I’m not sure why you want to talk to me.
Our last guest was Charley Blackfoot. After our interview he let slip that he knew you in the war. It sounded like there was a story there.
I did things when I was younger that I’m not proud of, but I guess a lot of others did, too.
I left home just after the War started. My older brothers had already lit out. I wasn’t following them, though—I was out to make my own way. And when I got news that my Pa had been killed because of his politics, I deserted and joined up with Jim Danby’s gang, determined to find the men who’d killed my Pa. But then, Jim seemed to get crazier about the things he wanted to do—torturing and killing prisoners and such. I drew the line there, and I didn’t care what happened to me. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d done some of the things he was ordering us to do.
That’s how Charley Blackfeather and I got acquainted—Charley was one of the prisoners Jim was wanting me to kill. When I said no, Jim had the other men about kill me. He thought I was dead, or he’d never have left me. The reason I tell you all this is just to say, there were plenty of others like me, caught up in a world of not being able to know right from wrong. War does that to a man. I’m not making excuses. Just trying to explain.
I think I understand. What brought you to Wolf Creek?
We moved to Wolf Creek when I was twelve years old. My Pa was a headmaster at a Cherokee school in Indian Territory. Then one day, he came home and told Ma we were getting the hell out of there and moving to Kansas.
Why Kansas? I would have thought Indian Territory would have been a safer place to raise a family than Kansas before the Civil War.
From what I could hear, there wasn’t much of an explanation, but Ma seemed to understand without him telling her. She didn’t want to go, that much I knew, but we had to. I thought it was politics forcing us to go, but then I learned something later that shed a whole new light on things.
What did you learn?
When we moved to Wolf Creek, my older brothers, Benton and Eli, were still living at home with us, but Benton eventually got his own place nearby. That just left me and Eli and our younger sister, Kathleen, there at home, and Eli planned on going off on his own, too. But then the War came, and he and Benton went off, thinking it would be a high adventure. They both got themselves killed, and I had left too. Kathleen always held it against me that I went off and left her and Ma, but no one could have known that Pa was going to get himself murdered. Now that I’m back in Wolf Creek, Kathleen is married to a sour mouth preacher, and I’ve taken over the farming there at our home place and taking care of Ma.
So you've come home to settle down.
But I won’t be here forever. I’m too restless to stay in one place forever.
Is that because of your experiences during the war?
The War changed my life in a lot of ways. I was glad to get off on my own—that part was good. I’d never got on too well with my older brothers. They always treated me different, and Pa did, too. Turns out, there was a reason that I didn’t know until a few weeks ago.
If you're not going to tell what you found out about your mother, why do you keep mentioning it?
Anyhow, I went off to make my own way in the world, and then felt honor bound to avenge Pa’s killing. Which was just putting me in a bad place, even worse than when I was a Confederate regular. Joining up with Jim Danby’s gang was something I have been sorry for since the day I did it. I was pretty young and needing someone to look up to. But Danby wasn’t the one, for sure. There wasn’t anyone more evil than Jim, but it took me a long time to understand it. When I did, I almost got killed for it. I came back to Wolf Creek when I healed up, and stayed with Ma. She was glad to have me back, having lost Pa, Benton and Eli. But she still never did tell me the truth that I needed to know so much. I had to learn that from someone else.
What? Never mind. I can tell by that smirk that you're not going to give me an answer.
You’re probably wondering what I’m going to do next with my life.
No, I'm wondering if anyone will notice if I strangle you...
... Okay, I'll bite. What's next?
Chasing Jim Danby’s gang down gave me some satisfaction, like I was righting a lot of the wrong things I’d done earlier. But we didn’t manage to get them all. Some of them are still out there, going on with their lives and the killing and robbing they’re bent on doing. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I might finish up making amends for those years during the War.
One thing that keeps coming back to me is how I might just keep going after the ones that are left until they’re all dead. I know that might mean I’ll be dead first—just depends on who has a faster gun a lot of times. But even if I was to get killed, at least it would be doing something that needed doing.
You don't think taking care of the family farm needs doing?
Farming is not my calling. But neither is murder. I’m just wondering how I’m going to fit into this world. I’m not sure what I’m looking for.
So instead, you're hell-bent on the road for revenge.
You gotta understand, when Jim Danby’s gang rode into Wolf Creek, it changed everything for so many people. I was probably the one that had the biggest secret to keep, having been “one of them” in years past. Who knew there were so many secrets in one small town, though? And all of them important in their own way…
I learned some things about myself that I never would have if Danby’s men hadn’t attacked and brought it all out. I also learned some things about people I lived right there with for years that I didn’t know like I thought I did. But then, they didn’t really know me, either. Despite all that, I still feel adrift—unsure of what I want in life. I’m just not really sure how I need to go about figuring that out. It seems like what I got really good at during the war, that’s something I don’t ever want to have to do again.
On those cryptic words, we wrap up this series on Wolf Creek Book 1: Bloody Trail. Sometime in the new year we hope to have a few characters drop by from Books 2 and 3... maybe even Book 4. Meanwhile, buy or borrow Bloody Trail, written by the authors collectively known as Ford Fargo, published by Western Fictioneers.