Railroad (Robledo Mountain #4)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
... Girl-Without-Parents gathered everyone together to listen to Creator.
“I am planning to leave you,” he said. “I wish each of you to do your best toward making a perfect, happy world. You, Lightning-Rumbler, shall have charge of clouds and water ... You, Earth-Daughter, take charge of all crops and Earth-People. You, Pollen-Girl, care for their health and guide them.
“You, Girl-Without-Parents, I leave you in charge overall”...
~ Excerpt from Apache Creation Story ~
Ujesh, senior shaman of the Mescalero Apache, sat down heavily, cross-legged on the old buffalo blanket, near the warmth of the small fire. It took a few moments but, eventually, he finally settled in a position his old aching joints and bones found almost comfortable.
He’d selected this forest clearing, high on the sacred mountain, with care as the location for the coming meeting. It would have been nice if it was summer or early fall, but it was mid-winter. Still, he couldn’t have asked for a better day to hold council with the war leaders of the various bands of Mescalero warriors. The early morning sky was clear, the weather, while cold, was crisp, without wind. He’d sent his latest apprentice off to hunt their evening meal. Glancing over at the small amount of wood stacked near the fire, he decided it would last until his apprentice returned.
With a last glance around the clearing, he looked back at the fire, becoming lost in thought. It would have been nice if he knew who was coming to the council he’d called after his last set of visions but, as usual, the tribe was scattered throughout the land in all directions, many days or, in some cases, weeks travel from the sacred mountain. The war leaders he’d called for this particular meeting were a cantankerous bunch at the best of times and these certainly weren’t the best of times.
Admittedly, he’d had a hand in creating the animosity between those war leaders who advocated cessation of hostilities with the white man and those who demanded not only to continue the raids but, to increase the effort and drive the white men from their land once and for all. His visions had always been, and remained, remarkably clear. Warrior raids against the white man had been going on for hundreds of years and, at least until his last vision, would remain a fact of life for hundreds of more years.
Things changed two years ago though, when Santana, THE war chief, had returned victorious from an epic battle with the hated white man and declared, for no apparent reason, that the war, indeed, the raids, were over. He’d talked to Santana for many hours and, despite relating his detailed visions of continued war with the white man, had been unable to change Santana’s mind.
Those who heard of the decision quickly broke into two camps. One group, relatively small, sided with Santana. He was the war chief after all and the long years of continued war with the white man had significantly reduced the numbers and fortunes of the tribe. The other group, supported by Ujesh, were much more traditional. After all, raids were a necessary part of life, and who better to raid than the hated and despised white man. They also believed Santana had gone far outside his mandate as war chief. A war chief was only elected after the matriarchs, in a tribal council, had determined that a dedicated war, not the more common annual raids, against a particular enemy was necessary. Once begun, a war was continued until the war chief declared to the matriarchs that the tribe was victorious, or recommended cessation of hostilities as a lost cause. It was up to the matriarchs, not the war chief, to make a final decision during a tribal council.
A decision of the magnitude declared by Santana required a tribal council. Luckily, the time for the annual tribal meeting and council was near. Santana reluctantly attended the council and expressed his thoughts to the gathered matriarchs. It boiled down to one set of facts; after hundreds of years of war, there were more white men today than ever before. More white families, more white settlements and towns, more white soldiers. There were fewer Apaches. Fewer Mescalero Apache, fewer Chiricahua Apache, fewer Lipan Apache, fewer Jicarilla Apache, fewer Plains Apache, fewer Western Apache. He saw no end in sight to the arriving whites and the losses of the Apache in general and the Mescalero specifically.
Some, especially the small group of old warriors led by Santana’s father, Barranquito, agreed with Santana. Most, including the matriarchs, sided with Ujesh.
Still, there were warriors, like Cadete and Roman, who sided with Santana. Warriors like those of the southern Garcia families who had listened to the words of one of their cousins, a white cousin and moved to land near Las Cruces under his protection. A white man’s protection.
Ujesh found it hard to believe that his old mentor Jaime Garcia had encouraged the move. In fact, the southern Garcia families had only sent their leader, Miguel, to the tribal council that year. Even then, Miguel had only attended to let the council know the words of his cousin’s vision and the family’s decision to gather on his land and support his efforts.
