Stare Down the Devil
The Saga of Buck Drake
In this scene, Buck has returned to his Blackfeet village, in his grandfather's lodge. An army representative recruits Buck to scout for the army.
Arriving at Fort Shaw, Buck meets the two Gros Ventre scouts he will be working with.
The Blackfeet and Gros Ventre were enemy's, and both tribes were enemy's of the Sioux.
It proved to be a mild winter with the worst of it passing without incident. The men were able to supplement the buffalo meat with deer and elk well into the winter before the animals migrated down to the flat prairie. The camp consisted mainly of women, children, and old men. Twenty young men of fighting age followed Swift Runner and an equal number stayed to Bighorn Chief’s side of the camp. Their political views were reflected by who they chose for their chief.
The snow was thawing under the spring sun when Jim Twist rode into the Marias camp with an Army officer. Twist greeted Swift Runner and Cree Killer. Twist and Buck studied each other. Buck saw that Jim Twist wasn’t more than twenty years old, yet he had seasoned eyes that spoke of his experience. Twist spoke Piegan as well as he spoke English.
Twist explained to Swift Runner that the accompanying officer wanted to meet him because he was a friend to the white man, and a peaceful man. He introduced Major William Shelton, commander at Fort Shaw. Shelton and Swift Runner shook hands.
Swift Runner asked them to come into his lodge for food. They agreed and entered the lodge with the chief. Buck stood with his grandfather and looked around the camp. He saw Bighorn Chief and Angry All The Time standing together glaring at the group. Bighorn Chief was saying something to the younger man, and from his expression it wasn’t anything good.
Buck walked with Cree Killer back to his lodge. “That was Jim Twist,” Cree Killer said. “He is like you; his mother is of our people. Yet, unlike you, his father is a good man.”
Buck stiffened at the mention of his father, but did not respond. “Seems pretty young,” he said in regards to Jim Twist.
Cree Killer smiled, “Were we not all young once? Did it make us any less warriors?”
Buck smiled, “I must have forgotten.”
They went into the lodge and settled down around the fire. “Grandson, make this old man some coffee.”
Buck filled the coffee kettle with water, tossed in a handful of coffee grinds, and put it on the fire.
An hour passed since Twist and Major Shelton rode into the camp. Buck and Cree Killer were drinking coffee when they heard the shuffling of hard boots outside the lodge. “Cree Killer, may I see you?” Jim Twist called out in Piegan.
The old man crawled on his hands and knees across the floor, flipped back the covering entryway flap, and looked out. He saw Twist standing with Shelton.
“May we come into your lodge? We would like to speak with your grandson.”
“Yes, you are welcome.” Cree Killer backed his head into the lodge and was soon followed by the two men. Buck and Cree Killer stood up to meet them.
Twist and Shelton greeted Cree Killer, then turned their attention to Buck.
Twist extended his hand to Buck, “I’m Jim Twist, chief scout and interpreter for Major Shelton at Fort Shaw.”
Buck shook his hand, “Buck Drake.”
Shelton stood by silently and watched.
Twist went on, “Swift Runner told us that you scouted out of Fort Reno.”
“That’s right, until they abandoned the forts on the Bozeman.”
“That means you understand the Sioux.”
“Do you have a point to all this?”
“Plain talk, Mr. Drake,” Major Shelton broke in. “We are on the western edge of the Sioux claimed territory. We are here to form a buffer between them and the local population. We are also in position to fight in the event Red Cloud pushes his war toward us.” Shelton hesitated for a moment, then added, “There are many who are afraid of the Blackfeet as well, and we are here for that purpose, too.”
Buck studied Shelton for a moment. His appearance was that of most army officers, a little haughty and superior, but not overly like some were. “My people have been fighting the Shoshone and Gros Ventre, not the whites, and it’s been a long time since we’ve even fought with them.”
“I do not believe you would deny that there is a history of Blackfeet killing white people,” Shelton remarked.
