Maybe his mother was crazy, but she didn’t deserve to die. Boone runs off, only 12, vowing to kill his father. He is taken as a slave, but on escape finds a kindly German settler in Texas and a large lost chunk of gold in the river. Boone retrieves it for him.
This fate rewards Boone with the settler’s disabled daughter, giving him, as his readings of Shakespeare remind him — that he might fail of a right casket and woo the maiden — finally giving Boone something to live for. But how will Emily take to his desire for revenge?
After returning from the War Between the States, he decides to give Emily what she wants to give him, even at her peril. Boone still needs to confront his father to learn the truth about his mother’s death, but in his delay, finds he has to save his father first.
Follow Boone’s adventures in the war-torn western US states between 1857 and 1872, to see how he comes to terms with being a “half-breed.”
The Wishing Rock
Lynelle Tyler wiped sweat from her face as she worked her garden. The sudden sound of galloping hooves froze her there in the dirt, fingers clawing soil. “No! Please!” Breath held, she didn’t move until the sound of hooves faded off again. The Missouri Regulators, most likely. They passed by regularly and never bothered her. They wanted Kansas to enter the Union as a slave state, though most living here were in favor of staying a free state.
Yet whenever she heard horses, the thought of her Kiowa husband coming for her son Boone had her crying with fear.
She loved Kae-Gon. But she feared allowing Boone to live in his world. She could not erase this love embedded in her heart since before Boone was born in December 1844. But she could not allow Boone to live in a culture her father predicted was doomed.
Kae-Gon told her once that he must take Boone before he turned 13, only two months from now. She would die first.
Boone knelt behind his mama in his potato garden and saw her wipe at her tears. She looked so small and vulnerable in her garden world. Boone knew she cried for his father. She told him the story once of how her father, General William Tyler, attacked Kae-gon’s village to get her back. “Let my father move in with us,” Boone asked many times.
“He cannot leave his people,” she responded just as often.
Boone knew the story of how his parents met. In a river, swimming. “He was so gentle. He knew some English and I knew some signing. He came to see me every day, and finally, I left my home for him. I lived in his village, and we married in their ceremony. One day my father came to get me … oh, all those beautiful people he killed. All my fault!” She told him that story nearly every month — as though a fairy tale that needed retelling. “You must always stay white,” she told him, with her eye on the horizon. “The way of life for his people will be destroyed. Promise me, Boonie.”
Boone promised never to go with his father. His mother needed him. But he knew Kae-gon wanted to teach his son to be a man.
When he saw she was about done, he grabbed his bag and ran into the house with his small sack of potatoes. He had sprawled out on the dirt floor, picked up his etching stick, and appeared busy drawing pictures when she came in. His tousled black hair was still coated with the sand and sweat from the morning’s chore, potatoes stashed near the cellar door.
“Where’s my vagabond mama been this time?” He took to calling her vagabond because she often wandered off for hours at a time. There were many words he loved and used from his Shakespeare readings. You are a vagabond and no true traveler.
She smiled at her lanky son deep in concentration, one foot kicking up small dry dust clouds behind him. “Boone Tyler, did you check your garden yet?” Boone looked like his father except for the freckles on his small nose and flecks of green in his brown eyes. The whites called him a “half-breed,” and she feared he would grow unable to live in either world. But she often reminded him that the world will treat him according to his own behavior.
“Look, Mama, the horse is running free as the wind. And I drew me over here, so that it runs to me.”
“The garden, Boone. After dinner I will listen to the newest Greek fable you learned, and then you can pick the Shakespeare story for us to act out.” Lynelle had sent him to that Leavenworth school for a few years, but when they forced him to sit in the corner against the wall so that no one would worry about being scalped, she pulled from school. She taught him herself — math, reading, and all the great literature she could find. She even taught him the art of dramatics as they read Shakespeare aloud.
“It is a shame my twin brother died. You would not always need to entertain me.”
Lynelle grabbed him, yanked him to his feet, and threw him outside. Without a word. He got to his feet and brushed off, not surprised by her sudden moods.
