Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Crow Killer

The warrior was larger than he had seemed from a distance; indeed he was huge, and no doubt powerful.  He came within a few feet of Johnson's hiding place, glanced at the horses, and turned again toward the camp.  He was barely four steps away when the Liver-Eater hurled the stone.

The missile was unromantic but effective.  Caught just beneath his lone eagle feather, the Crow fell without a sound except the hiss of his escaping breath; the stone itself was noisier.  Quickly Johnson seized the senseless Indian, lifting and carrying him to the scrub timber at the edge of the ravine.  A few seconds later he was back in the midst of the horses, grunting softly to reassure them as he pulled the picket pins.  Having freed them all, he scattered pebbles wide among them, at the same time whooping loudly.

As the dreaded yell of the Mountain Men rang out in the sheltered ravine, the camp of the Crows came instantly to life.  Their own fierce yells and the shrill neighing of the stampeding herd mingled, rebounded against the canyon walls in the chill predawn, then were drowned out by the thundering hooves of horses in a dead run northward.  Quickly the subchief shrilled his orders, and a dozen warriors set out after the maddened herd.  Back in the scrub timber the Crow Killer threw the body of the huge sentry over his shoulder and slipped through the trees.

Some half-hour later, his horse saddled and ready for the trail, Johnson bent over the unconscious warrior.  He seized the greased scalplock, ran the point of his Bowie around its base, placed his moccasined foot on the victim's head, and snapped off the scalp.  Observing that a tremor ran through the brave's body, he swiftly swept his blade across his throat.

As he pulled a bull-hide belt from around the waist of the Crow, Johnson saw that a long-dried scalp dangled from it, a scalp with a wealth of long black hair.  He imagined, for a moment, the ambushing of an emigrant wagon train, the crack of gunfire, the whoops of the Crows as they closed in after their victory, and the screams of the women.  Perhaps this warrior had procured both scalp and belt together; surely his carrying of just the one memento, instead of hanging it in his tepee, market its acquisition as notable.

But a second glance told Johnson that the trophy had not been torn from the head of a white woman.  He ran his fingers through the coarse black tresses.  As he looked closer, something familiar caught his experienced eye, and in that instant, in the clear light of dawn, the Liver-Eater knew certainly that in this, the beginning of his greatest effort against his enemies, he had met and killed the murderer of his wife.  Quickly he braided the hair of the scalps together, the new with the old.  Turning to his mount he looped the topknots through the headstall of his bridle; and it was not until he had one foot in the stirrup that he remembered his identity and his oath.

Drawing his Bowie knife from its sheath, the Liver-Eater stooped quickly, and made a deep incision beneath his slain foe's ribs.  Inserting his hand, he felt for the liver, grasped it, and wrenched it free.  Expertly he ran his thumb and forefinger along the blade of his knife and replaced it in its sheath.  Blood dripped from his beard as he rode away to the northwest, skirting the ravine.

He had had a vengeance, he had killed The Swan's killer; but more than one Crow had had a hand in her death.  Now, by having set a half-hundred Crows afoot, he had gained enough time to alert the Flatheads for their coming.  The Flatheads would agree that one scalp might be avenged by any number.  And they would welcome a share in such vengeance.

Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker, Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson (Bloomington: Indiana University Press 2015), 40-42.


Ryu said...

I watched that movie. It was pretty great. He's a great example for white men.

Doomfinger said...

I enjoyed the book, but I wouldn't recommend it to you because there aren't enough actionable lessons in it.

Ryu said...

I do like actionable lessons. Is that what you are doing? Avenging your dead birds like Jer would?

Doomfinger said...

Yeah, not gonna eat the livers though.