The vast majority of warriors sided against Santana. Well respected warriors like Cha and Agua Nueves and those of the northern Garcia families. They too had heeded the call of Jaime Garcia, visited the land, and heard the words of the white cousin. Listening to both their leader and Nantan, their shaman, they had rejected what they considered false visions and the subsequent offer.
The final vote against him, Santana, along with a few of his supporters and immediate families had left the tribal council to live in seclusion away from those who voted against him. Oddly - for Santana’s temper was renown - the parting, while swift, had been amicable without threats or recriminations.
Life for the Mescalero settled down following Santana’s departure. Annual raids against the white man and other tribes continued as usual. True to their word, Santana’s band kept to themselves and did not participate in any raids against the white man. It was no great secret where Santana’s band was living but his self-enforced ostracism effectively precluded their participation in most tribal events despite Ujesh’s best efforts.
The stalemate had continued until last Spring when the tribe had received word of the death of the northern Garcia’s leader, and the details of Nantan’s vision. Beside himself with anger over Nantan’s apparent betrayal, Ujesh had done his best to hold the tribe firm in their war against the white man, but it was becoming harder and harder as the number of warriors lost in battle continued to mount. Despite winning the majority of the battles, the Mescalero weren’t able to replace their lost warriors quickly. Additionally, game animals were becoming scarcer, forcing the remaining warriors to spend more time hunting farther away from their camps, reducing the number of warriors available for raids even more.
Then came the night of visions. Four visions in a single long session. Four! A powerful number! If the number wasn’t powerful enough by itself, the visions themselves were overwhelming. Each vision was strong in and of itself; but combined, the four visions simply could not be ignored no matter how much Ujesh wanted to do just that.
Given the power of the number four, Ujesh spent a day on each vision, carefully examining them to ensure the conclusion he reached was correct. Finally, unable to argue with his conclusion, he sent the fastest riders to each of the warrior bands asking that the leaders attend him here in the clearing today. Once the riders had been dispatched, he girded himself and asked all matriarchs within a day’s ride to attend an important meeting in two days’ time.
Ujesh had been surprised that all the available matriarchs had attended his hastily called meeting. Granted, it wasn’t the entire matriarchs’ council, but the numbers were sufficient for his purposes. The meeting, though long, had served its purpose. Ujesh had given the matriarchs his visions, explaining each one individually and then given his conclusion based on the combined visions.
As usual, the matriarchs’ council spent hours discussing each vision as well as Ujesh’s conclusion. Well into the night the talk continued. Ujesh had abandoned any hope of gaining immediate approval for his warriors’ meeting. Surprisingly though, the council had given their approval almost immediately after reconvening early the next morning.
As he sat staring into the fire, Ujesh was worried. Every warrior band, including Santana’s, had acknowledged receiving his summons, but few had indicated whether they would attend or not. For many reasons, it was imperative that as many leaders as possible, of the various camps, attend today’s meeting. Chief among those he needed to attend were Santana and his brother Cadete. Santana because he already led the pro-peace faction of the tribe and Cadete because he was far more diplomatic than Santana. Cadete’s acknowledged diplomatic skills were going to be sorely needed.
Ujesh was startled out of his thoughts when his shoulder was firmly clasped and a hand bearing a cup of hot broth was thrust in front of him. Looking up he saw the firm visage of Santana bent over in front of him.
“Losing yourself in thought is an easy way to die old one. We’ve all been here for over two hours. Shelters have been built, food and wood brought in, and lunch prepared. Through it all, you have ignored us. What has you so disturbed that you’ve forgotten the way of the warrior?” Santana asked calmly as Ujesh accepted the cup of broth he’d offered.
Ignoring the frown on Santana’s face, Ujesh looked deeply into his eyes. Seeing nothing but his own reflection, he couldn’t help but wonder if the man in front of him, with his mercurial temper and violent outbursts, was truly the man to lead the tribe in the coming years.
Glancing around the camp as he took a sip from the cup, he saw that his worry had been needless. Every one of the leaders he had invited had arrived and was, in fact, sitting around him and the fire waiting to hear what he had to say.
