Fire Inside

by Beth

Chapter 8

Nathan looked down at himself. The blue uniform didn’t feel like anything he’d ever worn before. This wasn’t Negro Cloth. This was wool and cotton, cotton from the fields he used to work in. His black shoes shined underneath the light blue pants he wore. He had his own rifle…his own rifle. That in itself brought a smile to his face. He was a part of the United States Colored Troops, 44th Infantry of the Tennessee. For the first time in his life he belonged to something by choice, and it was something special.


Boomer and Nathan became close friends. They shared a tent, and for the most part kept in each other’s company. It didn’t take long for either man to realize that the training for their division was taking longer than anyone would have anticipated. In other words, they weren’t fighting. Perhaps it was because they weren’t ready, but everyone felt as though it was because they were considered a less than capable body of men. They were all black, and therefore unable to fight like the whites could. Or so they thought.


It wasn’t until 1863 that Nathan and his regiment saw their first battle. Men fell like rain from the sky, but these soldiers were brave. Many continued to fight while their bodies bled, and those that couldn’t, prayed for the fate of those that could. It didn’t matter what color of skin any of these men had, they were all fighting for the same thing…deep down, they all knew it.

Nathan had always had a soft heart, and for a man who had been treated as terribly as he had there should have been some hardness. However much he wanted to ignore the cries of pain from his fellow comrades, he couldn’t. He continued to fight, firing his weapon against the men he’d run so far from. When a bullet struck his hip he quickly went down. An unbearable sensation caused his right leg to go numb. Blood seeped through his pants and Nathan placed his hand over the wound then found his fingers slick with the red substance. The pain wasn’t anything like the lashings he’d received while being held a slave, but it still caused his heart to race and fear to enter his mind.

“Nathan!” Boomer called, sliding down next to his friend.

The wounded soldier looked up and shook his head. His first battle and he was already wounded. Though, just by looking around the fields, that he wasn’t the only one. The smoke from gunpowder had made the air thick and difficult to see their location. Boomer managed to get Nathan to his feet and they both headed in, what they hoped, was the safest direction. Men and boys cried and wept over their fallen friends, while others lay dying in a field that wouldn’t remember their names.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

Men that both Boomer and Nathan had trained with were dying, dead, or still fighting for a cause they fully believed in. Boomer hissed in pain when his wounded friend accidentally hit the long gash on his arm. A bullet had grazed him as well.

“Ya hurt bad?” Nathan asked through clenched teeth.

“I’ll live,” Boomer replied with a grin. He wasn’t going to let a scratch keep him down.

Nathan hissed when sweat met his open wound. A different time flooded back to his mind, and the feeling of salt water landing like spikes on his wounded back. Strange how different things could be, and yet, still be so similar.

When they reached the hospital tent, Nathan and Boomer had to wait while the more seriously wounded were seen too. One doctor, that’s all there was to treat the hundreds of wounded black soldiers. Nathan turned his attention to Boomer who had placed his handkerchief on the long deep gash on Nathan’s hip. The pain had dulled some, but it did keep him still and lying on his left side.

“I’m goin’ to go check an’ see if I can be of any help…you gonna be all right?” Boomer asked, getting to his feet.

“I reckon,” Nathan responded, feeling somewhat comfortable under the large tree. At least he was in the shade.

Boomer reached down and patted his friend’s shoulder and then headed back towards the field where all the fighting had occurred. The sounds of cannons roaring had lessened somewhat, and the sounds of bullets whistling through the air had become less frequent, but there were still soldiers out in the fields that need help.

Nathan looked at the sorry souls around him. At least he was attentive enough to know what was going on around him. Many of those lying in the dirt, blankets, and flimsy cots didn’t. The tent flaps had become red from spilt blood. Only the top didn’t seem stained with the passionate color. Men cried as their limbs were amputated and Nathan’s heart wrenched with the sounds that would brand their way into his memories. He squeezed his eyes shut, wanting to close out the scene before him, but his mind wouldn’t let him.

It wasn’t until after dark that Nathan finally succumbed to the pain, blood loss, and simple exhaustion.

Boomer never returned.


There are certain smells that the human body knows, smells that bring back memories, both good and bad. When Nathan awoke on a small cot outside the tent he’d been waiting to enter the day before, his nostrils filled with the smells of his time as a slave. Death, decay, and illness they were all odors that he would be more than willing to relinquish.

The air had cleared of the smoky fog that had incased them just one-day prior, and the warmth of the sun greeted Nathan like a new friend. However, that wasn’t the case for many of the dead and dying around him. Nathan tried to sit up but the bandages and the pain emanating from his hip prevented it, and like a photograph the images of yesterday filled his mind. He couldn’t hear the sounds of battle in the distance, nor could he hear the cries of men like he had. Things had settled somewhat, and unfortunately taken a dark turn.

Soldiers that hadn’t been killed or wounded were now on their way to another battle. Those that had been chosen to stay behind were, now burying the brave men that had perished. The wounded, the wounded were left under trees, seen to by untrained nurses, and an extremely tired doctor.

“How ya feelin’ youngin’?” A nurse asked. She was small and seemingly frail but there was a determination written in her face that made Nathan look up with respect.

“Better, ma’am,” he replied softly.

The woman smiled and nodded her head. Her black hair had been tightly braided and rested like cornrows on her scalp. Her fingers were worn and well used, but soft and graceful all at the same time. She lifted the blanket off of Nathan’s hip and carefully inspected the bandage.

“What’s yer name?” She asked, sitting down next to her patient.

“Nathan…Nathan Jackson, ma’am.”

“How long ago’d ya run?” She hadn’t been blind to the scars on his back.

“Right ‘fore the war,” he responded proudly.

Again, the woman smiled. “Ya like bein’ a free man?” She reached out and squeezed his arm.

Nathan paused: “Yes, ma’am, I do,” he responded honestly.

“Then make yer choices carefully chil’, an’ don’ let nobody push ya wrong.”

Nathan looked up, feeling as though he was in the presence of a legend. He nodded and smiled when she gently patted his shoulder. Though he didn’t understand the importance of her words, he did understand there meaning. His life wasn’t meant to be taken lightly, his choices were just that, his, and nobody could take that away from him…unless he let them.

He watched as the little woman made her way to another patient and he watched her graceful movements. She was so small and yet, so strong. As though she’d had to fight for everything her whole life, and not just for herself. The men she touched took one step closer to knowing just how important she was, and how much a single touch could inspire someone to try harder.

Nathan realized that, like him, she had been a slave. But, unlike so many, she let her past direct her future learning from it and showing others that life could be good, as long as you had something to offer not just yourself, but those around you as well. If someone as small and delicate as she was could make that much of a difference to so many lives, then anyone else could as well. He took another look at her and realized he never got her name, but then again, he didn’t need one.


Nathan reached down and helped the older soldier sit up. He’d woken everyone around him after having a terrible coughing spell. Because Nathan was the closest and most able he managed to get out of his cot and help his comrade. The doctor and nurses were busy with other patients and unable to help this one.

The wound on Nathan’s hip protested at his movements, but thankfully they stayed closed having healed enough. Carefully, he positioned the pillows on his comrade’s cot to fulfill his needs more appropriately and then he gently laid the man back down.

“That better?” He asked softly, not wanting to disturb the others.

“Yes, sir,” came the choked response.

Nathan smiled down and then stood up and took a long look around. He could do this. Using his balance and stiff leg he went to the next bed and checked on its patient. Maybe he couldn’t become a doctor, but he could help. He wasn’t dumb, he’d taught himself how to read, and his arithmetic was better than most.

“Boy!” The doctor called, walking over to where Nathan was sitting on the edge of a cot, helping the older soldier drink some broth.

Nathan stood up a little too quickly and then leaned over placing his hand on his hip. The wound was reminding him that it still existed.

“What are you doing?” The doctor asked harshly.

“He was havin’ trouble…”

“And you decided to help,” the doctor finished for him, obviously not pleased.

“I can help, sir, and my name’s Nathan,” he said with more confidence than he thought he had at the moment.