Shelton nodded, “True. We would like to keep it that way.”
Buck nodded without comment.
“Mr. Twist is as fine a scout as we could hope to find. He has helped us maintain peaceful relations with the Blackfeet. I could use another man like him. Your experience and bloodlines would be helpful in scouting and interpreting for us.”
“Scout against who? I won’t assist the Army in going against my own people.”
“That’s understandable. Actually, I was thinking of you scouting for my patrols into the Sioux country. We also have Blackfeet coming to the fort for various reasons, there would be times when your interpreting for us would be a valuable service. I want to maintain a state of nonviolence with the Blackfeet.”
“I could do that,” Buck agreed.
Shelton nodded, “Very good. When can you start?”
“Not until the camp moves back to the main village on the Teton. My grandfather will need my help. In a month or two I could come down.”
“That is acceptable. I also understand you fought in the War-Between-the-States.”
“I did, most all of it.”
“I fought in the whole war as well. Who did you serve under, and what was your position?”
“I began with Lieutenant Parker in his special unit, and that was under several Generals. Then, I was assigned to Sherman as a sharpshooter. I ended the war in his command at Bennett’s farm when Johnston surrendered.”
“So, you were one of the behind-the-lines men who kept the enemy disrupted for us to win battles.”
“I blew up a few things.”
“Impressive. You may be interested in knowing that Parker is now a Lieutenant Colonel in charge of a special investigations unit enforcing federal laws.”
Buck smiled, “I wondered how he faired, if he had survived the war. The last I saw of him he was headed for Gettysburg, but I lost track of him after the war. I’m happy to hear he’s okay.”
“He is that.” Shelton looked at Twist, “Anything else, Mr. Twist?”
“I think we are finished for now, sir. Buck and I can get better acquainted later when he comes to Fort Shaw.”
The men all exchanged parting words as Twist and Shelton left the lodge. They mounted their horses and rode back down the river. Buck followed them out, watching as they disappeared in the distance.
Bighorn Chief walked up to Buck. “What did the seizers want?” His voice reflected his resentment of having one of the hated soldiers in camp.
“They want me to scout for them against the Sioux.”
The old chief nodded, “Our old enemy. There is no harm in that.”
They stood silent for a minute before Bighorn Chief spoke again, “I am not so sure about Jim Twist. His mother is one of us, and he has lived among us, but he rides with the seizers. If it comes to war, whose side will he be on? Will he shoot us, or help us?”
“I was once asked that question by an army friend. I told him if they fought the Sioux I would fight with the army, but if they fought my people, I would stand against them with my people.”
Bighorn Chief smiled, “Well said.”
“I believe Jim Twist wants to help us. He interprets for us to the Army so there is no misunderstanding between us and them. We can use that kind of help.”
The chief grunted, “We will see.” With that he walked away.
A strong chinook wind melted the last of the mountain snow allowing the winter camps to rejoin the main village earlier than usual. The last week of April found Buck riding down the river toward Fort Shaw. He left his traps and winter gear with Badger, telling him he could use them if he didn’t come back to trap the next winter.
Buck rode through the open gates of Fort Shaw and asked the guard on duty where he could find Jim Twist. The trooper directed him to a small structure across the compound that was the scout quarters. Nudging the roan with his heels, Buck moved across the busy compound to the place he had been directed. Dismounting, he tied the roan’s reins to a post, and entered the room through the open doorway.
Two Gros Ventre scouts sat in chairs up against the wall smoking cigarettes. They wore buckskin pants and moccasins but army shirts and coats. The two stared hard at Buck. Jim Twist had told them he was coming and that he was half Blood. Their expressions turned into scowls as they spoke in their own tongue regarding the stench of a Blood in the room.
Buck understood, and answered in Gros Ventre, “The stench you smell is the breath of a Big Belly blowing back in his face.”
The two scouts continued to glare at him. One snarled, “My cousin’s scalp hangs on a Piegan lance. I will have yours to revenge his.”
