Playing in the Snow
Willy Rode Alone
Among the many stories told of the early days of the West, the growth of Texas and its surrounding states and territories, all too often left out are the stories of the Native Americans who inhabited these lands. Their struggles were as hard and harsh as any who lived in this rugged, untamed land, and the grief they received at the hands newcomers determined to wipe them from the face of the earth and take what had been theirs for centuries is legendary.
Not even the consolidation of the many tribes and nations of people pushed onto less than ideal land (or so considered at the time), or mingling them with former enemies as well as the peoples from far away lands could kill off their cultures and customs. Even though the children were shoved into schools where they were punished for speaking in their native tongues and forced to dress and act like "civilized white children," sometimes taken from their homes by force and sent to places their people had never heard of, they kept alive much of what they had learned as mere children. But wisely these children kept those things to themselves, and learned to survive against all odds by learning the white man's ways, language and mannerisms. And while many forgot the old ways, many did not. Of those who left the old ways behind, many took on new identities to hide their heritage, all while honoring their ancestors by their deeds, and the way they lived their lives.
This is one such story, the story of Willy Little Foot, an Apache boy. And although which Apache group he belonged to is a mystery in his early life, it is revealed later in this story as he uncovers it in his travels. There is so much more about Willy as the story unfolds, as it is the story of his solitary ride for justice.
This beginning of this story is told by one Dusty Robbins, who knew Willy personally, and later the story is told by Willy himself. There will be more about Dusty as the story begins. Dusty did all he could to restrict the grievances Willy held, but vengeance is a powerful motivator, and so it was for Willy. This story is all about Willy, and how his life wound around a series of life changing events.
My name is Dusty Robbins, or it is now that I changed it. But before I tell the tale of Willy Little Foot, please allow me to fill in some of the gaps in my own history. My real name is Desire Pascal Roubideaux. Quite a mouthful, eh? So why did I change my name? Simple. I became a wanted man, and my only hope was to change my name and my appearance, as well as my residence.
You see I am the son of an educator of some stature. A professor actually, at one of Louisiana's premier colleges, which for the sake of propriety shall remain unnamed in this recollection. I only knew one life as a youngster, and grew up to be just like my father, an educator. But that is where things changed, for I was too impetuous, acting out in unacceptable way. Or so I was told when the college let me go after a duel, of which I obviously was the winner or I wouldn't be telling this story. That didn't save me with the college, though, as they feared for their reputation above all.
My challenger was a local politician who believed I was being too harsh on his dolt of a son, and I informed him that his son was indeed a dunce of the first order. That was all he needed to claim a family insult, and challenged me, via a slap to the face, to meet him on a plantation neighboring his on the outskirts of the city. During the perquisite ten paces, he turned on nine and fired. Unfortunately for him, his pistol misfired, and I turned, took good aim and struck him squarely in the chest.
My shot did not kill him, but it did disable him thus allowing his imbecilic child to replace him in his former political position, which made my family's life hell from that point on. And even though he was the challenger, the local parish constabulary, in accordance with political favor, decided to arrest me. Or at least attempt to do so. However, my father was not without friends "in high places," and to their credit they alerted him the possibility of my arrest and ultimate punishment. The fact that father had those same friends is also what had kept me from entering the war, an act has been repeated throughout history by powerful and influential people.
Needless to say, Desire is a bit of a dandy name and would not have done well in the West, so I went back to a nickname from my grammar school days. My hair has always been a sandy brown color; hence the other boys called me Dusty. It didn't stick once I left that particular school, as the prudish students at the next school I attended insisted on propriety and called me Mr. Roubideaux. However, Dusty has served me well for more years than I care to remember now, as has Robbins, an obvious derivative of Roubideaux.
And so, by the time I crossed into St. Charles Parish I was Dusty Robbins, and Desire Pascal Roubideaux existed only on a wanted poster. As I worked my way westward, I pondered what was to become of me. I had no real survival skills, other than proficiency with dueling pistols, the rapier, the book and pen, but I doubted there would be much call for any of them wherever I was to eventually land. Little did I know that the latter two would be my salvation.
Anyway, by the time I crossed the Sabine River into Texas, I had changed my attire and looked like many others entering the relatively new state. And even though I refused to give up my daily pampering and primping, seeing hygiene as a necessary element of my life, I found that they were getting harder and harder to maintain. Though my clothing was now less conspicuous, I kept a good suit and shirt tucked away safely in my bag, just in case I ever needed them.
As chance would have it, I encountered a rancher with young children in need of a tutor, and before I knew it I was teaching again. This time in a small soddy on the edge of the Red River just south of the Indian Territories. As poor fortunes hit the rancher, I was forced to move on just a few months after arriving there.
By the time I was thirty-five, my meager monetary gains were nearly exhausted as well. Again, as luck would have it, I met a government agent from Anadarko, Indian Territories who promised me a position at the Riverside Indian School. Apparently finding teachers willing to live on the reservation was a daunting task, and few questions were asked of those willing to take on the job. And so, I began to teach Indian children the Three R's.
It was a difficult task, but rather than try to destroy their cultures and heritage, I found them far more willing to learn if I allowed them to be themselves. Whether they were Wichita, Delaware, Kiowa, Comanche, Caddo or Apache, or any one of a dozen other tribes whose children were sent my way, I did my best to treat them as equals. Even going so far as to learn as many of their languages as my mind could comprehend, along with a number of their individual customs.