The doctor crossed his arms over his chest and looked the young man over. “Can you read?” He asked, with conviction in his voice.


“You’re not lying?”

“No, sir.” Nathan stood up straighter.

The doctor nodded his head and looked Nathan over once more. Obviously the young man was willing to help, and at this point in time the doctor couldn’t be picky when it came to getting any.

“My name’s Doctor Phillips and I’m with the Medical Regiment of Volunteers. If you can prove to me you’ll be of help…I’ll teach you some doctoring skills.”

This brought a smile to Nathan’s face.

“Are you willing to learn?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Until that leg gets healed up some, you can help me in the medical tent and after that…we’ll figure something out.” The doctor turned and headed to where he was needed, leaving a stunned Nathan in his wake.


As a child Nathan never saw himself as anything except a slave. Though he dreamed about doing great things with his life he never could comprehend that it might one day come true. He was a slave, not someone of position or standing. He had always enjoyed working with the animals. Silas had taught him about treating their illnesses and later he learned how to care for injured legs and proper shoeing while he worked in the blacksmiths shop. The skill had always been there, and now was his chance to discover how true to that skill he might become.

Never did he realize working with his knives would eventually save his life and those of the men around him. The only difference between the blade of his knife and the blade of the scalpel was the size. He tried to learn everything he could. Watching, reading, and then performing, he was taking his life in a new direction, and it was a direction that was truly taking him…home.

Chapter 9

While battles raged on they would eventually cease, with a victor and a loser. However, battles in the medical fields continued to rage, long after the last bullet was fired. The majority of soldiers in the hospitals were suffering from illnesses, boys that had been raised on farms and hadn’t been exposed to childhood diseases were now suffering from them. The others were facing long hours of slow recovery from wounds inflicted in the battlefield.

Nathan enjoyed what he was doing. Being a stretcher-bearer had given him the opportunity to be the first at the side of anyone who was wounded. He was there before the doctors could be. Even though Doctor Phillips had taught him a lot about medicine and treatments, he learned more about it after being on the field applying field dressings of his own. It was there that he learned to treat people as individuals, and not as objects with wounds. Everybody was different, every need, fear, and wound, nobody could be treated the same because nobody would heal the same.

There were several treatments that Nathan had a difficult time understanding. Many of which caused the patients more pain. Poisons were given to induce sweating and saliva. Boys that were already suffering were made to suffer more. It wasn’t until he witnessed a leg being amputated that sickened him. Surgical shock wasn’t the answer for anesthesia. Granted things like chloroform and ether were difficult to locate and many times impossible, but less than half of the patients who succumbed to the amputation of a limb without anesthesia survived. Wouldn’t it be better to treat the wound rather than the symptom?

But then again, how could one doctor treat them all. There were so many who needed medical help.  

As a slave, a healer was someone with special powers. Usually that person was held above everyone else, simply because everyone relied on them when illness or wounds were in need of treatment. Doctors didn’t frequent slave quarters or treat them, therefore it was the healer that they looked to. Herbs, roots, and water were the only medicines that a healer had to work with, and many times they worked, however, sometimes they didn’t.


At the end of the day on May 6th 1864, the Wilderness was filled with wounded soldiers dressed in blue and gray. The fires that raged through the thickets had consumed many, and others waited helplessly for aid. This battle had been different than all the ones before it. This time, the South was on the run.

Nathan looked at the devastation around him. He knew in his heart that ‘this’ was worth the cost they were paying. Wasn’t it? He continued to move through the bodies looking for life. Both Southern and Northern men lay side by side, many dying, others dead. Nathan couldn’t separate the enemies from the friends when he looked at their faces. They all looked alike.

The sound of raspy breathing captured Nathan’s attention and he quickly turned trying to locate the source. A man, just a few years older than himself, sat leaning against a tree. His right arm was missing and blood marred his once blue uniform. The beard on his face hid his soft features, but when he opened his eyes Nathan knew exactly who he was.

“John,” Nathan gasped, rushing toward his former master’s son.

The wounded man forced a smile onto his face. Blood had stained his teeth, dirt and soot marked his light skin. He was dying. “Yo…you…your alive,” he wanted to continue but his breathing wouldn’t allow it.

“Ya done taught me well,” Nathan replied, taking John’s left hand and he gently squeezed.

“Fa..father…how is he?” He asked, rushing through his words.

Nathan didn’t know, but he wasn’t sure if lying was the best answer.

“John?” A heavily accented Southern voice asked.

Nathan turned his attention from the man dying in his arms to the one standing before him. Manning. He stood there, in shock. His gray uniform was tattered and stained, but the insignia let Nathan know that Master Jackson’s youngest son had done very well in the military academy.

Tears sprang from John’s eyes as he looked up into his brother’s face. Both boys were older, more mature, and much wiser. Manning knelt down next to his brother and took Nathan’s place. Their political views, beliefs, and old troubles were placed on the back burner. Now, they didn’t matter.

Nathan saw for the first time how strong bonds could be between families, despite being enemies on the battlefield. This wasn’t like anything he’d seen before. He’d never been so angry with his sister or father, disappointed yes, but not angry enough to fight them. Not angry enough to want to hurt them. He was seeing the boy who had prided himself on winning his father’s approval, weeping over the dying body of his brother. The brother he had tried so hard to belittle and out shine.

John had just looked up into his brother’s face and for the first time in a very long time felt as though everything was okay. His breathing became more labored and his breaths shorter, until they finally stopped all together. A sense of peace seemed to come over him and Manning pulled his brother into his chest and wept unashamedly.

Nathan stood back, feeling as though he was intruding on a moment. He hadn’t realized he’d shed his own tears. A part of his past was…gone. Jonathan Jackson, the first white man Nathan had ever learned to respect, and the man who had given him the opportunity to read was dead. 

“Did he say something to you?” Manning asked, wiping his brother’s hair away from his face.

“Asked ‘bout your pa…an’ you,” Nathan responded softly.

Manning nodded, and then reached into his brother’s jacket and removed his wallet. “Make sure his grave gets marked?” It wasn’t an order, but rather, a pleading question.

“I’ll see to it.”

Again, Manning nodded. Slowly, he stood up and roughly wiped his eyes free of the tears he’d shed. He was an officer, and needed to act like one. He didn’t say anything as he headed away, unable to take his brother with him, regretfully so. Nathan looked down at the man who had given him his first feeling of independence. For him to die in such a way was unjust, but unlike so many others, he died knowing he had his brother’s love. That was most important.


Blood was a color, unlike scarlet, crimson, or red it was a color that didn’t match with anything. It seemed to have a life of its own, much like the fire that consumed the branches and logs in front of Nathan’s tent. He looked down at his hands and thought about the lives he’d touched, and the lives that had touched him. His hands could only do so much, and though he yearned for more knowledge about healing, he was afraid it wouldn’t be enough. It would never be enough. Life was so fragile, and so easily taken away.

Nathan looked down at his boots that were stained with blood, blood that he could never wash out. Even his uniform was stained with the unbecoming shade. There was a certain smell associated with the bright color, and it was a smell Nathan had partaken of a lot lately.

Life had a funny way of taking its own turns. Sometimes it was bumpy and other times it was smooth, Nathan wished it had been smoother these last few years. The people he’d met had gone on to do their own things, many had perished, giving their lives for what they believed, and others had been fortunate enough to see another day.

Nathan wondered about his father, his sisters, and his mother. Were they free now, or still held in bondage? Did his sisters ever get married, and have children of their own? Did his mother remarry? Did his father? Were they in good health? Were they happy? So much had changed over the years, so much indeed. President Lincoln had passed the Emancipation Proclamation, the war had entered its fourth year, and more men were dying everyday than were enlisting.

The stars twinkled in the winter sky, looking as though they didn’t have a care in the world. Even the moon seemed content, being up there all alone. Nathan could hear singing in the distance and he smiled, no matter how bad life seemed to be…there was always something to celebrate.

