Dakota for the Holidays

by Kris Mashburn

Federal Court Judge Orin Travis rubbed his forehead, hoping that the day's caseloads would be quick and easy. He was also looking forward to getting home for Thanksgiving. Mary was coming home to be with them, and he knew his wife, Evie, would lay out a huge feast. He wanted to be there. As he stepped into the courtroom of the day, he had a prickle of unease, but before he could check it out, or turn around, he felt a thump at the back of his head and all went black.

Four Corners, New Mexico Territory

JD was being goofy with his plans for the holiday. And worse yet, Josiah and Nathan were helping him, Chris thought to himself. He couldn't help feeling like he was in a sinkhole; cause he knew they would try to get him involved too. He would rather be left alone. Vin had already volunteered for town patrol, and Chris figured he would also need to come up with something so he could keep to the fringes of the activity. Chris'train of thought was interrupted by the stage pulling up.

Ezra and Buck were greeting it as usual, and yet again, disappointed by the lack of female passengers. Only one male passenger exited the coach.

Jeffery Albright surveyed his surroundings as he brushed the dust off his clothes. Noticing Ezra's clothes, Jeffery approached him and asked, "Where is the newspaper office?"

Ezra nodded at him and said, "Good day sir, the office you seek is just across the street."

Jeffery tipped his hat and, after collecting his luggage, headed in that direction

Buck elbowed Ezra and said, "What do ya think he wants?"

Ezra turned his head and looked askew at Buck, replying, "How would have I garnered that information?"

"Well, you talked to him," Buck answered.

Ezra just shook his head, then turned back to watch the stranger enter the newspaper office.

Mary Travis was just finishing with the typesetting, when she heard the bell above the door jingle. She was just about to look up when she heard a voice say, "I heard tell that a woman was running a newspaper here, and running it well," Jeffery made it a statement, not a question.

Mary looked up, pleased by the indirect compliment. "I'm Mary Travis and the "Clarion News" is my paper. What can I do for you?" Mary then took a moment to look at the man before her; a head taller than she, with hair as blond as hers. She smiled at him, awaiting an answer.

"I'm Jeffery Albright, a newspaper columnist, and I would like to do a story about you." Jeffery smiled at her with eager eyes.

Mary's eyes answered his with the same eagerness and said, "I'd be delighted." She showed him to the back room and offered him some coffee.

He accepted, then explained to her what he wanted. "I would like to know how you got into this business."

Mary looked off, a sad light in her eyes; she then squared her shoulders and told him of her husband Steve, and all he had accomplished. "After his murder, I swore on his grave, I would not be a victim. I took over the newspaper and tried to finish what we had started. After a while, it became what I wanted to do. With it I can contribute to the growth of this town and help make it a safe and decent place to raise a child."

"See, there is a story here, not many women ever get the chance to pursue their own goals," Jeffery smiled as he said it.

Mary tipped her head to the side, and asked, "Not many men would even attempt to encourage more women with a favorable story, it is a favorable story," he nodded, "Then why?"

"My mother was an original thinker, and she had to fight hard for many years to be allowed to make her own choices. She taught me to respect that. After she passed away, I've tried to seek out the original thinkers and tell their stories in a positive way. I think my mother would have liked that. I've discovered that original thinkers are both male and female, and each story may inspire other original thinkers to take a try."

"Mr. Albright, I must say that you too appear to be an original thinker, and I would be happy to have you write that article." Mary blushed at her own eagerness.

They agreed on a time to start tomorrow morning, then Jeffery tipped his hat and left to get a room at the hotel. Mary stared after him from the window as he crossed the street, and smiled.

+ + + + + + +

Nine days before Thanksgiving and Vin was hoping he could get out of town before he was sidetracked by JD again. JD was trying to create a festive day life like when his mother was alive, but his exuberance was wearing his friends out, except Josiah, who seemed to be as involved as JD. Vin paused in his musings to check the horizon with his telescope. Seeing a dust cloud to the north, he kept his scope trained to that area. Shortly it became a rider coming in hard and fast. Vin left his perch and went to alert Buck and Chris.

