First Days at Fort Laramie

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June 1877, Fort Laramie, Wyoming

The first thing I did when we got to the fort (after helping Mama and Pa unpack, that is), was hightail it to the stables and mount Midnight. I wanted to get a view of the fort from across the river. It’s the Laramie River, Pa said, just south of where it dumps into the Platte River. The tiny town of Laramie is just across the river. “Bye, Mama!” I yelled. She waved and smiled, so I reckon she was too busy organizing our place to worry about me. And really, there’s no place to go, just all hills and swells, and Indian teepees.

I stuffed my sketchbook and a charcoal pencil inside my shirt and mounted Midnight bareback. I wanted to have a remembrance of this place. I don’t know why. Maybe cuz we might be here a long time. I hope so. I like it already! I took a couple of hours to draw this picture of the fort. I guess those few houses on this side of the river is the town. I wonder if they have a general store or mercantile.

Probably not. Maybe everybody buys their goods at Sutters store at the fort. It looked pretty busy when I raced past on Midnight earlier in the day.

The real Sutters Store at Fort Laramie

“Hey!”

I have to say, that voice startled me. I turned around, nearly finished with my drawing. “Hey yourself.”

“I’m Randy. Who’re you?”

Part of me cringed, just a tiny bit. The memory of that ol’ bully, Tom, back at Alcatraz just sticks like glue in my head. But I put on a brave front. This boy didn’t look too dangerous. He sat astride a gray horse just looking at me. “I’m Riley. My pa just arrived.”

“Who’s your pa?” Randy wanted to know.

“Captain Robert Prescott.” I said it with confidence and yet, sometimes kids didn’t like to learn my pa was a captain.

Randy slid down from his pony’s back and wandered over. “Say! He must be the new troop captain.” He grinned. “My pa is Sergeant McGuire. I think he’s under your pa. That makes us . . . well . . . troop mates, ya think? Randy and Riley?”

I laughed. “That sounds good. Riley and Randy.” It was so refreshing to meet an American boy who didn’t try to boss me. I always got along fine with the Indians, but I couldn’t seem to meet any decent friends . . . except, of course, Andi.

But there was no use thinking about her. Andi has probably forgotten all about me by now, I thought. That other little boy, what’s his name? Cory Blake. Yeah, the one who threw a fly on her desk the first day of school. He’s probably her best friend now. I bet they fish and race their horses on the exact same spot that Andi and I used to. A sudden hollow feeling made my stomach turn over. I wonder if I’ll ever see her again.

Right then and there I decided that someday when I grew up, I would go back to the Circle C and find out how Andi was doing. Maybe, just maybe, she’d want to go fishing or maybe she’d want a ride on Midnight–for old time’s sake. Maybe we could–I sighed inwardly. Stop it!

I gave Randy a friendly wave to join me. The breezy Wyoming day blew the memories of Andi and me far away, at least until the next time I couldn’t help thinking about her.

Once he slipped off his horse, Randy looked just a smidgen younger than I am. I didn’t ask his age and he didn’t offer. He glanced over my shoulder at my drawing of the fort. “Hey, Riley, that’s pretty good. Do you do a lot of drawing?”

I closed it up and stuffed it back inside my shirt. “Nah. I’d rather ride. Do you ride much? This is my horse Midnight.” I stood up and stroked his nose. He snorted. “I bet he’s faster than your gray.”

Randy’s dark eyes lit up. “I betcha he’s not. Slate here is the fastest hunk of horseflesh in the entire territory, at least from here to Fort Bridger.” He patted him on the neck. “He don’t look like much, that’s a fact, but he’s fast. Gray Lightning is his nickname.”

I grinned. A shiver of delight raced up my neck. A friendly boy who liked horses and liked to race. Fort Laramie was looking better and better. “Wanna race?”

“You bet.” Randy pointed to a lone cottonwood tree high on a sloping bluff. It looked like the only tree for miles around. “See that cottonwood?”

“Yep.”

“We race there and then back to the stables to cool our mounts. First one to get there wins . . .” He mounted his gray. “A licorice stick from Sutters. Loser pays.”

Since a licorice stick cost a penny, I figured I could pay up even if I lost. But I didn’t think I would lose. My mouth watered at the thought of a chewy licorice stick at Randy’s expense.

“Ready?” I asked, hunkering down over Midnight’s muscular shoulders. I grasped a hank of his long, black mane in one hand and gripped the reins with my other hand. Like Randy, I was riding bareback.

He nodded and yelled, “Go!”

Midnight and Slate leaped forward like matching cannon shots. My breath caught in my throat and stayed there. Part of my brain was yelling, no fair, no fair. Randy had probably challenged dozens of boys to this race. He knew the lay of the land from here to the cottonwood and back better than I did. He had an unfair advantage.

Well, you challenged to a race, so if you lose it’s your own fault, came a quick thought. I couldn’t argue with this cold, hard fact. I could just urge Midnight faster.

Randy hollered and hooted and whacked his horse with the flat of his hand. I whispered to Midnight not to let that ugly old gray horse get the drop on us. The Laramie River came up on me too fast, but it didn’t catch Midnight off guard. He sailed over it in one flying leap just a length behind Slate (the river was running low so it wasn’t hard for Midnight to jump it). I hung on. Inside, I was shrieking my delight. Even if I lost, I was having the time of my life. And there could always be other races.

Then suddenly Midnight found his stride, and I remembered other horse races I’d been in, against other more experienced riders than either Randy or myself. Who were they? Why, my Shoshone friends at Fort Bridger. I never could win a race against Washakie. He and his horse were like one body flying along above the ground.

Washakie and his lightning-fast horse

But some of Washakie’s advice tickled my brain. I relaxed and let Midnight take the lead instead of me urging him. As soon as I let my horse take the lead, he lengthened his stride and caught up to Slate and Randy as we rounded the cottonwood. I saw Randy’s eyes open in surprise . . . and a bit of awe. Then he jabbed his gelding and the race was on.

By the time we flew through Fort Laramie’s gate and yanked our mounts to a stop, I was nose to nose with Slate. It had been a hard-won tie, and I know Midnight had done all the work. If I hadn’t let him take the lead, I would be a couple of lengths behind Slate and Randy. Thanks, Washakie!

We rubbed down our horses side by side. Then Randy came over and sat down on a bale of straw. He loosened his shirt. “It’s mighty hot.” Then he reached up and rubbed Midnight’s nose. “You’ve got a mighty fine horse here, Riley. Nobody’s ever beat me, not even the soldiers. To tie me on the first race, with you at a disadvantage over not knowing the course, well . . .” He shrugged. “I think we’re in for some mighty fine times together.” He paused. “Do you know anything about trick riding?”

My heart swelled with anticipation. “I sure do!” During our race, I’d lost my sketchbook and my charcoal. My shirt had flown open and the book and drawing charcoal flew out. I don’t think I’ll never find them again, not in this wind. I’d watched with a slight twinge of regret when I saw them twisting and turning, all the way to the river. They’d cost Pa a penny a piece. Oh, well. Too late now.

I think Mama will be happy that I’ve found a new friend rather than going off by myself so much to draw and think (and mope about missing Andi). Now, I’ll be too busy riding, racing, and learning new stunts.

Randy McGuire admiring Midnight.

Published by Andi Carter

I'm the main character in the Circle C Adventures series. I live on a huge cattle ranch in 1880s California. These are my adventures.

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