Chapter 10 

Nathan finished wrapping a soldier’s wounded arm, while many others waited patiently for their turn. Many of these soldiers were heading home, some were relieved and others were disappointed. Nathan wasn’t sure why. They had all fought long and hard, trying to build a country, trying to build a better life for their families.

Everyone looked up from their positions when they heard someone yelling through the maze of people. The words were inaudible, but for some reason everyone stopped what they were doing and looked toward the sound. As the voice got closer the words became clearer. The war was over.

“THE WAR IS OVER!” The man yelled, again and again. “THE WAR IS OVER!”

Nathan’s knees gave way and he fell to the ground landing on his backside. A feeling of pure relief flooded his system. The war was over. He looked to the young man lying on the cot next to him and saw tears spring from his eyes like a much-needed rain. The war was over.


Music filled the air and men danced around the camp as though they didn’t have a care in the world. Nathan was one of them. They sang, played their spoons, banjos, and fiddles, letting everyone and everything know of the Union’s victory over the South. No more battles would be fought, hospitals wouldn’t be filled with wounded, and men could go…home.

This had been a war unlike any others. Nathan knew it; he knew that things would change now. There was a real chance for things to be different. Unlike the white men, who had fought to protect their homes, the black man had fought to build one.

They were free!

Men who had escaped the bonds of slavery were now able to go anywhere they pleased. Do anything they wanted. Live anyway they saw fit to. And those still in the South, were now able to leave without fear of punishment. Nobody would be whipping them, chaining them like dogs, or working them like animals. For better or for worse, they were the owners of their own bodies, and they would make the decisions for themselves.

“Where are ya goin’ now?” Isaac Hays asked, stepping up beside Nathan. They had worked together for a few weeks and had gotten to know each other quite well.

Nathan chuckled: “Don’t know,” he answered with a smile, but he could choose.

“I heard that Oregon is mighty fine country,” Isaac said with a smile, “figure I might try gettin’ me some land there’bouts.”


Isaac looked down at his hands and nodded. “Worked lots ‘o land in Mississippi, figure this time it’ll be mine.” He looked out toward the crowd of people, trying to hide the tears that wanted to fall. “My own land,” he sighed, the words were…unbelievable.

Nathan nodded in understanding.

“You got family?” Isaac asked, trying to relieve the moment.

“Yeah,” Nathan replied softly.

“You gonna go lookin’ for ‘em?”

Nathan paused a moment, he wanted to, but he knew he couldn’t. Men like Master Jackson wouldn’t like to see his runaway slaves returning to claim their family members, who would most likely be gone anyway. Just because they were free men didn’t mean they wouldn’t suffer at the hands of their enemies. This is what his father had meant when he told him to not come back looking for them.

“No,” Nathan responded sadly.

Isaac nodded: “My daddy got sold when I’s just a boy, an’ my momma…she died a few years back. But my daddy tol’ me, right ‘fore they took ‘im that he’d always be wit’ me an’ that one day I’d have my own family.”

“I reckon he was right.”

“He’s a smart man.” He smiled remembering back. “Figure that’s what’ll make us strong…defendin’ family we done never knew we could ‘ave.”

Nathan looked at Isaac for a long moment. Perhaps that was true. He knew that finding his father or sisters would be impossible, and at times like these Nathan wished he had his father’s strength in God.

“Good luck in Oregon,” Nathan said.

“Reckon I’ll be needin’ it,” he replied with a chuckle. Isaac reached up and slapped Nathan’s arm before heading back into the crowd.

Nathan watched him go, feeling somewhat envious that he already knew what he was going to do with the rest of his life. Nathan knew, he just didn’t know how to go about it. He loved people, all kinds of people, even the ones that didn’t like him. He found each person compellingly different and he wanted to lean why. He wanted to help people, treat them in ways he’d never been treated because of his color. He wanted people to learn that he was as much a man as anyone, with the same desires and hopes.

He wanted to heal.

Nathan knew that becoming a real doctor was out of the question, but that wouldn’t stop him from helping those who couldn’t get treatment from anywhere else. He had learned a lot on the battlefield, and there was only more to learn. The world was his teacher and he intended to listen.


With the money he’d earned from serving in the Union Army, Nathan was able to purchase himself a horse and some equipment. The livery owner, though not overly thrilled with selling one of his best horses to a Negro, went ahead and made the sale once he realized the money was just as good as anyone else’s.

The big bay chewed impatiently on his bit while his new owner finished saddling him. The animal stood well over sixteen hands, and with a deep wide chest, long belly and short back, he would be able to carry Nathan as far as he asked him to. Only one white stocking lay against his black legs and elegant reddish coloring. Not of a docile temperament, the big horse had a tendency to act impatient at the most inopportune times, but his speed and strength made up for his less than perfect personality.

Nathan ran his hand over the animal’s back and hip. It was amazing how much power this horse contained within his unique shape. Built for work, and yet there was an uncommon beauty affiliated with these beasts. They never asked for anything in return, except maybe a treat of some kind every once in a while. Pike wasn’t any different. However, the horse seemed to be the most content while galloping across the land, as though that was where he belonged. His mane would move like branches in the wind, and his nostrils would flare as the sweet air entered his expanding lungs. It didn’t take someone who wasn’t familiar with this animal, to come to respect it. Unlike Nathan, and men like him, a horse demanded attention and respect. A horse was a source of life in the West, that’s why it was a hanging offense to steal one of these animals.     

Carefully, Nathan placed his booted foot in the stirrup and slipped onto his horse’s back. He wasn’t sure where he was headed, other than he was going west. He nudged his heals against Pike’s side and the big gelding took a long step forward. He was ready and willing to carry his master anywhere he asked him to.

Once again, life was leading them both down an unfamiliar path.

Chapter 11

Pike hung his head as he treaded forward. The wind and rain came out of the sky with a vengeance and all creatures were trying to escape its viciousness. Nathan pulled his jacket up tighter around his neck trying to keep the chill from his bones. He wasn’t in any hurry to get sick, not after surviving the war. Thankfully, he had an extra pair of socks that he was using as gloves at the moment. The weather was relentless and the big man knew he needed to find shelter, and fast.

The Kansas Territory was similar to much of the land Nathan had traversed over the past year. It had its mountains, hills, and valleys, just like the others. However, it was a lot colder than the South…much colder.

When the sight of buildings in the distance captured his attention, Nathan sighed in relief. Perhaps he could find someplace warm to stay for the night. Pike’s ears perked up and the horse walked faster knowing he was going to be fed and put to bed.

Nobody walked the streets. The rain and wind kept them from it. Smoke billowed out of the chimney of the saloon and Nathan headed for the livery to put his horse away.


“Shut the door!” Someone yelled from across the saloon floor.

Nathan quickly shut the door and started to remove his scarf and wide brimmed hat. He was only here to get warm and a decent meal. He walked up to the bar, not paying much attention to the people around him. He didn’t notice, or he tried not to, how everyone had quieted down and now sat staring at him.

“We don’t serve your kind,” the bartender said, not wanting to make a scene.

Nathan looked up and met his eyes. “I’m only lookin’ for a meal and…”

“We don’t serve your kind,” his voice was more aggressive this time.

Nathan clenched his jaw and looked around the room. Nobody was willing to stand up for him, and once again he was alone. “I got as much right to be here as anyone.” He looked hard at the bartender. “I ain’t leavin’ until I get a meal, that I can pay for, and have a chance to get warm.” Nathan carefully pulled his knife out of his belt; he’d fight if he had to.

“The man said, ‘he don’t serve your kind’,” a big man wearing old haggard clothing said. His beard and mustache was full of the food he’d been eating. He stuck his thumbs in his suspenders and looked hard at Nathan.

“I heard what he said,” Nathan replied, unwilling to back down. He was a veteran, and a citizen of this country and he wasn’t about to relinquish his rights. “I ain’t leavin’.”

“Listen, boy.”

Whether it was the tone in which he said it, or the situation coming to a head. Nathan turned and threw his knife at the man who was slowly approaching him. The knife was imbedded in the pillar just to the side of the man’s face.

