A Sad, Scary Day

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This is the back story from “Riley, Proud Papa” in Yosemite at Last, when he is worried about Andi after she has Jared. He tells her a brief sentence or two about his Aunt Sophie. Here is the full story.

October 1877, Fort Laramie, Wyoming

One month ago, I got the best news of my life. I am officially part of the stables here at Fort Laramie. Even the older stable staff soldiers seem to like what they see. In one month, my first assignment was to train a dozen mustangs (wild) that had been rounded up and herded into the fort’s large round pen. I heard rumors that some of the soldiers were betting against an eleven-year-old’s (well, I’m almost twelve) ability to train even one wild mustang, let alone a dozen.

I had no intention of gentling and training all one dozen of these beautiful creatures in a day, or even a week! However, I’d learned a thing or two from Washakie, my Indian friend, in the four short months we spent at Fort Bridger last year, and it was fresh on my mind. The way Washakie twirled the lasso; the way he looped a length of rope around the hindquarters. Talking, always whispering, always assuring the horse that Washakie was his friend. And the soft rope halter helped too. I took a full week just to make friends with the mustangs. I brought them biscuits and treats, and pretty soon they were jostling each other for my attention. Then one by one, the lessons began.

I think the stable staff could have done just what I did with the new stock, but like Major Bedford claimed, they had no time to sweet-talk these beauties. Whereas, I had plenty of time on my hands. I studied to beat the band every morning (and on Saturdays too) in order to not shame the major or Pa, who had both had a hand in me getting this position. Every afternoon, I was outside at the corral. Randy came and watched once in a while, but he figured I was moving too slow and he lost interest.

I would never lose interest! So, by the time the end of October rolled around, and cold weather was beginning to set in, I had accomplished my task. Each of the dozen mustangs was named. With a few notable “jughead” exceptions, the horses were ready to be ridden. Each personality was special, and Major Bedford even let me suggest which soldier might be suited to which horse. A lump of pride rose to my throat when the commandant of the fort shows such confidence in my abilities. As for the jugheads? The major took my word that some horses were just defective in some way and might never be trained . . . or it would take so much manpower and time that it wasn’t worth it. Those horses were freed to take their chances with the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes. Maybe they would have better luck, but I doubted it. But I didn’t worry too much about it.

I had other worries.

It started the afternoon of October 28. I staggered into our house, exhausted as the last mustang had been shod by the fort’s farrier. That was a horrid job, for even if the mustangs had been trained to ride, they didn’t care much for having their feet messed with. Every muscle ached from trying to keep my rowdy friends from taking chunks out of Corporal Wright, the farrier. That man was short, strong, and could curse better than any soldier I’d heard. And he aimed a lot of his choice words at me if I didn’t keep the horses from kicking or biting him. But it was finally over, and I bet Corporal Wright was just as beat as I was.

The house was empty. And early dusk had settled over the fort, and Pa wasn’t home yet. His duties sometimes kept him with his men until well after dark. He’d be along soon, I knew. But where was Mama? She was always home, fixing supper and keeping the house bright and cheerful for Pa and me. Today, the stove was cold.

I opened the stove’s door, fiddled with the damper, and got a fire going. It was going to be a cool, October evening for sure. I checked the icebox but wasn’t sure what Mama had planned for supper. A loaf of bread sat covered on the counter so I sliced a big hung, slathered it with butter, and played with the fire. I poked it and got it hot. Soon, our small cabin was warm and inviting. But still no Mama.

I was about to go find Pa and ask him if he knew where Mama was and what was keeping her, when the door flew open. Mama stepped inside, her cheeks red but with a happy smile on her face. She looked around the room and said, “Why, Riley, thank you so much for getting the fire going.”

I swallowed a bite of bread and asked, “Where have you been, Mama?”

She smiled wider and seemed to float across the rough board floor. She peeked in the coffee pot and set about brewing a fresh pot for Pa. “I’ve been to your Aunt Sophie’s,” she explained. “The most wonderful event has happened.”

“What, Mama?” I asked. Unless it had something to do with horses, I couldn’t imagine what exciting thing might happen at Aunt Sophie and Uncle Joseph’s. They live on a small homestead outside of the small town that borders the fort, and nothing exciting ever happens there.

Mama drew close and put her hands on my shoulders. They were trembling with happiness and excitement. I smiled. It was so nice to see Mama feeling well these days that I decided whatever made her happy would make me happy too. “Your Aunt Sophie has just been delivered of a beautiful baby. A little girl, Riley. You have a cousin.”

The smile froze on my face. Not that I wasn’t happy. I just didn’t really know what a teensy girl baby had to do with me, an eleven-year-old (almost twelve) horse boy. It’s not like I could teach her to ride or trick ride, like I wished I could have taught Andi. Now there was a little girl I could get used to. There was nothing I did that Andi didn’t think she could do to. I smiled at the warm memory.