Chris, Buck and Vin were waiting at the sheriff's office when the exhausted horse and rider stopped there. The rider jumped off and headed straight for Chris. Panting hard he said, "You are the man in black, a Mr. Larabee?"

Chris'eyes narrowed and he nodded. The rider sagged and looked relieved, "I've come to tell you- Judge Travis- he's been kidnapped by a crooked sheriff in Tilford, and he's to be hung on Friday at noon."

Shock registered on all three faces. Chris looked to Buck and Vin, "Five days, let's get the others."

All thoughts of festivities were gone as the men loaded their rifles and guns and packed their horses.

Vin looked over his saddle at the others as he said, "It's gonna take three days of hard riding to get there. So I think we could use the full moon tonight and pace ourselves so as not to overheat the horses right off."

JD looked confused, "Three days, where the hell is Tilford?"

Vin answered JD, "It's in the Dakota Territory, part of the Black Hills gold area, still a purty wild area."

Josiah looked thoughtful, "Lawless, and close to Sioux country."

Ezra nodded as he rolled up an extra jacket and strapped to his bedroll. "Gentlemen, be prepared, for as we continue north, we will encounter increasingly harsher conditions," Ezra looked over at Vin.

Vin nodded and added, "Snow too."

JD and Nathan looked at each other and went to get extra blankets for the journey. Chris used this time to approach Ezra and asked him quietly, "Ezra, do you have any more of your blank cartridges?"

"Indeed I do, Mr. Larabee," Ezra kept his voice as low as Chris', but his eyes held a twinkle.

"Bring all you have, I've got an idea," Chris looked Ezra in the eye, and nodded at him.

Chris then looked at the group of men assembled, with no trepidation, knowing this was the Judge Travis'best chance of rescue. To the others he said, "Johnny is holed up at the Harper Place. I told him and Katie not to repeat the message to anyone, especially Mrs. Travis. Katie knows to explain it though, if we don't return. We'll work out a plan once we get a lay of the land, and what we are up against."

"Let's go," Vin said. The seven rode out of town.

Dakota Territory

Orin Travis was having a hard time staying conscious. Sitting in a chair with his hands tied so tightly behind his back that his wrists were rubbed raw. His face covered in obvious bruises and bleeding cuts.

Jack Temple stood looking at the judge and then slapped him again. "You have a lot to answer for. You sentenced Lucas to hang, and you have put a lot of my friends in jail."

"You keep bad company," Travis answered, the spunk not yet dead. That earned him another slap across the face.

Temple smiled as he hit him again, "You'll get just what you deserve on Friday."


JD was dismayed at how quickly the temperature dropped after the sun set. It might be faster to travel at night with the moonlight but, it sure was cold. JD was about to say something, when Nathan jumped in first.

"How long into the night are we trav'lin'. It's gettin mighty cold," Nathan said with concern.

Chris looked over at Vin and motioned a look at JD, who was looking very much like an icicle. Vin looked resigned and motioned a stop. "Best make camp here."

Buck and Ezra started creating a shelter within the rocks, to help buffer against the wind. Vin and Chris both had brought tarps; both had experience in winter camping. The four of them erected a roof to keep off the snow that fell throughout the night. Josiah got a fire going and placed JD right in front of it. JD started to thaw, and regained some color. Nathan was hovering near, watching him closely, worried at how quickly he was affected by the cold.

Josiah gave each man some of the soup that Katie made for them. Warm soup was just what JD needed, he was glad to feel warm again.

"JD, did you bring your long johns?" Nathan inquired.

"No, never really used them before," JD said in a quiet voice.

"Oh, JD," Vin ‘s disbelief evident in his shake of his head.

Looking at Vin, Nathan said, "JD can have my extra pair, a just in case pair." Vin nodded, and JD looked grateful.

Snow was falling softly as they turned in. Buck put some more wood on the fire; he and Nathan were determined to keep it going all night. Chris had his hat over his eyes out of habit; the moonlight that Vin had planned on had disappeared with the snow.

"Buck, the kid'll be fine now with Nathan's long johns," Chris knew that Buck was concerned.

"Yeah, he's just a city kid," Buck wasn't fooling Chris with his care-little attitude. Chris just smiled under his hat.