“Let us eat and catch up before settling down to discuss what has disturbed me and the reason for this warrior’s council,” he replied.
Nodding, Santana accepted a cup of stew from one of his warriors and gracefully settled himself on the robes next to Ujesh. For the next hour, in between bites of food and drink, the talk was of births, deaths, and the young men who would be eligible to become warriors in the coming season. Raids, both victory and defeat, the scarcity of game near their camps, and the locations of plentiful game. Finally, with the food gone and conversation topics exhausted, Ujesh began to speak.
“Much has happened since our last full tribal council. Are there any among you who have not heard of last year’s death of Alvaro Garcia or of Nantan’s vision?” When none of the warriors indicated a need for explanation of these events, Ujesh continued. “As a result of these two things Nantan moved the northern Garcia family south to the land of their white cousin. For the first time in tribal memory, the Garcias are united into a single-family camp. This year, along with the followers of Santana, not a single Garcia warrior participated in any raids. There are now more warriors following the way of peace than the way of war.”
Ujesh stopped talking as various warriors, startled by this announcement, gave voice to their dismay, concern, or approval. As he waited for the warriors to calm, he glanced to the side and was surprised to see that Santana had no reaction, calmly sipping hot tea as he waited for Ujesh to continue. Once the warriors had calmed down and resettled themselves, he began speaking again.
“Yes, I had the same reaction. Without the warriors of Santana and the Garcia family, we no longer have enough young men to replace warriors fallen during the raids. When the season of raids was over for this year, I became very concerned. Four weeks ago, I entered the sweathouse in the hope of contacting the spirit world for a way forward. They did not disappoint.” Ujesh hesitated before continuing. “Usually, when I get a vision, and it’s never guaranteed that I’ll have one, the vision is fairly short and requires much interpretation and thought afterward to determine what the spirit world is saying. This time, not only was the vision long and clear, but there were four separate visions, instead of just one.”
Again, he paused, looking out over the warriors to determine if they all understood the power of four. Satisfied with the warrior’s he again began speaking.
“Yes, four visions. Not one vision with four parts, but four distinct and separate visions. I spent four days examining each vision and its relation to the other visions. At the end of those four days, I sent the summons for this meeting and then held a meeting with the matriarchs’ council. After listening to me the matriarchs agreed with my conclusion and approved the warrior’s council I had called. Before I give my conclusion let’s examine each vision.
“In the first vision, I was visited by Lightning-Rumbler. His vision showed me a few years of flood followed by many years of drought in a repeating cycle. The cycles were separated by a few years of balance as we have come to depend on. Distressingly, the years of drought were most numerous with the rivers, fed by mountain snows, drying up completely. Yes, even the largest river, the Rio Grande, was dried up for years at a time. Rivers fed, by springs, became slower and often salty, too salty to drink. The smaller, usually reliable springs, seeps, and water holes were often dry. In the dry years, lightning storms caused fire to sweep through the dry mountain forests, prairie grass, and even the deserts.
“In the second vision, I was visited by Earth-Daughter. Her vision showed me the same years as Lightning-Rumbler. In the years of flood, the plants we rely on for food and other things are drowned by the water. Game animals decrease as the plants they rely on for food can’t grow. Likewise, in the long dry years, there are few, if any, plants or game animals. Most distressing, the years of balance aren’t of sufficient length to allow the land, plants, and animals to recover sufficiently before the next cycle of flood and drought begins.
“In the third vision, I was visited by Pollen-Girl who also showed me the same many long years as had Lighting-Rumbler and Earth-Daughter. Hers was a most terrible vision as the constant wailing of women was heard. In the years of flood, terrible sickness swept through the tribe, killing the very young and very old. In the years of drought, there was little sickness but just as many died of starvation as there were few plants to gather and fewer animals to hunt. Most worrisome was that with fewer babies born each year, and the increased death of those babies that are born, we are unable to replace the warriors killed during raids by the Comanche and Navajo, much less our continued war with the white man.”