“I ain’t your ‘boy’,” Nathan replied, looking hard and more determined to defend his rights than ever before.

Many of the men in the room went back to their poker games, food, and drinks. They weren’t willing to get involved, and this wasn’t any consequence to them.

The bearded man took a step back, and gripped the handle of his weapon. Nobody was going to get the better of him.

“Don’t bother, Harold.” A strong voice echoed from across the room. The man stood up and headed over to the bar. His long blonde hair had been pulled back into a ponytail. His nose was long and narrow, but was stopped short by his handlebar mustache. He was a tall man with long arms and he seemed rather gangly as he walked across the floor.

Harold, the bearded fellow, moved back away from the bar and he eyed the knife that was still embedded in the pillar next to his head.

With a tilt of his head the tall blonde motioned for the bartender to pour him a drink. “You lookin’ to get yourself killed?” He asked, directing his attention toward Nathan.

“Lookin’ for somthin’ to eat is all,” Nathan replied honestly. He reached up and pulled his knife out of the pillar then carefully wiped the blade on his pants before placing it back into his belt.

“Pretty handy with that knife.” The stranger looked at the holster strapped to Nathan’s hip, wondering if he was as good with his pistol.

“It’s suffice.” Nathan leaned back against the bar and nodded his head when a plate of warm food appeared in front of him. The bartender didn’t look thrilled with the fact that he had to serve this man, but one look from the tall blond told him he’d better.

“Name’s Carter,” the stranger said. “I’m the town sheriff.” He looked for a response from the black man but he didn’t get one.

“I just stopped in to get a hot meal, I’ll soon be on my way.” Nathan scooped his spoon full of the hot stew and took a hearty bite.

“Where’re you headed?” Carter asked, more out of curiosity than anything else. He picked up his glass of beer and took a long sip.

Nathan dipped his bread in the sauce and took another bite. “Just travelin’,” he answered truthfully.

Everyone jumped when the doors to the saloon burst open and two men entered. One was barely holding up the other as he escorted him to a chair. Someone else stood up and closed the doors as the two men tried to get comfortable. They were soaking wet and the man sitting in the chair was obviously suffering from a wound to his shoulder.

“He come off ‘is horse,” the shorter of the two men said, moving away from his friend. “Branch punctured that arm.” The boy obviously didn’t know what to do.

Nathan stepped forward, willing to help, but the looks that were thrown at him prevented it. “I can help,” he offered.

“Doctor’s thirty miles from here, ain’t no way we’re goin’ to be able to fetch ‘im,” someone from the crowd said, looking at the wounded man’s bleeding arm.

“I was a stretcher bearer durin’ the war…” Nathan spoke up, “I can help.” He wasn’t interested in anything except helping.

“He don’t need no help from some nigger,” Harold snapped stepping forward.

“He needs help!” Sheriff Carter snapped, placing himself between the two men.

“What’s your name boy?” the man with the wounded shoulder asked.

“Nathan Jackson.”

The man hissed when someone tried to help him get his coat off. Obviously he’d fallen from his horse and been impaled by a tree branch. “Well, Nathan, if’n you say you can help me…I’d be mighty grateful.” He didn’t care what Nathan’s skin color was; his wounded arm was directing his decisions. “Name’s Oren,” he started to make conversation to keep himself busy while Nathan squatted down in front of him.

Nathan hesitantly looked up and around at the crowd. He didn’t have anyone to watch his back, and he took that under serious consideration. Carefully, he worked his fingers around the wound, checking for anything that might be harmful. He asked for a clean cloth, whiskey, and some sheets torn into long strips. Nobody said anything as they watched him. He was a young black man…helping a white man.

“You talk real good for a Negro,” Oren said between clenched teeth.

Nathan just smiled and shook his head in disbelief. “Would you feel more comfortable if I didn’t?”

The sheriff laughed outright. “Answer that one, Oren,” he responded, still chuckling.

“Hell, I didn’t mean nothin’ by it.” He shook his head. “Just…well ya’ll know.”

Nathan tied the last bandage around Oren’s waist and patted him gently on the shoulder. “You should keep that shoulder still for a few days…give that wound some time to heal up ‘fore you use it much.”

Oren took a look at his arm that was now strapped to his chest. The pain had receded immensely, and he sighed in relief. “Can’t thank ya enough…”

“Nigger doctors…” Harold snapped, brushing past Nathan forcefully. “Watch your back out here, boy,” the words slipped off his tongue bitterly before he exited the saloon.

Oren reached up and shook Nathan’s hand thankfully. “Thank ya,” he said softly, before his friend helped him slip his coat on over his shoulders.

“Nathan,” Sheriff Carter said, walking up beside him, “can you come with me for a bit?” He asked so nobody could hear.

Nathan nodded, hoping he wasn’t in any kind of trouble. “I just need to pay for my meal…”

“Already taken care of,” the sheriff responded, taking the first step out of the saloon with a questioning Nathan following.


The sheriff’s office was small with only two cells behind the desk. A wood stove burned vigorously in the corner of the room giving the room ample heat. A gun rack, and a cheaply made file cabinet rested against the far wall. Nothing out of the ordinary struck Nathan. The sheriff moved in and grabbed himself a cup of coffee and offered one to his guest, who quietly refused. 

“I’m goin’ to have to lock you up for the night,” Carter said outright. “Harold is a stupid fool lookin’ to shoot someone and I won’t have you bein’ the first man to die in my town.” The words were soft but strong. “I’ve only been sheriff here for ‘bout eight months, moved here a few months after the war and I aim to stay.”

“I can leave now, if it’s a problem me bein’ here.”

Carter shook his head: “It ain’t you. Some of these folks ‘ave lived here their whole lives, ain’t even seen a colored man, much less got to know one. I only want to protect you.”

“So you’re gonna lock me up?” Nathan’s words weren’t harsh, just confused.

“You have any place to go…with winter comin’ on strong like it is?”

“No, but…”

“There’s an Indian village, ‘bout fifteen miles south of here,” Carter leaned against his desk, his words were softer and they almost sounded pleading to Nathan’s ears, “it’s a small band of Apache, a few runaways met up with ‘em couple years ‘for the war.” He looked up and noticed his guest seemed interested. “Some of ‘em are sufferin’ pretty bad, and could use some help…such as yours.”

“I heard stories ‘bout the Apache…”

“Not everythin’ you hear is true. This is a real small band. Came up north from the Unorganized Territory after the army slaughtered some of their youngins.” The sheriff placed his coffee cup on his desk.

“What ‘bout the army doctors?” Nathan asked, not willing to step on anyone’s toes.

“These are Indians we’re talkin’ about, not soldiers. Army doctors are ‘bout as good as a dead horse.” Carter shook his head in disgust. “If you go out there and help ‘em, it’ll give you a place for the winter, warm food, a good place to sleep, and plenty of care for your horse.”

“I’ll go,” Nathan responded confidently. If these people could really use his help, he was more than willing.

Sheriff Carter smiled: “You won’t regret it.” He stood up and headed for one of the cells. “I won’t lock it, but it’ll be the safest place for you tonight.”

“And warmest,” Nathan responded with a grin.

The sheriff chuckled and patted Nathan on the shoulder as he entered the small cell. “I’ll bring you over some food, and get you a few things for the ride tomorrow.” He shut the cell but didn’t lock it, and he looked long and hard at the man who was now sitting on the small cot. “My wife is out there.”

Nathan looked up in surprise. “Alone?” He asked, not understanding the sheriff’s meaning.

Carter shook his head: “She’s with her people.”

Nathan nodded.

“And she’s with child,” there was that pleading again. The sheriff’s eyes softened dramatically and he let his hands fall to his side.

“I understand,” Nathan said softly, leaning back against the bed. He understood completely.


Though the rain had stopped the wind continued in full force. Winter was well on its way. Nathan finished saddling Pike and led the reluctant beast out of the barn. Sheriff Carter was waiting in front of his office. A younger man, much younger, stood with his coat pulled up around his face and his hands covering his mouth. Probably keeping them warm with his breath. His hat hung low on his head, but his gangly form and immature stance let Nathan know the boy was just that…a boy.

