The Last Man | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Western Bookmark and Share

The Last Man

THE LAST MAN By: Dallas G. Releford Tombstone, Arizona 6th of July, 1887 The wind cut through the streets of Tombstone, Arizona on this hot, sunny day sending the dust swirling around, cutting the faces of the few brave souls who ventured into the town on some urgent business that couldn’t wait. Most folks attempted to cover their eyes with their hands or maybe a colorful bandana but many just braved the weather as best as they could. Most didn’t notice an old dirty Indian man walking down the wooden sidewalk toward the nearest saloon. Many wouldn’t have paid him any attention at any other time even when the sun was shining and they could see him clearly. The old Indian wore a large, black stovepipe hat with an old torn dirty blanket around his shoulders that was tossed and blown by the strong gusts of wind. His solemn face showed many wrinkles from a hard life of worry, very little sleep and not much to eat. Few would guess or even care that hunger was the demon that drove him toward the nearby saloon where he hoped to get some work or maybe a handout. Being weak from little rest, little food in his stomach and the constant dread that haunted him each time he had to confront one of the hated white men, he bumped into the porch post and stumbled into the dirty street. It took some effort before he finally managed to get control of himself again. “What do ya want Injun?” It was the same question that was asked of him every time he approached one of the white men. The bartender, a white man who was balding, red faced and stood some six feet high looked like he didn’t like Indians. He leaned over the bar and asked the question again, “Maybe you didn’t hear me Red Man, what do you want? You know we don’t want your kind in here. Now, unless you got a good reason for being here, GET OUT!” “Me, Iron Bear, Chief of the Cheyenne. Me need food and me willing to work for it.” Iron Bear had become accustomed to the scorn, hate and mistrust applied to his being relentlessly by the white community but he had learned to exist in the environment even though he had never learned to except it. The pain from the stern words of the White man was somewhat worse than the slap across his jaw that the bartender delivered to him. He fell back and lay on the floor too weak to get up. “Jake,” the bartender said to the dirty cowboy who looked like he was half-drunk, “give him some of the corn pone and a piece of that beef and throw his butt out the door. I don’t want him around here but I guess we have to feed’im.” The bartender felt some compassion for the old gray haired man but he didn’t want to show too much weakness in front of the bunch of drunken cowboys that were his regular customers. “Aw, Bart now you are goin’ too far,” the cowboy complained. “Why don’t I just throw’im out the door and into the street?” “You heard me,” the bartender insisted. “If we feed him a little then maybe he can walk out of town quicker.” “I guess that makes sense,” the man agreed. Iron Bear managed to get to his feet, took the food and thanked the bartender. The bartender grunted and motioned for him to be on his way. Outside the saloon, Iron Bear gulped the piece of meat and the cornbread down wishing he had something to drink but he made do with the water from the horse trough. It was water and he had drunk it many times before. Iron Bear wondered why the white man was so mean to him but his father had told him it was because of the many battles and wars that had occurred between the Indian and the white man. He had also been told that the white man wanted to get rid of the Indian so he could take his land. They had most certainly done a good job of that. He had never stolen the white man’s woman, taken his children, violated his women or done anything that he could think of that was wrong. Iron Bear knew that that didn’t really matter because the white man hated him anyway. Iron Bear had been a mighty chief of a tribe that belonged to the Cheyenne nation. This nation had command of most of the Plains. They had hunted buffalo and other animals and pretty much lived in peace until the white man came. One dark, rainy night his entire tribe had been wiped out and he was the sole survivor. The Cheyenne nation still survived but he was the last of his particular tribe. He realized that he could have found a home with any of the Cheyenne tribes but he had ended up begging for scraps of food from the white man. The wind was getting worse and Iron Bear heard many of the white men saying that, “This wind is going to blow up something before the day is over.” Silly White men and their crazy thoughts was all he could think of to describe how he felt about their predictions. How could anyone predict the weather except an Indian who had hundreds of years of living with Mother Nature he wondered? Putting all his grief and problems aside, he decided that he felt much better after the meal and decided to leave Tombstone and go on a hunting trip outside the town. Maybe he could snare some