet 7 and stocky. As they came to the top of the trail, Charley took off his hat and wiped his balding head. The only hair he had was a salt and pepper colored fringe around the sides of his head. He was a jovial type and it was easy to like him.
Dotty Samuels was almost the exact opposite of her husband. She was at least ten years younger than Charley and stood 5 feet 10 or so. Dotty was lean and shapely with her long dark hair worn in a pony tail down her back. Charley looked every day of his 63 years but Dotty could have passed for 40; maybe younger if she was all dressed up. They made an unlikely looking couple.
Arriving at the room Doc Samuels and his wife took the lantern, crossed to the mystery man, and began to examine him. Samuels took off the large backpack he was wearing and started taking medical supplies out of it. He made a quick exam and said something to Dotty. She grabbed a plastic bag and started an IV in the man's left arm.
Dotty motioned William over to her. "Hold this bag about waist high while I help Charley," she ordered and went back to assisting the doctor. Doc Samuels handed her another bag and she piggy backed another IV line into the first one. She handed William the second bag to hold too.
Lewis took the big flashlight and arranged it so it added light for the doctor. He built the fire a little higher and then sat and waited. It was out of his hands now. He watched the group in the corner and heard the man mutter a name. Lewis didn't hear what he said but he saw his Grandpa stiffen and stare hard at the semi conscious man.
A few minutes later William called over to Lewis. "We need to make a stretcher to get him down the hill. See if you can find some poles; there's some rope in my backpack."
Lewis hiked back down the hill several hundred feet to a grove of lodge pole pines. He cut and trimmed two sturdy poles about eight feet long. He also cut and trimmed two that were about thirty inches long. Back in the cave he wove the rope back and forth between the longer poles making a bed. Then he fastened the two shorter poles on each end between the longer ones. The rope would support the man and the short poles would keep the stretcher from collapsing toward each other. It took him about twenty minutes to form the stretcher.
Doc Samuels walked over to Lewis and looked at his work. "Almost as good as a gurney in the ER," he said with a smile. He offered his hand to Lewis and they shook.
"How long you been doctoring around here?" Lewis asked.
"I'm sorta retired now," he answered. "Worked in California for several years and we decided to retire here a little over two years ago. Dotty was my nurse and when I got ready to leave she said she was coming with me. We got married in Las Vegas on our way here. Best move I ever made," he added with a big grin.
"Retiring or getting married?" Lewis asked returning the grin.
"Either one or both, I guess."
Lewis turned back toward the unknown man and asked, "How's he doing?"
"Actually, he's not in too bad of shape. His vital signs are pretty good. He's come to a couple of times but every time he does his blood pressure shoots up. So I gave him a mild sedative to make him sleep. It will make it easier to get him down the mountain too. He is seriously dehydrated and malnourished though. Those two IVs should stabilize him and then we can move him." Doc Samuels paused. "Might be morning before we can carry him out."
"Just as well," Lewis replied. It's gonna get dark soon and I sure don't want to try the trail in the dark, especially carrying a man on a stretcher."
The next morning Doc Samuels examined his patient and said he was stable enough to travel. They managed to get the man into a sleeping bag and Lewis helped the doctor get him onto the stretcher. Then they began the long hike back down the mountain. Lewis handled one end of the stretcher with William and Doc Samuels taking turns on the other end.
When they came to a rough or dangerous part of the trail, each of them including Dotty would take an end of a pole until they passed the rough spots. It had taken Lewis about forty minutes to get to the cave; burdened by their passenger it took almost two hours to get to the trail head. They did rest for a few minutes by the stand of pine while Lewis cut two more poles; these were about twelve feet long. Dotty carried the poles most of the way down.
William watched as Lewis cut the lodge poles. "What are those for?"
"You'll see," Lewis answered with a grin.
Thought so, Lewis said to himself and they came to the end of the trail. His horse was still tied where he had left him and there were two ATVs parked close by.
Lewis turned to William. "I figured you couldn't get your truck up here, so we'll make a travois to get our man back to the ranch. That's what the poles are for."
Samuels was puzzled. "What's a tra ... whatever you called it?"
"It's like a horse drawn stretcher," Lewis replied. "I'll tie one end of the poles to each of my stirrups and run a support line over the horse's back across the front of my saddle. We'll use the rope to make a bed just like we did with the stretcher and put our friend here on it. Cover him with the sleeping bags and I'll drag him back to the house."
William chuckled. "Should've thought of that myself," he said. "I'm the one that's mostly Lakota."