“Ready?” Carter asked Nathan, who had just ridden up. He watched as his companion nodded, and then he looked back down to the boy. “Make sure Harold stays in the saloon ‘till I get back,” he ordered.

“If’n he don’t?” The boy, who was now playing deputy, asked.

“Arrest ‘im,” Carter replied with a smile. “If he still refuses…shoot ‘im.” He slid onto the back of his mount and looked down at the boy. “I’m makin’ sure Mister Jackson gets escorted out of town, that way, he won’t be comin’ back.” Though the words were a lie, they still hurt.

“Yes sir,” the boy replied, and then watched as the two men made their way out of town.


Nathan looked out over the land with his scarf covering his face and neck. “Why’re you helpin’ them?” He went ahead and asked. His scarf muffled the clarity of his voice, but he was still understandable.

“S’pose I could ask you the same thing,” Carter responded, looking over at his charge.

Nathan nodded.

“I left home when I was just a boy, couldn’t stand my father,” he said the words with a chuckle, but the pain was evident. “I later met up with some Indians and learned that the stories about ‘em were just that…stories. Then when the war started, I enlisted, figured I could do somethin’ about the treatment of people.” He looked up ahead, making sure they were on the right path. “My father was a slave breaker in Virginia…” he shrugged, “weren’t just slaves he was breakin’, so I left.”

Nathan sighed in understanding. Men could be brutal…without even trying.

“After the war I got real sick an’ stumbled in on this camp,” he spoke fondly of the Indians, “they saved my life an’ I figure it’s my responsibility to do everythin’ I can to protect ‘em.”

“That how you met your wife?”

Carter nodded: “Cloa.”

The rest of the trip was held in silence and surprisingly it didn’t take as long as anyone would have thought. The Indian camp was held in a small valley surrounded by trees and hills. The wind had lessened considerably and Nathan quietly wondered if it wasn’t because of their location, as opposed to the weather change. There were only a few tepees, and fires burned all around the camp. A small herd of horses was located just to the side of the encampment next to a steady stream of fresh mountain water. Women worked diligently on skins, preparing them for whatever use they might need.

Unlike the stories Nathan had heard, there wasn’t any naked savages running around with painted faces. There weren’t any people being sacrificed, and nobody was screaming to their gods.

When a tepee flap opened a young woman exited with a swollen belly, Carter dismounted his horse and rushed for his wife. Just like himself, Nathan thought, very human indeed. He smiled to himself and slowly dismounted. He removed the scarf from around his face and looked more intently at the surroundings.

“Carter,” a man called, stepping out from his tepee. His buckskin clothing moved in unison with his every movement. His long graying hair moved gently in the breeze. He stepped up to Carter and gave him a warm embrace. “It has been too long.” His smile created warmth around him; so strong even Nathan could feel it.

“Gall,” Carter acknowledged. He turned and looked toward his guest. “This is Nathan Jackson…he’s a healer.”

Gall looked curiously at the tall black man, and then grinned. “Dark healer’s have powerful magic,” a tinge of humor laced his words. He stuck his arm out and when Nathan reached up to shake it Gall grabbed his elbow. “Come,” he ordered and then headed for his tent. “Lets eat!”

Carter laughed: “Gall does like his food…though, by lookin’ at ‘im you’d never know it,” he sighed, and then followed his friend.

Cloa reached out and took Nathan’s hand. “Come,” her voice was soft and inviting, and the big man couldn’t help but follow her into the tent.


Skins of all kinds were laid out on the floor of the tepee. Nathan was surprised at how warm it was inside the rawhide walls. A fire burned uneventfully in the center of the room. Three men sat around the fire, including Gull, who was relaxed and completely content in his surroundings. Carter sat next to him, while his wife moved in behind him to work on some skins.

“Sit,” Gull ordered, looking up at Nathan. He motioned with his hand to a place where his guest would be most comfortable.

Nathan nodded and slid down onto his backside. He rested his elbows on his knees as he watched and listened to the men around him.

“If you are a healer, what do you heal?” Gull asked, keeping his face strong and determined.

Nathan looked at him in surprise. “Anythin’ that needs healin’,” he answered softly.

Gull laughed, exposing more of his quirky sense of humor. Nathan and the others laughed along with him.

“Are you the chief?” Nathan asked, feeling more comfortable.

“My people have no chief, not since Crowfoot,” A seriousness blanketed him. “He was killed, six summers ago…now, it is just us.”

Nathan didn’t need to be told the details. He understood that the army had killed most of Gull’s people. “Carter said you were in need of help?” Nathan changed the subject.

Gull nodded: “Yes, my people are suffering.”

“I’d like to help.”

“Yes,” Gull accepted without question.


Chapter 12

Though there weren’t many people in the tribe, several were ill or suffering from simple corruption that had gotten out of hand. Nathan quickly remedied many of them, cutting children’s gums so they could teethe properly, and pulling rotten teeth from those who needed it.

It wasn’t long before Nathan was pulling simple splinters out of children’s fingers. The people adored him. The Indian healer, Quanah, taught Nathan about herbs and how to make poultices and teas. Plants such as Dandelions and Coltsfoot, which were common enough to find, were extremely medicinal. Even Corn Silk could be used for treatments. In return Nathan showed Quanah how to do simple procedures that could save lives, such as pulling teeth.

Women’s illnesses were something Nathan had ever even breeched, until now. There wasn’t much call for him to learn about such things during the war. Here, however, he learned how to help a woman give birth, and how to care for a small infant. Living with these people had been more of a learning experience than he ever anticipated. Wounds and illnesses on the battlefield differed dramatically than the wounds in a smaller, quieter, atmosphere. Here it was children who needed him more, everything from broken fingernails to scraped knees.

Though the winter months had been colder than Nathan had ever remembered, everyone stayed warm. Frostbite was…nonexistent. Coats and boots were made out of buffalo hides. Fires burned constantly within the tepees, and a few outside burned all the time. Warm water was available at all times, and nobody went hungry. It was as though nobody knew about these people, so they weren’t bothered. Carter made sure they had beef to butcher, but they never really needed it. Venison was always available. This camp of people, men, women, and children, worked better than the military camps and hospital environments. It was as though they belonged here, and they embraced their surroundings…to the fullest.      


Gull stepped up to where Nathan was sitting. He’d just fixed a child’s doll, a healer in all things. He looked up and smiled, inviting with his hand for Gull to take a seat. Spring had arrived in full force and plants were blooming to their full potential.

“Cloa’s child does well,” Gull said, looking toward his family.

“Carter seems to be pleased,” Nathan chuckled, watching the new father carry his child proudly behind his wife, who could only shake her head. The boy had been born two months ago, and because he had been there he was able to save the baby who wanted to enter the world in the breech position.

“He makes a good father, though I fear he is blind to what will become of his family,” there was a sadness in the usual jovial tone that Gull spoke with.

“Why do you say that?” Nathan asked.

Gull smiled sadly: “A half blood is seen no differently than you or I.” He nodded toward Carter, who was getting ready to head back to town.

Nathan nodded in understanding. He knew what it was like to be looked down upon simply because of what he looked like. He knew that more than most.

“Where will you go now?” Gull asked quietly.

“Figure I’d go south for a while, see what the land has in store for me there.”

Gull reached into his belt and pulled out a simply made harness. “For your skill with the knife…in both healing and killing.”

Nathan took the harness and looked it over. There were three holsters on the strap that would hang perfectly across his back and shoulders. The leather was soft and supple and made to be strong.

“Thank you,” Nathan said, looking at the item. Now he wouldn’t have to carry his knives in his belt.

“I should go,” Gull said, getting to his feet. “I told Kansa I would bring her many hides to tan before dark,” his voice was deep and full of authority.

Nathan looked at the sun that was almost ready to go down. “How many do you have?” He asked out of curiosity.

Gull pressed his lips together: “None.”

