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Legend of the Grave: Part 4 - Dutch's Trail

Dutch Van Der Linde awoke before the sun. After throwing off his thick blanket, the cold began setting in almost immediately. He slipped on his boots to cover his exposed feet. He lit a nearby lantern and then stepped to the opening of his tent and found that the Natives had left him not only a nice selection of local berries for breakfast, but one had managed to acquire a copy of The Blackwater Ledger for him. It was more than a few days old, but that didn’t bother Dutch, he loved to read and enjoyed current events in particular. Even if he was a little behind the times given his situation.

He sat in a fur-lined chair the Natives had made for him, setting the plate of berries and the newspaper on the table next to the chair. He reached over and pulled the blanket off his cot and wrapped it around his legs and waist as he sat down again. After placing his glasses on his face and turning up the lantern, he popped a slightly sour berry into his mouth and unfolded the newspaper, whip-cracking it to flatten it further.

The cover story was devoted to an exposé on the up-and-coming horseless carriage, which the story referred to as an “automobile”. He stopped reading about halfway through when it occurred to him the story seemed more like an advertisement than actual news. The next story he read entirely, and it dealt with the details of a series of heinous crimes allegedly committed by one of his former protégées, Bill Williamson. Bill had always proved to be a hard case and difficult to teach, so Dutch had no problem believing that he was behind the crimes. He shook his head in disgust and sighed…

He ate berries as he perused further into the paper, finding little of actual interest until the last few pages. Buried in the back of paper was a small, half-column story that gave the barest of details about a group of Native Americans that had been burned out of their homes and had the land seized by the government to hand over to the railroad. The story actually was written as if this were a positive development but Dutch read between the lines and came to his own conclusions because he knew that the paper was glossing over or omitting the details. His mind began to run through the governmental crimes, betrayals and atrocities detailed to him by Lincoln Red Cloud, who himself was a descendant of the Sioux Chief Red Cloud.

He’d met Lincoln Red Cloud following a disastrously botched robbery that broke up his former gang and eventually set his life on its current path. His star pupil, John Marston had been killed during the robbery and his remaining two cohorts, Bill Williamson and Javier Escuella, weren’t as trustworthy as he’d hoped he’d taught them to be. During the escape, they had to ride through a harsh lightning and rain storm. At one point, a flash of lightning struck a tree and it burst into flame just as he was passing it. His horse, terrified by the light and heat and noise, went mad and threw him off before bolting along with Williamson and Escuella. Unfortunately, the horse tossed him into a ravine, and he struck the hard rocks several times on his way to the floor. This is where Lincoln Red Cloud had found him several hours later. As Dutch recovered from his injuries, Red Cloud regaled him with horror after horror that befell the Lakota perpetrated by the US government.

Chief Red Cloud, Lincoln explained, was the only tribal Chief to ever win a war with the United States. American prospectors had set up the Bozeman Trail, which ran through the heart of Lakota territory in Wyoming to the Montana gold fields from Colorado’s South Platte River. Red Cloud’s War, as it came to be known, closed the trail and destroyed the forts that guarded it. His victory lead to the signing of the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 which ceded to the Natives the western half of South Dakota, including their most sacred site, the Black Hills, and most of the land making up Montana and Wyoming.

When Custer found gold in the Black Hills in 1874, the government set to seize the land it had promised to the Natives. Custer’s spectacular defeat the following year gave the government the excuse it needed and it forced a compliant group of Sioux leaders to sell the Black Hills by threatening to cut off the rations to Natives living on the reservations. Despite the Federal law requiring three-quarters of the adult males of the tribe to approve the new treaty, something that was never going to happen, the US government ratified it anyway. Chief Red Cloud apparently signed the new treaty only because he did not understand what was in the documents. However, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, who still fought Western expansion, bitterly denounced him for agreeing to the terms.

Dutch was deeply moved by Lincoln’s story and, when he was healed enough to leave Lincoln’s care, he decided he would attempt to verify the story’s veracity. What he found was that, not only was Lincoln’s account largely correct, but the US government had actually reneged on virtually every treaty it had ever made with the Natives. Since Dutch’s own acumen was to live as freely as he possibly could, this revelation angered him. He felt a growing kinship with the Natives since he also disagreed with many of the government’s methods, especially the notion of “Manifest Destiny”. It took some time for the Natives to trust a white man, but once he had lead a few successful raids on US encampments and Federal train cars, they quickly took to him. Unfortunately, these small raids had about run their course, but in order to do something that had bigger impact Dutch would need more funding. So the story of this casket full of treasure was a Godsend.

He glanced away from the paper as he heard a commotion stir outside his tent. Helaku and Dakota, the two men he’d sent to find the undertaker’s maps, came inside, Helaku struggling with what appeared to be a makeshift bindle formed of an area rug.

“We have returned with the maps, Mr. Van Der Linde,” Dakota said as Helaku hoisted the bundle onto a nearby table. Dutch tossed the paper aside and hopped up, his excitement keeping him from feeling the cold.

“Is this all that was available?” Dutch inquired.

“We took as much as we could,” Helaku answered hesitantly, thinking Dutch would be angry.

“Well, then, we’ll do what we can with this,” Dutch said to no one in particular and nodded his head toward the knot the corners of the rug had been tied into. Helaku quickly produced a knife and sliced it in two. The rug flopped open revealing a stack of large paper maps of the New Austin territory. “Now I’ll need you gentlemen to help me here. See these numbers in this corner? They’re the date the map was created. We need to go through these as quickly as possible looking for any that were made around 1864 or 1865.”

The three men divided the stack and began rifling through the pages.

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