The shock and outrage of the warriors, as they listened to Ujesh, reached a point where he could no longer be heard. He sipped hot tea his apprentice brought him as he waited for the warriors to express themselves. Again, he was surprised to see that Santana had not reacted to his visions and was calmly sipping water as he waited for Ujesh to continue. Once the volume of the warrior’s conversations had reached an acceptable level Ujesh continued speaking, effectively silencing the warriors as they struggled to hear him.
“In the final vision, I was visited by Girl-Without-Parents. This vision came so fast and lasted so long, I was dizzy by the time it ended. Even though I couldn’t immediately understand much of what she showed me in this vision, I soon came to understand it was what was happening to the white man during the same time of our years of flood and drought. Far to the east, I saw large groups of white men in towns so vast it takes many days to cross from one side to the other by horse. I also saw two groups of warriors in uncountable numbers spread out across vast fields and forests fighting each other. Long lines of warriors died from rifle fire and huge guns, only to be immediately replaced by more long lines of warriors. Huge wooden and metal ships, each holding tens of hands of warriors fought other huge wooden and metal ships, with both sets of ships belching fire smoke at each other. Huge buildings with tens of hands of people inside were working with fire and hot metal building things I did not recognize.
“Eventually, the fighting stopped, and large numbers of white men began moving west towards us. Some walking in small groups. Some riding in long lines of wagons with white tops. Some riding in long lines of rectangular boxes being pulled across the prairies and mountains by those unrecognizable metal things I saw before.
“To the west, I saw long lines of warriors coming towards us to replace men who had gone east to become warriors in those large battles. Closer to us, I saw groups of men digging water from deep in the ground using large wooden stands the size of trees. More and more people began arriving from the east. The white man’s towns began getting larger and larger. New towns and forts were being built while old, long-abandoned towns and forts were being rebuilt.
“As the vision closed, I saw a large group of Navajo living side by side with Mescalero and Lipan Apache on the same land along a mostly dry river. There were many, many more Navajo than Apache. All of the people I saw, regardless of tribe, were starving and sickly with their clothes hanging off of them. Babies were crying and women were wailing. Men, who should have been warriors, were listless, without the will to live, much less to fight.”
Again, Ujesh was forced to quit speaking as the voices of outraged warriors drowned him out. After a few minutes, he began speaking again.
“Just before the vision ended, Girl-Without-Parents herself told me that she and the others had shown me one of many futures. Other futures are possible but the one they’d shown me was the most probable. To change the future, we must change the present. According to her, an opportunity to change the present, and therefore the future, is already available to us should we choose to grasp it.
“From these visions, I’ve concluded that we must change to follow Santana’s path. The matriarchs’ council know of my conclusion and now support Santana’s path.”
As he’d expected, this announcement created an even louder uproar from a few individuals. Cha and Agua Nueves were clearly the angriest, yelling their denial the loudest, before they and their followers, mounted their horses and galloped from the clearing.
Those warriors remaining, most of those who’d originally gathered to hear Ujesh, spent the rest of the day, and well into the evening, discussing the visions. Ujesh remained silent unless he was asked a question directly. Early the next morning, while the temporary wickiups were knocked down and the few buffalo hide tipis were struck, Ujesh took Santana aside.
When Ujesh was certain that no other could overhear him, he said, “Girl-Without-Parents gave me a message for you.” Seeing Santana’s startled look, Ujesh gave a short laugh. “Yes, I was startled too. It’s the first time she has used me as a messenger.”
“So, what’s the message?” Santana asked, frowning at Ujesh.
“Your way of changing the present is good but can be much better for the people if you heed the advice of Garcia’s white cousin. He will be sending a messenger to you later this year for a meeting on his land after the long rains are over. You will be tempted to ignore the meeting request. Remember that every plan can be improved but you can’t improve your plans if you do not listen to advice from others.”
Done conveying the message he strode over to where his apprentice waited with his horse and mounted. Before kicking his horse into motion, he turned back to Santana.
“The spirits have selected you to lead us through this trying time. Why? I have no idea. I would have selected the much more diplomatic Cadete. You are too volatile for my taste. Regardless, you are the one Girl-Without-Parents singled out. It seems to me that you owe it to all of us to attend that meeting, listen to what is said, and carefully consider the consequences.
Having said his piece, he rode after his apprentice, leaving Santana wearing a look of surprised concern.