Nathan choked and started laughing at the ‘leader’ of these people who quickly headed toward his tepee. Gull was not a lazy individual by any standards, but he always had a way of getting into trouble with his wife, who thankfully, took his sense of humor with a laugh of her own. Nathan continued to shake his head as he watched Carter walk up with his horse trailing behind him.

“I understand that you’re leavin’?” Carter asked, slipping his horse’s reins into his left hand.

Nathan nodded and stood up. “Figured it was time for me to head on.”

Carter stuck out his hand and smiled when Nathan returned with a shake of his own. “You ever need anythin’…” he didn’t bother finishing the statement.

“Thank you…for everything.”

The sheriff looked around for a moment before moving to his horse’s side to mount up. Nathan watched him for a moment, feeling strange about saying goodbye. He didn’t understand why, just that he did.

“Take care, Nathan,” Carter said, before moving his horse toward town.

“You too!” The healer called, feeling somewhat empty. This strange place had served as a home for the past few months, and he had enjoyed it. But he knew it was time to move on.

Chapter 13


The West was not what the stories wanted people to believe. Indians and gunslingers weren’t that common, though Nathan was sure they would be if he entered the right town. However, the majority of the West was filled with windmills and barbed wire. Towns weren’t common and many times the ones that started with a boom, quickly disappeared along with the money. A man’s horse was his livelihood. It wasn’t any wonder why horse theft was a hanging offense. Between the small towns were even smaller farms, many of which had been abandoned, hills, mountains, trees, and valleys. Markers for water could be found at most trails, however, many had been destroyed by time and neglect.

The larger cities, surprisingly, were more accepting of colored men and women. Cowboys were more than just white men on horseback. Men of all colors rode on cattle drives, the only requirements were the ability to shoot, ride, and tolerate dust. While on his trek south, Nathan worked on several drives, not as a cowhand or line cook, but rather aiding sick cowboys. Things like blisters, broken bones, and more often dehydration, were what the healer dealt with. Just because it was small potatoes to Nathan didn’t mean the cowboys suffering from the ailments weren’t thankful to get treatment. Nathan saw his ride south as simply a learning opportunity. He learned about people, wounds, and himself. 


Nathan entered the small town and took a good look around. There wasn’t much, but it was livable. A few buildings lined the only street that harbored a saloon, newspaper, hotel, and a few other small buildings. Obviously, this little metropolis was in its first stages of building. The streets weren’t bustling with activity, most of the activity seemed to be centered around the hardware store. As he got closer to the activity, Nathan noticed the ‘Grand Opening’ sign waving in the gentle breeze outside the store.

The people seemed friendly, hard working individuals trying to build their livings out in the middle of nowhere. The town sheriff leaned against the railing in front of the hotel watching the new arrival. Nathan dismounted in front of the livery, intending to take care of his horse and then himself.

The liveryman stepped out of the building wearing a leather apron that was stained with manure, burns, and watermarks. His beard hung past the collar of his shirt and his big hat made him look like a character from an old wives tale.

“What can I get’cha?”

Nathan fingered his horse’s reins, unsure if he was going to be accepted or shunned. “His right front shoe is loose, I was going to replace…” he paused watching as the liveryman moved to Pike’s side and lifted up his hoof.

“It’s loose all right,” he said, releasing the hoof. “I can get that fixed in no time. You gonna be in town a while?”

“Not rightly sure.”

“Name’s Tiny, or Yosemite, dependin’ on your hurry,” he said with a chuckle. He stuck his hand out for the newcomer to shake.

“Nathan Jackson,” he responded, taking Tiny’s hand gratefully.

“I’ll ‘ave your horse ready late this s’afternoon.” Tiny smiled and led the animal into the livery, leaving Nathan to look around the town.


“Ya new in town?” The bartender asked, serving his new customer a warm beer.

“Just arrived,” Nathan responded quietly.

“Ya plan on stayin’?”

Nathan looked up, wondering if the question was a warning.

“If’n ya are, make sure ya got plenty of bullets on hand…” the bartender sighed, wiping down the counter top. “Damn cowboys can’t keep their hands off anythin’ and they’s always bustin’ up the joint…”

“Seems like a quiet enough place,” Nathan said, noticing there weren’t many people in the saloon and those that were only sat quietly playing poker and drinking their beers.

“Some days is better than others,” the bartender snapped. “Decent folks have to come into town early, ‘fore Garrison an’ his men show up.”

“Wouldn’t know it by lookin’ at the place.”

“If’n you’re good with your hands…there’s lots of work for you here. Last carpenter we had done quit.”

“There a doctor in town?” Nathan asked in curiosity.

The bartender laughed: “If you’re in need of a doctor you best saddle up now and ride, cuz there ain’t one around for miles. Take you a full day just to find one and then he might not even be there.”

“How come you’re still ‘round?”

“Cuz I don’t have sense enough to pour piss out of a boot,” came the sarcastic reply. “Besides, can’t get no one to buy this place from me.” He leaned against the bar and looked hard at Nathan. “People here want a good life, and many come here thinkin’ they’re goin’ to change things, but they ain’t…not in this town…” he didn’t finish the statement, instead he just let his words hang. 

“Ya ever have any trouble with…” Nathan cleared his throat intending to finish.

“Colored folks?” The bartender raised his eyebrows, guessing the stranger’s dilemma. “Never had much trouble, got quite a few colored farmers workin’ outside of town, and quite a few cowhands, but most stick to their own business.” He went back to cleaning his glasses.

Nathan nodded in understanding. Perhaps he could make a place for himself here, for a while anyway. Obviously the town needed someone who could mend wounds, and treat the ill. Plus, he wouldn’t be the only black person in the area.


Tiny was more than willing to rent out the large room above the livery. The owner, a Mister Smith, lived in Denver and left the business in Tiny’s care. Repairing the staircase to the room was Nathan’s responsibility, and he took it gratefully.

The room was already furnished; someone looked to have lived in the room and then left suddenly, leaving everything behind. Cobwebs, dust, and years of coal dust covered everything in the room. Everything had to be cleaned. If Nathan was going to use this room to treat the wounded and the ill, it needed to be spotless. He spent hours washing blankets, pounding out the mattress, scrubbing the floors, and washing windows. For the first time in his life he had a place to call home. His home. Though it wasn’t grand it was still home.

He was only in town a few days before he was called upon for help. A fight at the saloon had sent a cowboy through the glass window, and he sliced his hand in the process. The wound wasn’t severe, but like most injuries, without attention it could be.

He was a healer.

The shelving units in Nathan’s room were quickly filled with herbs, tinctures, and oils. With the little money he made from not only treating people, but animals as well, he was able to purchase alcohol that he stored away for medicinal purposes. He even carved a sign ‘Bones set, Wounds healed’, letting people know he was there to help.


It wasn’t easy, being a black man who not only wanted to help anyone in need, but also being a strong black man, who didn’t bend to tyranny. He’d been beaten and whipped enough in his life, but not anymore. He was a free man now. He’d fought long and hard to become one, and he wasn’t going to let just anyone take that away from him. Part of proving who he was, was his ability to ignore the comments, cruelties, and general disrespect people often showed him. He took his pride and made himself a better man, treating anyone who needed help, despite their protests.

Chapter 14

Mason Wilson wasn’t anything if he wasn’t hard working. He’d been born on a dirt farm and grew up plowing fields, and cutting grain. Many would say it was in his blood, others would simply argue that he was too stubborn to quit. His wife of ten years was just as tough as he was, spending her time milking their cows, caring for their three children, and maintaining their house.

When Mr. Wilson entered town on his old mule. His haggard appearance captured the attention of everyone around him. His clothing hadn’t been washed in a long time, his hair lay plastered to his scalp, and the dark circles under his eyes made him appear paler than he actually was.

“Ya’ll right, Mason?” Gil Potter asked, stepping out of his store.

“I uh…need some things for the boys,” he wiped his brow free of the beads of sweat. “They’re awful sick.”

“Isaac,” Mr. Potter yelled for his son, “go fetch Nathan for Mister Wilson.”

“I don’t want his help, ” Mason snapped.