He peeked in the window.
She was on her knees, staring down at the dirt floor, her hands pulling at her hair. “Booonnnieeeee!”
He ran back in and sat by her, and she held him with trembling arms. “How did you know? No, no, don’t answer that. Answer that you love me. That you love our home. Tell me, Boonie!”
“I love you, Mama. I will tell you about Heracles, who killed the monstrous lion that threatened the village.” He felt her nod against his chest as she pulled him tight again.
“I have a hard time keeping that stone fireplace lit, and our eating table wobbles.”
Boone knew, because she told him once, that his twin brother had died at birth. Why couldn’t she talk about him?
She sniffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Boone, why are you sitting here? I told you, git. Harvest your garden.”
“I already picked all my potatoes for today.” He pointed toward the corner.
“Don’t fool me. Those are yesterday’s potatoes. Now do as I say! You will tell your story of Heracles at supper.” She got up to stir the beans.
“You won’t eat without me, will you? Your baking smells good today.”
“Oh, and what day doesn’t it?” The small shack had filled with the smell of Boston brown bread, cornmeal and rye steamed in molasses. “If you don’t get out there, those potatoes will pack their bags and leave.”
“Oh, Mama, that’s such a tall one.” Boone looked down at what he drew — a kind of half-circle with an odd design inside. “I don’t think they are ready today. But I will look. And one day, you’ll see that I’m old enough to do my work without being told.”
He jumped up and ran out before she could rap his head with her sticky wooden spoon.
Boone walked back to his potato garden, but his thoughts were on the design he’d just created in the dirt, like a brand on that horse he drew running free in the wind. He didn’t know what that drawing was, a kind of crescent moon with an arrow by it. Even if his mama swept up his dirt, as she kept trying to do to keep the dirt floor clean, he would not forget his symbols. He would run free someday, too, on his own horse.
“Watch da path, your feet, Tadpole.”
“Oh!” Boone almost ran into Jack — Big Grizzly, he was called. Jack lived in a shack up on the hill. He moved from the Dakotas when a tribe of Lakota had grown too familiar for his own comfort. “Sorry!” Boone backed away as though repelled by something foul.
Jack had on his plain buckskin coat, not the fringed one that Boone admired. He kept his ball and powder six-shooter tucked in the pants that he kept roped tight, and the tail of his fox hat bobbed as he laughed at the boy. “Hey, Tadpole, no hurry, earth still be here, another day yet.”
“Gotta find me some potatoes now!” Boone ran from Jack as though he had twenty things to do. Big Grizzly Jack frightened him, but Boone didn’t understand why.
He felt Jack’s eyes on him as he dug into the earth for a spud or two he might have missed. Jack seemed like a friend, and somehow not.
Lynelle walked out and stood beside Big Grizzly as the boy bent over his garden.
“He’s of ripenin’ age, Lynelle.”
“I know. I worry what will happen to him if there’s war like they keep talking. To protect slavery,” she said as though the words tasted dirty.
“You have more war in your heart. Talk on him his papa.” An old French fur trapper, Jack hung onto his bad English like a lifeline to the Old World.
“Oh, I already told him everything.” She wrapped her arms around herself and rubbed hard. “He’s not going to find any more potatoes today.”
“Time to treat him like man he is become.”
“No! He can’t grow up. Ever. Come on, have some coffee with me.”
That first day they met, a year ago, he had been out trapping, suspecting he could catch a family of muskrats down near the river. He came upon her crying over an empty bucket.
“I caught no fish. My line got away from me.” She had that habit of wiping her face with dirty hands, causing streaks that looked like war paint. “We’ll just have to make more bread.”
Jack reached into his pocket. “Here.”
Her hand trembled as she reached out. “What is this?”
“Smoke it myself. Raccoon meat.”
Lynelle nodded and tucked it in her apron pocket.
“It ain’t much. Traps tomorrow might fill. Meet you here?”