Mama squeezed me. “It’s so exciting, Son. I can’t wait to tell your father.” And she did. And then, she hauled Pa and me over later that evening to take a peek at baby Sarah. Mama gushed. Then she exclaimed how pretty the baby was. I didn’t think she was much to look at, honestly. She laid there quiet as a mouse. Sarah had no teeth and barely any hair. I tiptoed to the edge of the bed, where Aunt Sophie was sleeping next to the new baby. She looked pale and mighty worn out.

“I think Mama might be wanting a baby of her own,” I whispered to Pa when we left the bedroom. “Why else would she be so excited over that little scrap of humanity?” Pa frowned at me and told me to hush. I kept quiet the rest of the evening.

Early next morning, it was still dark. Mama shook me awake and told me she was going over to Aunt Sophie’s to check on the baby and help the new mother. “Work on your school lessons while I’m gone.”

“Yes ma’am,” I mumbled and pulled myself out of bed. Whoosh, I thought. Babies are a lot of worry and work. Foals are much easier on a fellow. This time I had the sense not to say any of that out loud. Mama left, and Pa was already gone for the day. I fixed myself breakfast the sat down in the warmest corner of the house, right net to the stove. A chill wind was blowing and I wanted to stay warm.

An hour later, I had stumbled my way though a list of spelling words a mile long as well as four pages of arithmetic, when the door was flung open. Mama stood in the doorway. Her hair was mussed, and her face was white as snow. I’d seen snow at Fort Bridger, and her face looked just that color. “Mama!” I yelped.

“Where’s your father?” she demanded, hysterical. “He needs to go for the doctor in town. Or the army surgeon. Anyone!” She started crying.

I had been sitting comfortably in the corner, but Mama’s voice sent me cowering, speechless and afraid. I was a well-grown eleven (almost twelve), but I knew something was dreadfully wrong. With mama or . . . I gulped . . . with Aunt Sophie or the baby. “Mama, what’s that matter–“

“Find a fast horse and go for your pa. If you can’t find him in a minute or two, I want you to ride for the doctor.”

“But–“

Do it!” Mama shouted. “Ask the doctor to ride like the wind to Sophie’s.”

I was terrified of this new mama and shot out of the front door without bothering to get my coat and cap. The wind struck me in the face, but I paid it no mind. I found Midnight, and knowing that Pa was probably already out on patrol, went for old Dr. Schneider myself. I didn’t understand why Uncle Joseph couldn’t go for the doctor. They didn’t live any farther from the town than we did.

But I did what I was told. I galloped Midnight to town and as luck would have it, I passed Pa and his troop on Main Street. I gave him the message, and he headed for the doctor’s.

After doing what I’d been tasked, I felt weak and worn out. Not to mention freezing cold. I went home to an empty house. Mama was at Aunt Sophie’s, I knew. Pa might be there too, but maybe he’d gone back to his troop. I was scared and lonely. Deep inside, I knew something terrible was happening, and I didn’t know what to do. So, I did the only natural thing. I put on my warm coat and cap and went outside to be with the mustangs. They accepted me eagerly, especially when I remembered to bring them a few biscuits.

I don’t remember how long I stayed out in the corral. The sun rose higher, and a stiff breeze ruffled the horses’ manes. They snorted and whinnied, and so I left them to the cold outdoors and headed for the stables.

Pa found me there a long time later. I had fallen asleep in Midnight’s stall. “Riley! What in the world? It’s freezing out here.”

I didn’t say anything. It appeared as if it were late afternoon. I looked up at Pa. He looked down at me. Then he opened his arms. I staggered to my feet and fell into his embrace. “W-what happened?” I stammered. “What’s wrong with Mama and Aunt Sophie? Is it the baby?”

Pa held me tight. “I’m afraid something went wrong inside of Sophie, Son. She kept bleeding. Too much bleeding. Even the doctor couldn’t get it to stop. Sophie got weaker and weaker, until she finally just went to sleep. Forever.”

I pulled back from Pa and caught my breath. “Do you mean she . . . she died?”

Pa nodded.

“From having a baby?” I was aghast.

“I’m afraid so.”

“Oh, Pa!” I threw my arms around his neck. “Please, don’t let Mama ever have a baby. She’s been so sick, and what if the same thing happens to–“

“Riley Jared,” Pa said gently, “we will let God order those things. But right now, we need to pray for Uncle Joseph and baby Sarah. Your uncle has a long road ahead, and the baby needs a nurse. With God’s help, we will find a nurse for the baby and help for Joseph. Will you pray for them?” Pa asked. “Will you pray with me for Mama too? She’s heartbroken over her sister’s untimely passing.”

“Yes, Pa,” I whispered. And we prayed.

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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