The snow fell lightly through the night and left a trace layer of white for the morning sun to work on. Ezra was quite relieved to see even a glint of sunlight. Bad weather would only slow the rescue attempt. As he walked through the campsite, Ezra looked closer at Vin, for something seemed amiss. Ezra stood next to Vin's sleeping form with a huge smile on his face.

When Vin awoke and opened his eyes, that was the sight he saw, Ezra's grin. "What?" Vin asked Ezra.

Ezra's smile grew even larger, if that was possible, and humor laced his voice as he said, "Mr. Tanner, you do collect the most delectable bedmates."

"Huh, what the..," Vin felt the warmth against his back, and turned to discover what Ezra was grinning at…a raccoon sleeping next to him.

Ezra backed away, barely holding in the laughter, "It's obvious that you too have that particular animal magnetism, and the women just can't stay away."

The others were laughing or smiling at Vin's predicament, yet, trying not to scare the animal. Vin slowly extricated himself and backed away. He then turned to face the others, and they all promptly burst out laughing, he couldn't help smiling in return. He broke off some bread and cheese taken from his saddlebag and left it for the raccoon.

Nathan watched as the raccoon woke up, startled to see so much action about her. He didn't move, and that gave the raccoon enough confidence to take the food on her way out of the campsite. Nathan turned to Vin, saying, "she looked like a pregnant female, and jus' wanted a warm place for the night." Nathan gave Vin his big grin, and Vin returned it in kind.

The seven packed up their stuff, loaded their horses and continued on their way.

Four Corners, New Mexico Territory

Mary Travis and Jeffery Albright met at Mary's office to begin work on his article. He listened to Mary's tale and watched the pain and struggle, determination and discovery, and the joy and pride dance their way across Mary's expressive face throughout her story. He felt he learned as much in her expressions as with her words. Mary was pleased with the undivided attention, and the detailed questions that followed, indicating to her that he had really listened to her.

Mary looked at the clock on the wall, and was shocked at the passage of time. Three hours had gone by, and she hadn't even noticed it. "Goodness, Mr. Albright, I can't believe that I spent that much time talking about myself, please forgive me."

"Mrs. Travis, it has been my pleasure to listen to you voice, ah, I mean your story." Jeffery said, uncomfortable with his slip. To distract Mary from commenting on statement, he asked, "Would you honor me by having lunch with me?"

Mary smiled and looked down, and nodded, adding, "Yes, that would be nice." The two of them walked to the hotel dinning room for their meal.

Katie Harper smiled at Mrs. Travis as she passed her and her companion, and couldn't help wondering who he was. She then entered the general store and greeted Mrs. Potter. "Morning, Gloria, I need to collect some more supplies."

"So, soon? You must be feeding an army," Gloria said casually, smiling at Katie.

Katie returned her smile and told her, "I'm expecting another carpenter, and want to be fully prepared."

"Another women?"

"Yes, I know how difficult the women carpenters have in getting work, and want to utilize as many as I can." She paused, then continued, "I will have to hire a couple of men for some of the work, but it has been nice to have other women at the ranch."

Mrs. Potter nodded, and added, "Becky has been a pleasant addition to this town, do you know if she is planning on staying?"

Katie smiled again, saying, "she actually will have a long stay with the work alone, she creates indoor cupboards, and many of those can't be completed till the other work is done. She has just completed the tack room shelves and cupboards in the barn."

"When do you expect your next guest?" Mrs. Potter's curiosity got the best of her.

"I expect Callie McLister in on the next stage from Colorado." Katie volunteered for Mrs. Potter. "I'm should receive a telegram with her final plans any time now." Katie finished her purchases and bid Mrs. Potter goodbye. Feeling relieved that her upcoming house guest deflected any further questions on the additional food order. Katie took and loaded her purchases into her saddlebags and headed home.


Although the sun had remained out all day, the air was getting steadily colder, and Buck knew they were still climbing, which could only mean it was gonna get even colder. He rode up along Vin and Chris and asked Vin, "Is it gonna snow again? Temperature seems to be dropping, and after last night and all….," Buck's voice dropped off questionably.

"We should clear Pike's Peak this afternoon, that's the coldest part of the climb. It should be warmer tonight." Vin kept his eyes on the trail. He felt an uneasiness he couldn't put into words.