“Oh, no! I couldn’t!” She ran from him at that first meeting, leaving Jack scratching his beard.
Later that same day she found Big Grizzly and Boone standing in the river, though not close, watching each other’s fishing lines. Boone listened as Jack told him about the fine art of catching those nibblers. She learned later that Boone had been too terrified of him to move. Now Boone could catch fish with his bare hands but still didn’t cotton to Big Grizzly much. She hoped he would once the size difference lessened. His father was so much taller than any white man she knew and Boone fast approached that stature.
Jack grunted a happy thanks for the coffee offer and they went inside.
“You ever have children, Big Grizzly?” She got the water pot on the fire and took out a shiny knife to start chopping vegetables.
“Seen plenty half-breed. Not have my own but marry plenty Indian woman too.” He used the term half-breed with respect. “When I teach you boy to trap last week he give me gift.” Jack slapped a rock down on her table. “He calls it wish rock and say he wish for you to let him meet his papa.”
Lynelle grabbed the table for support. “No.”
“You love dis Indian papa. Your boy should love him, too.”
“Why did he give the rock to you?”
“He say not good rock. Wish not come true.”
Lynelle picked up the simple piece of granite with what looked like an etched ‘s’. “Some wishes aren’t meant to come true.”
“Kiowa are not—.”
“I don’t want Boone to die!” Lynelle looked back over her shoulder to make sure Jack hadn’t disappeared before dumping her carrots in the steaming pot. Jack put one leg up and easy over the other and, with his nose in the air, appreciably smelled the bread. She poured him the coffee and added sugar. “Would you like to stay on? For supper?” She thought about having Jack over more often, maybe suggest he use some lye in his wash and perhaps give himself a shave. She picked out a few potatoes to chop.
He grunted. “Tell me about why you fear Kae-gon.”
“He found me two years after Boone’s birth. Said he would come for Boone when the boy was 12. Came again a few more times, just so I wouldn’t forget. Boone will be 13 in the snows of December.” She whipped the knife into the potatoes, unable to meet Jack’s eyes.
“Not bad he meets his Papa. Give boy’s papa a listen.”
Lynelle slammed the knife down. “He said take!” She paused to catch her breath. “Boone’s only chance is in the white world. Oh, Jack, you can see that, can’t you?”
“Sound like you listen to white folk too much.” Jack sipped at the dark liquid. “I believe tribes will keep own land. Your son can talk Indian to whites. He can heal both worlds—.”
“My son is no savior!” Lynelle covered her eyes for a second and looked at Jack with fierce determination. “I will protect my son. With my life I will.”
He patted her hand. “Dis is good, your feelings. Dey yours, so good. But boy must know. Protect him, but he must know what you protect.”
“Jack, do you think there will be war? Out east?”
“War is already here until they settle this thing.” Only the week before a few of the Regulators tried to string him up for calling them “slavers.” But Jack beat two of them senseless before the rest ran off. “You not worry. I let no one hurt you. Or the boy.”
Boone stood near the door of the squat little shack and flicked at clumps of dirt hanging on his knees and elbows, unable to look at Jack when he came out.
“Got some good potatoes?” Jack stayed back, respectful of the boy’s space.
Boone held one out, and then two. “For you.”
“Day’s good ones. I tank you.” Jack pocketed them and followed as Boone headed for the river to wash up. “Your mama not sure how to tell you about life. You must learn to ask.”
Boone splashed water on his arms, the chill of autumn making his hairs raise. “What Mama and I talk about is none of your bloody affair.” Arms wet and still half muddy he jumped to his feet and started up the hill with his empty sack.
Jack grabbed his arm. The big man’s face was the grizzly that chased him in his nightmares. “You getting to be a man. You have right to know your papa.”
Boone jerked his arm free. “Why do you care, anyway?”
Jack only shrugged and walked back to his mule to drink water from his jug.
Boone ran back up the hill. “Mama!” He ran into the shack. “What you got to tell me?”