As the years started creeping by, I realized I was not getting any younger, and as I reached my mid-forties I was beginning to feel quite lonesome. As a young man, I had my liaisons with a good many young women, but stayed away from any female students, at least until they were no longer my students. And I'd had a time or two with "ladies of the night" during my limited travels across Texas.
That is until I was introduced to a most handsome woman called Bright Star. I use the term introduced lightly, as she was presented to me by one of the Kiowa-Apache leaders. She was a Delaware woman, and had lost the man she had lived with for many years. Now, without family she was being shunned by the Kiowa-Apache, and being that she and I were of approximately the same age it was determined that she would be given to me as a wife.
I was at first appalled at such a thing, but her beauty was undeniable, and her housekeeping and cooking skills were excellent. She spoke limited English, but what with the limited Delaware language I had learned we were able to communicate quite well. I learned that she had been given to her previous husband as the result of a lost wager her father had made using her as collateral, that her children were grown, and that as good members of the Kiowa-Apache clan she had lived with they shunned her as well. Soon we were living as husband and wife, much to the chagrin of my Indian Agency employers, but there wasn't a damned thing they were willing to do about it for fear of upsetting the various tribes and creating an uprising.
It was Bright Star who introduced me to Willy Little Foot, a young Apache boy of somewhere around eleven or twelve, who I was able to enroll at the school. However, I was never able to discern from which Apache group he actually originated. He didn't seem to know, only that his parents had died and he was alone. It took the better part of two years to get to the bottom of the story, and only then because Willy was an excellent student who had come to trust me. Still, the entire story had to be coaxed out of him over several days.
What finally brought out the full story was one evening after he had decided to stay with us, at least for a few days, as he was a rather solitary child who lived quite well on his own. At Bright Star's urging him, and at my insistence, we convinced him it was time to bathe. We gathered clothing from time to time, in an attempt to make sure the children I taught had decent clothes to wear, so we had a change of clothing ready for him. Our small house had but two rooms, one used as the main living area, and the other for our sleeping quarters. It was only when I heard Bright Star's gasp as Willy disrobed for his bath that I became fully aware of the injuries this young man had suffered.
I jumped to my feet, not knowing what had caused this normally placid woman to become alarmed. She showed me the scars across his back, deep scars still red from the depth of the wounds that caused the scarring. I tried not to show my sadness, as that would have unnerved both he and Bright Star, and did not mention his injuries until he was fully dressed again.
Making certain he was seated comfortably, I began my slow interrogation of the lad. I was not prepared to hear what was to come from this child's mouth, and I was angered to no end at hearing his story. He had lived with his parents and siblings in a small rancheria, raising a few goats, a herd of good cattle and a large number of horses. As he talked about his family and their life, he smiled softly. Smiling was not something Willy did often, and I was comforted that he smiled now. But the smile quickly faded as he continued his story.
One night in the early spring some three years prior, a group of riders rode into their rancheria whooping and hollering and shooting at anything that moved except the0 cattle and horses. That included his father, who ran out into the darkness to see what was happening. Several of the men dismounted and came into their home, dragging he, his mother and siblings into the night. They tied poor Willy to a post, and then raped his mother right in front of him. As if that wasn't enough, they shot her and his siblings, repeatedly.
They then untied Willy just long enough to turn his stomach to the post, and retied him. The leader of the group started striking him with a short whip until they decided he was so badly injured that he would die anyway. They then drove off all the cattle and horses, riding over the bodies of his dead family on their way out, and left Willy to die alone. It was nearly a week later when a passing group of Apache saw him, assuming he was dead, until they untied him. Apparently Willy let them know in no uncertain terms that he was very much alive, and very angry.
When they finally settled him down they fed him and treated his wounds, and after burying his family, took him along with them. That partially explained to me why he wasn't certain where he was from or what tribe or clan he belonged to, or how old he was, he only knew that they traveled for many days before leaving him with a family of Kiowa-Apache. To his recollection, there was never a report filed with the sparse law of the Territories, if that was even where he came from. As a result, the crimes went unpunished. At least for the time being. But more about that later.
Over the next few years, Willy remained a solitary figure, and only stayed with us on occasion, preferring to live alone. But he never missed a day of schooling, and often would ask me for help during his brief stays with us. Since we were only allowed to teach as far as what was considered the eighth grade, eventually Willy finished learning all that I could reasonably teach him. However, he was not done learning. He returned after receiving his diploma to aid me in teaching others, for which I was able to pay him a paltry sum from my own earnings, as well as continue his education.
After that year, we assumed that Willy was either eighteen or nineteen, a grown man. His small left foot was barely noticeable to most now, as he had learned how to walk without limping and wore the same size boots on both feet. He also adopted the white man's dress, kept his face shaved and his hair trimmed, and spoke perfect English. Through the years, he had also learned Kiowa, Comanche and a dozen other Indian languages, some German, French and Spanish, and was highly proficient at the universal Indian sign language.
Then one day he rode up to my door announcing to Bright Star and I that he was leaving the Territories. I asked where he was going to go, and his reply sobered me. "I am going to find the men who killed my family. I remember the face of each one, and they will now die at my hand."
And then he was gone. I wouldn't see Willy for another four years, and only then because he was passing through. But the stories of the man who rode alone meting out justice were as regular as the wind, and just as common. During that time, Willy always rode alone.
But there I go getting ahead of myself - again. Let's go back to the time Willy rode in after being gone for the first four years. I think it best to let you hear the story of those four years from Willy himself.
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