“Don’t be a fool…”

“I don’t want that man nowhere’s near my family.” Mason straitened his thin shoulders and stormed into the store.

Gil shook his head. He only knew Nathan Jackson from the few meetings he’d had with the man when he would come into the store for supplies. But Gil knew he was a good judge of character, and he genuinely liked the town’s healer. He looked up in time to see Nathan cross the street from the saloon. The healer’s hat hung low on his head, blocking out the sun’s bright rays. His light jacket covered the knives strapped to his back. Gil only knew about them because of the leather oil Nathan had ordered to keep the harness in supple condition.

“Mornin’, Mr. Potter,” Nathan said, tipping his hat to the man.

“Can I talk to ya a sec?” Gil pulled the healer aside.

Nathan looked at the shop owner in concern. He knew something was wrong, but obviously the man wanted to keep things quiet. “Everythin’ all right?” He asked out of concern.

“You familiar with the Wilson farm, ‘bout ten miles out’a town?”

“I know of it.”

Gil was about to continue but Mason stepped out of the store with some supplies wrapped in brown paper. His steps were quick and determined, but Nathan noticed the man’s sickly complexion, and the obvious fever he was suffering from.

“Ya’ll right, sir?” Nathan asked, moving away from Mr. Potter’s attention.

“Stay away from me and my family!” Mason snapped, then quickly mounted his mule and rode out of town.

Gil stepped up beside Nathan and grasped the big man’s arm. “He’s got three boys…”

“Measles,” Nathan said, he could tell right away just by looking at the man what the problem was.

“Mason’s a good man, just set in his ways.” Gil looked at his own children, knowing that he’d never let his own feelings jeopardize their lives.

Nathan nodded: “I’ll see to them,” he reassured, heading toward his makeshift clinic.


The trek out to the Wilson homestead wasn’t eventful, and as with most of Nathan’s rides, he ended up thinking more about things in his life that had made him the man he was today. At thirty-five years of age, he knew more than most, and not as much as others. His body was scarred from the brutalities of slavery, and the harshness of war. His heart though, had been protected, unlike so many others. As a boy he always knew he wouldn’t be a slave forever, as if something deep down inside him continuously told him that until one day he believed it. The fire inside him hadn’t died over the years; instead, it got stronger…making him stronger.

The words people spoke to him in disrespect always hurt, and sometimes they were viciously cruel, but Nathan wanted to look deeper than on the outer side of someone. He wanted to know what made people the way there were, just as his past had helped form himself. He wasn’t young and submissive anymore, always looking for the next beating, or yearning to escape the clutches of some angry mob. Now, he was the one people went to when they needed aid in some way. He was the person they brought their children to with a broken arm or and illness. Some came hesitantly, some came fighting and screaming…but they still came.


The Wilson’s homestead wasn’t large, but it was well cared for. The house was small, and the smoke from the chimney let Nathan know everyone was inside. Their dog, a large beast with long brown fur, sat at the door, unwilling to let anyone pass. He didn’t bark, or attempt to go after the intruder, but rather he waited for the man’s first move.

“Mr. Wilson!” Nathan called, unwilling to take the chance of going to the house. Mason Wilson didn’t seem over friendly to the dark healer and he wasn’t about to get shot.

The front door creaked open and a fine boned hand reached out pushing the dog away. “What do ya need?” The woman’s voice softly asked.

Nathan had to take a few steps closer just to understand what she was saying. “I noticed your husband in town, ma’am, an’ he was lookin’ mighty peaked. Everybody doin’ all right?”

“We’s doin’ fine,” she responded, stepping out into full view. Her thin face was flushed from fever. It was obvious she was ill as well.

“I’m a healer, ma’am.”

“You’re black,” she said, as though she was the first to break the news to him.

Nathan stifled a chuckle, obviously. “I learned a few things durin’ the war. Thought maybe I could help…if’n you’re in need of it.”

The woman looked back inside and then to Nathan before she reached for something inside the house and immediately walked towards him. “My husband, Mason, he done bought this in town today, but I don’t think it’s gonna work.” She handed him the bottle of ‘snake oil’. “The boys ‘ave been sick near a week now, and they’s gettin’ worse.” She grabbed Nathan’s arm and started pulling him toward the house.

Nathan reached out and gently patted her hand. “I need to fetch my bags,” he told her softly, and then rushed for his things. The woman never left his side. It was obvious she was ill, very ill, but her children would come first. “Where is Mister Wilson?” He asked, just to make sure.

“He’s inside. When he got back from town he’s too sick to work the land, so’s I put ‘im to bed.” She grabbed Nathan’s arm again and started dragging him to the house when he wasn’t walking fast enough for her.


There were only two rooms in the home, and one was used as the bedroom for everyone. It wasn’t a wonder that the whole family was ill. The two boys were bedridden, as well as the baby who screamed from its cradle.

“I don’t want ‘im here!” Mason yelled, trying to get up out of his bed. “Beverly!”

Nathan stood in the doorway, unsure if it was in his right to treat people that didn’t want to be treated.

“My oldest son, Ben, come down with it first,” Mason’s wife ignored her husband and pulled Nathan toward the bed with her two sons.

“BEVERLY!” Mason yelled again, collapsing on the bed.

“You can yell all you want when you’re better, Mason Wilson!” The woman snapped, silencing her husband. Beverly placed her palm on her head and then slipped into a chair next to her children’s bed.

Nathan stepped forward. He had a lot to do.


Just like most diseases, the measles, were deadly. However, if caught in time they didn’t have to be. With some herbs he’d learned to use at the Indian village, and some techniques he learned on the battlefield, Nathan quickly had the family feeling better. The youngest boy, Charlie, had perished the first night the healer had arrived. The baby was just too weak to fight anymore, but the older boys, though they were sicker than their parents, recovered quicker and it wasn’t long before they were out doing chores and helping Nathan.

Mason had finally come to the realization that he needed the help after losing his son. Though he wasn’t happy about it, he did tolerate Nathan’s much needed presence. It took the healer four days to feel comfortable enough to leave the family under their own care. But the fact remained he was able to.

Nathan tightened the cinch around Pike’s girth, getting ready for the ride back to town. It was late, and the sun was making its way down for the night.

“I want to thank ya, for what ya done,” Mason said, stepping up behind the healer.

“Your family was sick, and I was able to help. Ain’t no reason to thank me for that.”

“All the same.” Mason moved his feet nervously. “We ain’t got much money to pay ya, but my wife put this here bag together for ya.” He handed Nathan a knapsack full of preserves.

“Thank you,” Nathan said, taking the bag gratefully and then he slipped it into his saddlebags.

“Well,” Mason said, looking toward his house, “I’ll be seein’ ya.” He tipped his head and started walking toward his home.

Nathan watched him go, knowing how odd it was to feel grateful to someone, while at the same time not knowing how to show it. He put his foot in his stirrup and slipped into the saddle. He needed to get going, the ride back to town was long, and at night it made for being longer.


The bright glow from the fire in the distance broke Nathan of his quiet solitude. He was familiar with the old church that was barely standing. Truthfully it wasn’t standing at all, except for a small portion of the foyer, and even then there wasn’t much there. He kicked his horse in the direction of the old church with the intentions of finding out who was there. He wasn’t a fool, and he knew there were more outlaws in the area than he cared to admit, but he needed a break and his horse was more than willing to test the waters.

The closer he got to the camp the more he could see. There was only one horse tied off to the side of the camp. A lone figure sat behind the fire, drinking a hot cup of coffee while watching the mesmerizing blazes.

“Hello the camp!” Nathan called, riding up so the stranger could see that he wasn’t a threat. The man nodded, and with the tilt of his head motioned for Nathan to dismount and join him. “Mind if I share your fire for a while?”

“Don’t see why not,” the stranger responded.

“I’m Nathan Jackson,” he introduced himself, and stuck his hand out for the stranger to shake. “I’m the healer in Four Corners.”

“Josiah Sanchez.”

Nathan nodded and then seated himself on a rock not far from the fire.