Lynelle was on her hands and knees, digging in the dirt floor. She looked up, hair half covering her wild eyes as she patted the dirt. “Oh, Boonie.”
“You gonna grow something in here for me to weed now?”
“Come here and sit on the floor beside me.” She patted down the dirt long after it needed patting. With a gentle hand she traced the dirt on his face. “Your father used to rub dirt on my face so the whites would not take me away.”
Boone sat next to her. “Does Papa hate us? Is that why he won’t live with us?”
“I promise you, your father does not hate us.” Lynelle wiped the tears from her face and with the same hand wiped the dirt on Boone’s face, creating streaks on his cheeks. “Your father is the son of a Kiowa leader, keepers of the medicine. Boone, as much as I loved your father, I wasn’t strong enough to live with him.”
“What did you bury in the floor, Mama?” He didn’t like secrets. Mama once said secrets, like badgers, can bite.
“Boone, I will sleep outside tonight, and tomorrow we’ll make a new bed for you.”
She gave him a quick hug. “Tell me why you don’t like Big Grizzly.”
“There’s something bad about him. Something quiet and dark.”
“Your mama needs a man in her life.”
“Not him. Papa.”
“Tell me why Papa won’t live here.”
She kissed his head and stood. “If you were a girl, your father would have left you alone. You remember when I told you about the Cherokee? About how they had a great home back east and learned to adapt to white civilization, and yet were still forced to leave? Indians don’t understand how whites own the land. We see it … I mean, the Kiowa see it as providing the resources needed to survive. No one should be allowed ownership over survival.” She stood and threw wood on the fire still burning strong. “Boone, how can I explain how I feel? The Kiowa … can’t hold off a whole country wanting their land. If you live with the Indians, you will die with them. And your father will never leave his people.”
“But I can help them talk to whites. Even Jack says so.”
She shook her head. “Do you remember the story of Jesus on the cross?” She checked her bread cooking on the stove. “You are not a savior. Don’t ever get that complex.”
“Did you love my Pa?”
“I did, Boone. But I had to choose.” She threw her arms around him. “Promise you’ll stay in the white world and be safe. Promise me, Boone!”
“I’d never leave you, Mama.”
She looked out the window, suddenly startled. “Shhhhh!” Lynelle pointed at the bed in corner. “Hide. I hear a noise.” Years of training made Boone respond without question. He hid under the buffalo skin while she ran outside.
Sun Hero was his favorite Indian story … hide until the time to come out and shine. But how to know when to be a hero? Boone wondered as he fell asleep hiding.
“Mama, I had a new dream last night.” Boone had found a round piece of rubber that he worried between his palms as Lynelle finished cooking the oatmeal with maple syrup, his favorite breakfast. Boone thought that’s all she ever did — try to find a way to keep him fed.
“What this time? Fire monsters that fly and eat the rolling fire horses? I wish you would learn to start a fire as well as you dream it.”
“At first I was alone and screaming because I was cold. But then so many warm hands surrounded me and as they clapped, the air around me warmed, and I floated on a cloud. The cloud turned dark and stormy but I wasn’t afraid because you held me up, and Papa held you up, and even though the ground began to tremble we weren’t afraid.”
Lynelle stood frozen as she stared outside. “Boone! Get to your feet!”
“No, Mama. My dream said to be a man and protect you.”
“I said get to your feet! Go out the window by the bed, go out the window and run.” She pulled him away from the table and pushed him to the bed. “Run like you never ran before and don’t look back, do you hear? Don’t look back!”
Boone pushed the tarp aside but hesitated. “I want to stay.”
Lynelle gave him a shove and he rolled out the window onto the hard ground below. At first he couldn’t get up because the air had poofed out of him. He heard the sounds of many horses and the shouts of men, words he could not make out. He crept up along the house and peeked into the window.
Five Indians had come inside and faced his mama but she stood them off, yelling at them in return, her knife clutched tight in her hand. The tallest had a hand on her arm and seemed to be trying to gentle her. Boone ducked back down, thinking. Mama still loved Kae-gon. If he left them alone, maybe she’d find a way. Why rebuke you him that loves you so?