Buck gave the man a look of utter contempt, “If an old woman of the Gros Ventre worm filled bellies can take my scalp, I do not deserve to have it.”
The Gros Ventre jumped to his feet, threw down the cigarette, and took the three steps necessary to come nose-to-nose with Buck. The two glared into each other’s eyes without blinking.
“Your breath smells like worms,” Buck said in a calm tone. “You are a Digger Indian eating bugs and worms.”
Just then Jim Twist came out of his room. “What is this?” he snapped in Gros Ventre.
Buck and the scout didn’t move or speak as their eyes remained locked, testing the other’s mettle.
“Jack!” Twist’s voice cracked like a whip. “Sit down, that’s an order.”
Jack’s eyes flicked toward Twist, and then back to Buck. He slowly backed up. The two men’s eyes remaining locked on each other showing that one had no fear of the other.
“There will be another time,” Jack whispered. “I will look forward to it.”
“And, I will look back at it, and say you died well,” Buck responded.
A smile parted the lips on Jack’s hard face as he burst out with a loud laugh. “I like him, Twist,” he said in clear English.
Buck laughed with him.
“Twist said your name is Buck Drake.”
“He didn’t lie.”
“Want to kill some Sioux, Buck?”
Jack jerked a thumb at his friend sitting next to him, “This is Antelope Eater, we like to kill Sioux.”
Buck grinned, “Who doesn’t?”
Antelope Eater grinned with him as he sifted tobacco into a paper and rolled a cigarette. “My father would never believe I am riding with a Blood,” Antelope Eater said with a laugh.
Twist was listening to the exchange with a relieved grin. “Well, now that we’re all acquainted,” he put out his hand to Buck, “glad to have you on.”
Buck shook his hand.
Twist pointed at a bunk, “That’s yours, you can leave your belongings on it. Captain Clarke wants to take a patrol out for a few days and scout the Sioux border. We’ll be leaving within the hour.”
Buck nodded, “Everything I have is on my saddle. Seen anything of the Sioux this far west?”
Twist shook his head, “Not for a while. We keep running into Crow hunting parties and they tell us that the Sioux are concentrated in the Bighorn River area blockading the Bozeman Road.”
“When I was down that way it seemed a priority to them to stop all white traffic from getting past the Black Hills. Probably won’t see them over this way at all.”
Twist jerked a thumb toward the Gros Ventre scouts, “I know, it’s been a big disappointment to these boys.”
Jack smiled, “Maybe this will be our lucky day. We can take several Sioux scalps.”
Twist looked at Jack, “You know the United States Army does not allow its scouts to scalp the enemy killed in a fight.”
Jack shook his head, “You whites are so backward. You don’t understand what is important.”
Buck studied Jack, it was clear by the way he spoke he had spent a lot of time around white soldiers. He was picking up their manner of speech, the same as he had.
“Yeah, well you go tell that to Shelton and Clarke and see what they say,” Twist replied.
“I know what they will say. They will say what you said. It makes me sad.”
“You can still count coup,” Buck put in. “They can’t stop that.”
“That is something,” Jack agreed.
Twist looked out the window, “Column’s coming together, let’s get to it.”
Buck followed the three scouts out. Mounting up together, the four joined the forming column.
They moved up to the front where Capt. Clarke sat posed and arrogant on his horse. Twist introduced Buck, “Captain, this is our new scout and interpreter, Buck Drake.”
Clarke looked at Buck coldly, and then glanced at his horse, “Nice horse.” He then looked at Twist, “Take us out, Mr. Twist.”
Twist brought his horse around and moved forward with Buck. Clarke lifted his arm and waved the column to move out. They rode out of the fort with the jangling of metal on tack and the rhythmic drumming of a hundred shod hooves. The two Gros Ventre scouts brought up the rear.
Twist leaned toward Buck, “Pleasant, isn’t he?”
Buck snorted, “He likes my horse, anyway.”