“There’s coffee, you’re welcome to it.”

“Thank you,” Nathan gratefully responded. “You travelin’ through?” He questioned, retaking his seat on the rock.

“No,” the big man chuckled. “I’ve lived ‘round here a long time.”

“Haven’t seen you in town, an’ ‘round here people don’t last too long ridin’ alone,” it was an observation, not a threat.

“Most, brother, but not all,” there was that chuckle again.

“Guess you’re right,” Nathan softly responded. He’d heard stories of a man like Josiah, one with great strength and character. Nathan wasn’t about to find out if this was the man.

“Folks around here must keep you pretty busy, seein’ that you’re the only doctor in the area.”

“I ain’t a real doctor, just know how to treat a few wounds and sicknesses. But you’re right, there ain’t any doctors in the area so I do stay pretty busy…but even so, it’s hard for a Negro to get many people to trust us.”

“Negro or not, son, it’s hard for everyone,” Josiah responded knowingly.

“Just left the Wilson’s homestead, whole family came down with the measles…saved everyone but the youngest boy.”

“You did the best you could, that’s all anyone can ask.” Josiah spoke with a strong confidence.

“Just wish I could do more.”

“But do not forget to do good and to share for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Josiah quoted, “Hebrews, chapter 13 verse 16.”

“You a preacher or somethin’?”

“I used to be…” Josiah nodded, “but I’m not one anymore.”

“Do you miss it?” Nathan asked, feeling more comfortable with his surroundings.

“No…I don’t.”

Nathan nodded in understanding.

“I haven’t seen many Negro healers in my travels…” there wasn’t any malice in his words, “how’d you come by it?”

“I was a stretcher bearer durin’ the war, learned what I could.” He sighed and then continued, “Got tired of watchin’ people die, thought I could do somethin’ to help.”

“That’s a noble thing to do.”

“After I escaped from the plantation all I wanted to do was be free and fightin’ in the war seemed to be the right thing to do…” Nathan smiled when he noticed the man’s interest hadn’t dwindled, “when I came here I discovered the town didn’t have a doctor, so I figured I help those that were willin’.” He watched the flames of the fire burn intently. “What are you doin’ all the way out here?”

“Exercising my demons,” Josiah replied with a joyful laugh.

Nathan joined in with laughter of his own. In many ways they were both ‘exercising’ their demons, only in different ways.

Chapter 15

Nathan woke to the sound of someone pounding on his room door. He pulled his weapon from the holster he kept next to his bed and walked carefully to the door. The suspenders of his pants hung past his hips and his bare feet hit the warm floor with trepidation.

“We need some help!” A man’s voice called out of desperation.

Nathan lit his lamp and then opened the door with his gun ready. The town had become violent and over the past two years. Every outlaw with a gun and the desire to drink came here to make trouble. The only reason Nathan stayed was because he was needed.

“What do you need?” Nathan asked, as he pulled the door open.

“Trail boss took a bullet in the leg,” the tallest cowboy responded, helping anther man hold up the skinny little man between them.

Nathan moved quickly out of the way and watched as the men brought the man inside. “Put ‘im on the bed,” he ordered and then moved over to look at the wound. Just by the smell he knew the wound was bad.

The two cowboys moved off to the side to watch, not really trusting this ‘man’ to help their boss, but he was the only person available that could help.

Nathan ripped open the pant leg and took a long look at the seeping wound. Corruption had already set it, and the leg was going putrid. The man was going to die. It was already too late to try and amputate the leg, the corruption had too widely spread.

“I’ll do what I can for ‘im…”

“He lives, and if’n he don’t, we’ll bury you right after ‘im.” The man’s voice was harsh and full of anger.

Nathan sighed and then nodded his head. He’d do what he could for the man, but he already knew it was hopeless.


The two cowboys had had taken up residence outside of the room Nathan was treating their boss in. Both had become sick at the sight of the leg and eventually had to stand and wait out in the open. Nathan looked down at the man he’d tried so hard to save, but he’d failed. It had only been a few moments since he’d drawn his last breath, but the fear of ‘what would happen next’ sat on his mind like a heavy weight.

When a light tapping came from the door Nathan jumped. A woman with blonde hair quietly crept in, not wanting to disturb the two men who had dozed outside. Mary Travis covered her mouth and nose, trying to keep the room’s odor from making her ill.

“How is he, Nathan?” She asked, concern was written all over her face.

Nathan shook his head.

“We could…”

“How is he?” One of the cowboys asked, bursting into the room. He shoved Mary out of the way and moved toward the bed. “You and your kind ain’t worth nothin’,” came the angry reply after he’d noticed his boss was dead. “Cooper!”

The other cowboy entered the room and with a signal from his friend helped get their boss up so they could get him buried.

“You best not go nowhere’s, boy, we’ll be back…an’ don’t even think ‘bout runnin’, we’ll hunt you like a dog.”

Nathan watched as the two men carried their boss from the room. He shook his head in disbelief. Things would only get worse when they consumed a little alcohol, and he knew they would.

“I’ll go find some help,” Mary said, rushing out of the room.

The healer appreciated her help, or the help she was willing to offer but he knew it wouldn’t be enough. Mary had taken over the local newspaper after the death of her husband, and Nathan only knew her from a couple of short meetings. However, the woman got involved in everything. This was her home as well and she intended to see it taken care of. It was hard for everyone who had come here years ago and helped settle this town, to watch it turn into the hellhole it had become.

Nathan looked around his room, his room, and sighed. There were over fifty men on that cattle drive that had ended just two days ago. All of those men would know that he wasn’t able to save their boss, and everyone of them would be out looking for him as though he was the fox, and they the hunters.

It wasn’t long before the door to his room burst open and a rope was tied around his neck. He protested, fought, and tried to explain that there wasn’t anything to be done. Mr. Fallon had died and nothing could have prevented it. But they wouldn’t listen. Everything around him seemed to become a blur as they half dragged; half carried him out of his room and down the stairs. He didn’t want to die, not like this. They forced him into the back of a wagon and he looked wildly around. Nathan needed a miracle, or this group of drunken cowhands, and worthless outlaws were going to hang him.

A miracle indeed…

Chapter 16


The present…

Nathan looked at his father and sighed. It had been so long. Obadiah rested peacefully against the pillows. His breathing was short and forced, but he was breathing. There were times Nathan could get so angry, and at the same time he missed everything about his father. Obadiah had taught his son how to survive. Surviving, as a free man and surviving as a slave were as different as night and day. But because Nathan had his father’s guidance as a boy and young adult he knew how to live in the free world, even though he’d never been raised in it.

“I’s born a slave,” Obadiah said, with shallow breaths, “but I’ll die a free man.” There was happiness in his dying breaths.

“Thank you, daddy,” Nathan said softly, letting his tears stream down his face.

Obadiah reached out and took his son’s hand. Tears appeared from under his closed eyelids. In many ways his life had been completed. Though he didn’t know where his daughters were, in his heart he knew they were free, and possibly living full lives…like his son. His wildest dream had come true. His son had made a life for himself, a strong life with even stronger ties. How could a parent ask for more than that? His son had friends…family, and most of all self respect.

“I’ll give your momma…a kiss for you…when I see ‘er.” He wanted to say the words before he fell back to sleep.

Nathan choked, not wanting to lose all of his composure. “You do that.”

“Love you, son,” the words were barley audible, but they were there.

Nathan clasped tightly onto his father’s hand as he fell asleep for the last time. The healer wept like he’d never done before, for reasons he was just now starting to understand.

The End     

Notes: The term ‘Disease of the Mind’ was actually used to explain a slave’s desire to escape, and it was created by a doctor who went on to say:  “The only cure was to ‘whip the devil out of them’.”

It wasn’t until 1862 that black troops were ‘officially’ sent out into the fields to fight, and even then their numbers were fairly small. However, in 1863, the numbers grew dramatically and the United States Colored Troops, USCT, fought bravely all over the South. They were soon found very helpful because many had been former slaves and knew the land better than the white soldiers did.

Next: Southern Cross: - Ezra

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