He turned and ran, down through the fields and up another hill to Big Grizzly’s house but couldn’t bring himself to go inside. Instead he ducked inside the small shed where Jack’s mule lodged in bad weather. He huddled himself tight, not dressed to be outdoors. If only his grandfather had never interfered.
He remembered the move across the Mississippi when he was two … the big waters — the big river, his mama called it … wider than any river young Boone had ever seen. He clung to his mama’s leg in fear. His grandfather, General Tyler, barked orders at the three men who followed them everywhere. Boone hated those men because they tried to get between him and his mama. The men got out their axes to fell some trees for a raft, but then they saw a keel-boat headed across the river toward them.
Boone kept saying, “No water, no water!” so General Tyler picked him up and threw him into the river. Lynelle screamed but a soldier covered her mouth as Boone thrashed around. He managed to dog paddle back to shore. Not very far, really, before Boone found land under his feet again.
The General laughed and pointed, a hand holding back one of the men who wanted to go in after the boy. “Told ya. Part animal.”
Lynelle ran to Boone when he got to shore, careful not to sound frightened. By the time she stripped him down he was laughing. “See me, Mama, see me?”
Lynelle found an oversized shirt for him to wear until his clothes dried. “You’ll be a great swimmer someday, Boone.” Boone nearly went back into the river on her encouragement but she held him back, laughing and crying at the same time.
The keel-boat got close enough for the boatman to call out, “Engagee?”
The General grumbled. “Shoot, it’s a Frenchie. Anyone know any?”
“I know a little,” Philip, his tall soldier, stepped forward, and using French said, “Across the river. You take us.”
Boone and Lynelle emptied the wagon that would be left behind, to be used by someone who crossed from the other side.
“Oh. Oui. Cost you,” Frenchie nodded as Philip interpreted.
“Huh, I understood that much,” said the General. “What’s your price?”
“One horse!” The General turned and waved at his adjutant. “Give him that rangy mule.” He turned back. “Ask him if he wants it in the keel-boat.”
Turned out he didn’t. Frenchie gave a wave of his own and two Indians ran out. They grabbed the offered mule and ran off.
“You are good company!” Frenchie shouted in English. He waved them on board but not all their goods would fit. They tied some to the horses that would be pulled along behind to swim over. Halfway over Frenchie decided to demonstrate the sturdiness of the boat by making it sway while talking nonstop in French. When he got a little too close to Lynelle she gave him a shove and he tumbled backward with the swaying, right into the river.
While the men struggled to get him back on board, Boone and Lynelle clung to the side.
“Mama, am I a good swimmer now?”
“Not yet, Boone. But don’t worry, you won’t drown. You’ll be a great man someday.”
Once across they all leaped out, pulled their horses up to shore and ran up the hill without a look back, leaving the extra goods on the boat. Up, up a hill, they stumbled on rocks and caught shoes in the shrubbery, better at first than being on the water but soon Boone thought he would go crazy from being tired, cold and always wet, first from river, then from rain. They found no wagons this side of the river, which meant just to keep running and sometimes share a horse, but they finally found the fort and the general got them all more horses to ride.
But Grandpa didn’t want this fort. Boone remembered how the wagon trail they got on sometimes disappeared, like a hole had opened up and swallowed it. “Will it swallow me?”
“No, Boone, not you. You are meant for better things.”
The trees slapped him like he said a bad word and every few minutes he thought he heard the hoot of an Indian.
“Owl, Boone,” Lynelle reminded him. “Would you like to hear a story, Boonie?”
“Yes, tell me why you’re so afraid.”
“Oh, let’s save that for after I’m gone.”
Boone didn’t want Jack’s help. He didn’t want Jack telling them she would feel better if she had a man. Boone would remind Big Grizzly that she has her son — that her son was a man.
That day would be tomorrow. For now, he curled up under the standing hay, to wait for his mama to come and get him.
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