Buck nodded his head, and let his horse fall back with JD's again, then passed on Vin's words.

Ezra left his position in the rear and came up along side Chris and included Vin in his inquiry, "Mr. Larabee, Mr. Tanner does it not seem uncommonly quiet to you?"

Both men moved off the lead checking the area all around them. Each had a feeling of being watched. Vin said aloud, "There is something out there."

JD said, "Like a mountain lion?"

"Could be."

The rest pulled up, checking around themselves as Vin's uneasy feeling spread to them all. Vin dismounted and was searching the ground, then straightened up quickly and went over to Chris.

Chris turned at Vin's approach and asked, "Cat or a bear?"

Vin was already shaking his head as he answered, "Horses ain't bothered, and I think these here," pointing at the ground. " Are some unshod horse tracks."

Chris'eyes narrowed, "Indians?"

The words had no more than left his mouth, when all heard high pitch cries and screams. A volley of arrows showered down upon them. They all scattered to the rocks and trees for cover. Another volley of arrows followed, Vin and Chris fired their rifles in the direction the arrows came from. Buck and Josiah were about to join Chris just as they jumped from behind. Ezra took aim and shot one, as that dead Indian fell forward onto Buck, that momentary distraction provided Josiah time enough to fire on the remaining ambusher, killing him. Josiah looked over to Ezra, and motioned him over. As they removed the dead Indian from Buck, Josiah imparted some very disturbing information.

"These here Indians are Pawnee," Josiah's voice relayed the abhorrence he felt.

Nathan was having his own problems; he was the only one who had noticed that an arrow had hit JD. He dragged him across a rocky ground to get him to cover. As he checked JD, he gave a sigh of relief that the arrow had only hit his shoulder. He figured he must have been knocked out as he hit the ground. Nathan ran his hands about JD's head searching for a wound, his right hand contacted a sticky area, which confirmed Nathan's guess. He wanted his bag, but that was on his horse, much farther away than he could get to with out being in the line of fire. Though it did seem to Nathan, that the sound of gunfire was decreasing. He looked over to where Chris and Vin were.

Chris knew that he had wounded or killed two, but what he didn't know was how many there were. Vin had apparently killed one or two himself. The volleys of arrows were steadily decreasing, suggesting to the men that had taken a fair number of their attackers. Buck, Josiah and Ezra came up from behind and joined Chris and Vin.

Buck said immediately to Vin, "Josiah says these here boys are Pawnee, I thought they were rounded up a couple of years ago?"

Vin's eyes widen at the name, Pawnee, then his face set into a hard read. "Most all did, signed a treaty and all, but as with any group, there are those that refuse."

"Renegades," Chris added.

Josiah did not look happy. "Brothers, renegades could mean they would stick with their old ways, meaning," looking at Buck, before he got his question out, "Meaning that they would still practice human sacrifice, scalping and the like. The fellows we took out had the traditional dress and lack of hair, save for the lock in front. Traditional body paint, the same I saw fifteen years ago."

Vin nodded his agreement to Josiah's assessment. "I think we should get out of here before they return with more."

"Then let's get the hell out of here." Chris'voice booked no argument.

Buck looked around for JD, not seeing him, called out. He was answered by Nathan's, "Here."

"JD was hit in the shoulder, then bumped his head, but he should be fine." Nathan was talking as readied JD for travel.

Bucked headed over to JD, covering his worry by admonishing him with, "Hey, kid, haven't I told you to duck and stay out of the way of flying arrows? You never listen," Buck stood there shaking his head at JD.

Nathan smiled at Buck's words, but JD saw nothing funny in them, "Buck, that ain't fair, you all were just as surprised by the attack, I didn't get in the way or nothing."

JD probably would've continued, but Chris interrupted, "We need to get the hell out of here now, and far enough away by nightfall, so quit yakking and let's move." Chris turned his head so JD couldn't see his smile at their exchange, he was thinking that JD bites at everything Buck says.

JD would've said more but Buck slapped him playfully and motioned for him to get his horse, same as the rest were doing.

They rounded up their horses, and lit out as fast as was safe for the terrain. They left the dead for their comrades to pick up.


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