Riley: Horse Boy

See more Riley’s Ramblings in Andi’s Attic >>

This post digs into Riley’s brief mention of his past in Courageous Love, where he is given charge of the Army’s cavalry horses.

September 1877, Fort Laramie, Wyoming

The most exciting, stupendous thing has happened to me! I’ve been at Fort Laramie for only three months, and today, Major Bedford called me into his office. After I gulped and wondered what mischief Randy McGuire and I had gotten ourselves into to warrant a scolding from the fort’s commandant, I relaxed. He was smiling at me. I stood at attention, like one of his soldiers, but he waved my posture away.


“You wanted to see me, sir?” I tried to keep my voice from squeaking. I’m eleven and a half, but right now I felt about seven.

“I certainly did,” the major said. He pointed to a chair across from his desk. “Sit down, Riley. Sit down.”

I sat, stunned that he even knew my name. Randy and I try to keep a low profile at the fort. Except for school misfortunes, Fort Laramie hasn’t turned out too badly for me. Randy McGuire and I race our horses across the wide prairie, and generally run wild all summer long. Now that school is in session, it’s mighty hard to sit still and Mr. Street, our schoolmaster, is always chiding us.

“It has come to my attention, Riley Prescott, that you get along well with the cavalry’s horses,” Major Bedford said.

I sat up straight, all ears. That is an understatement. The horses–and there are over 200 of these mounts–eagerly await my presence each day. An artist visited the fort a couple of weeks ago. Pa took some of his men and mounted up so the fellow could paint their picture. I know each man, and best of all, I know each horse.

That’s Pa, center front, holding his pistol high, leading his troop. His horse is Samson, and he’s as strong as Samson in the Bible.

Just behind and to the left of Pa rides Sergeant Ralph McGuire, Randy’s pa. His horse, Sheridan, is a handful and half-wild, but I exercise him without any trouble at all. The first time I did it, Sergeant McGuire’s eyebrows shot up like he couldn’t believe his eyes.

Then there’s Corporals Shelley and Ferguson, and Private Jenkins. Their mounts are mustangs and quite ill-tempered. But I manage them, and the men know it.

I could go on and on about the horses, but Major Bedford cut into my musing. “Well, lad, how would you like to be in charge of the stable. Not officially, of course, but the stable staff could use a smart, quick boy like yourself. The horses need exercise, more than the soldiers can give them.” He paused. “And I haven’t the manpower to give over to training the new mounts that show up from time to time.”

“Oh!” I cried out. “Really? Me, sir? Be around the horses all day long?”

The major chuckled. “Perhaps not all day. Your mother, I’m afraid, was not much in favor of this idea. She feels you need to be in school all week long and even on weekends.”

My face fell. Why in the world was the major bringing all this up, only to see me slump in defeat? He was right. Mama was right concerned about my schooling, seeing as Uncle Sid let it all slide when I was living on the Circle C (good ol’ Uncle Sid!). She’s bound and determined to make up for those three years of truancy. Pa isn’t as worried, though. He’s told me more than once that schooling comes easy to me and that a man can learn anything he wants if he’s interested and got a mind to. On the other hand, no matter how hard someone pushes a boy to study in the classroom, if the boy is not in agreement, he won’t learn a thing.

Pa’s right. I love learning. I’ve read nearly every book the schoolmaster has on hand, even the hard ones like Robinson Crusoe and Beowulf, along with The Man in the Iron Mask. And ciphering never trips me up. I bet I can cipher faster than Schoolmaster Street himself. I know I can’t spell to save my life, but I have no plans to become a writer beyond this private journal. And if the history is as interesting as a novel, I’m happy to devour the book.

“When I explained to your mother that officers’ children need not attend school with the enlisted men’s children but can have private instruction, she graciously conceded to your father’s suggestion to allow you to learn all you can about horses, in lieu of some of your studies,” the major explained. “You can study at home under your mother’s tutelage and recite to the tutor who schools my own children. As long as the tutor in my employ believes you are progressing, the stable job is yours. It pays five dollars a month.”

I gasped but kept it inside. Mama agreed? I didn’t have to spend time in the fort’s horrible schoolhouse? And I was going to be paid? I could not believe my good fortune. “Sir! I don’t know what to say.”

Major Bedford smiled. “You needn’t say anything except that you accept. You have a gift, young man. A rare gift. I’ve watched you handle even my own stallion, Sir Reginald. He’s quite a bit of horseflesh, but you consistently have him eating out of your hand. Private Louis of the stable staff is scared spitless of that stallion.”

I felt my eyes twinkle. “Oh, Reggie’s a lamb, sir. He’s got an itchy spot right here.” I demonstrated a spot on my own shoulder. “Once you find it, the big fella melts into a puddle.”

The major roared his laughter. “Captain Prescott is right. You seem to speak the equine tongue, and I look forward to including you as part of the stable staff.” He scribbled something on a scrap of paper then rose. “You’re dismissed, Riley. Take this note to Private Louis and tell him to put you to work on the new batch of mustangs that arrived yesterday.”

I jumped up and took the note from Major Bedford. “Thank you, sir! I will do my best.” I almost saluted but then thought the better of it. I wasn’t a soldier or even an orderly. I was just an eleven-year-old kid who suddenly had the best job in the whole world–living, breathing, and training the Army’s horses.

I whistled a tune as I took the note to the private. He read it, shook his head, and grinned. “Better you than me, Riley.” He pointed a stubby finger in the direction of the huge round pen behind the stables. “I hope you’re up to it. There’s a dozen mustangs back there, running around like they’re scared of their tails and mad about being penned up.” He winked. “I can’t wait to see what you do with that lot.”

I can’t wait either.

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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