small animals to eat and he wouldn’t have to beg the white man for food for a few days. He hadn’t traveled much more than about ten miles outside the town when he heard some noise that sounded like gunshots in the distance. His hearing wasn’t as good as it used to be but he thought it came from over the hill to the south. It took him more than an hour to gain a position on the top of the nearby rocky hill. Looking down from the hilltop the old man could see a ranch house below him in a grassy valley. There was a small stream that supplied water to a large pond beside the house. He rubbed the dust from his eyes and took another look at the ranch. To his surprise, he was able to see several Indians on ponies riding around the house and shooting their rifles at the old gray structure. Every now and then, there would be a reply from the ranch house. As far as he could tell, there was only one person doing any shooting from the house. Iron Bear never had been in situation where he felt so helpless. He didn’t have any weapons on him except for his knife that he carried in its sheath. He sat down on a huge boulder to ponder what he should do. From his perch high on the rocky hill above he could readily see that the warriors who were marauding around the ranch house were Apaches, the most formidable and fierce Indians in the country. Defeating them would require more than he had to offer. He knew the people in the house below didn’t have enough time left for him to walk all the way back to town to get help and he knew the people in the town wouldn’t believe him anyway. He had to do something and he had to do it now. He only had two weapons at his disposal; the Spirits of the Wind and his knife. Locating a reasonably straight stick from an old dead tree nearby, he used pieces from his old blanket to fashion a spear. Next, he built a small fire to summons the spirits. He prayed to the spirits in hopes that they would accommodate him. All he was asking for was a huge dust storm to shelter him from the eyes of the Apaches below. After several minutes, the winds blew harder and the dust from the ground, the road going to the ranch house and the valley below became one massive storm of dust and debris. Clutching the spear in his old hands he ventured down the mountain guided by the spirits. His feet found their way through the rocks and crevices blocking his way. Before he knew it, he could hear the Indians yelling and cursing the spirits for their interference. When he was near to the ranch house, he suddenly saw one of the Apache braves on his horse next to him. The figure seemed to be somewhat confused by the swirling dust. Old Iron Bear buried the spear into the side of the warrior before he knew what was going on. Iron Bear hastily grabbed the warrior’s ammunition belt and the Winchester rifle and mounted the pony with ease. Iron Bear had been the mightiest of warriors in his time but he had forgotten little about the techniques of riding a pony, even an Apache pony. He quickly sized up the situation and located each of the enemy warriors. He killed each in succession. The dust storm hid him from view of most of the warriors and he was upon them and had done his honorable deed before they could react to him. When the last one had been dispatched, he waved to the Spirit and asked him to let the winds subside. It was more than half-an-hour before the Spirit had answered his request. When the dust cleared and the Sun came out again, he stood there, mounted on the pony of the Apache proudly waving to the people in the house whose very lives he had saved. Iron Bear thought that the people in the house had recognized his contribution and would surely be proud of him. He hoped they would shower him with praise and feed his now empty stomach. That was all that it would take to make him happy. He wanted nothing more than a few thanks and some food from the grateful white men inside. He gently nudged the pony and started toward the house to receive his reward. A shot rang out and then another one from the same gun. He looked toward the ranch house to see a smoking rifle barrel protruding from a window that had an old wooden shutter that stood half open. He didn’t feel any pain but he did feel something like a giant Eagle that hit him in the chest. The second shot got him in the neck and he fell from the horse. He couldn’t breathe but he was still conscious when he looked up with his old weary eyes to see a beautiful squaw with a long buckskin dress on standing over him. With tears in her eyes, she kneeled down and put her hands on his cheeks. “Me sorry old man, I thought you were one of the Apache’s. I couldn’t see very well with the dust and the storm. There was sand in my eyes too --- I’m indeed sorry. From what tribe are you, Cheyenne?” “Yea,” he muttered softly with his last breath, “the last man of my tribe.” “I’m Cheyenne,” she muttered but the old man who had saved her life was gone. “I’m the last woman of your tribe,” she added as she placed her soft hands over his eyes and closed them. The End
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