white wolf - part 15

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Chapter 17

John headed north-west towards the northern Rockies, the trek would take weeks, depending on the weather. Their winter camp would be somewhere in the huge wilderness region of Glacier National Park, much of which was still unexplored by white people. John would follow the rivers to their source high in those formidable mountain peaks then search the valleys and gorges until he found them. He knew the job before him was a mammoth one, he may not even discover where they camped over winter but it didn’t really matter because he knew they would make their way down from the mountains in the spring. If necessary he would wait for their return to their spring and summer grounds to find them but with luck he might even come across the raiding party before they reached their home lands.

For a brief moment John thought of riding to the Cheyenne winter camp and telling them what happened but he knew this would waste valuable time plus he wanted to do this job all by himself. If he somehow survived then there would be time to see his Cheyenne friends but for now John’s thoughts were of revenge and it burned in his guts like a red hot coal. John touched the stock of the new rifle then felt the handles of his two pistols and it gave him some sort of cold comfort. He also had the bow, a full quiver of arrows, the double bladed tomahawk and his hunting knife as the rage smouldered within him ready to explode into life at the first opportunity.

That chance would have to wait because on the second day a blizzard struck and he sheltered in a hollowed tree trunk. He rigged up a canvas shelter for the horse as the snow fell heavily throughout the night. John was well prepared for these extremes; he wore thick fur lined gloves and cap as well as the warm bear skin coat. The next morning the wind abated but the snow kept falling steadily making it hard to travel. In many parts of the narrow trail he was following, he walked with the horse and even then it was a difficult slog. His biggest fear was being snowed in completely but his determination to keep going no matter what helped them gradually escape the deep valley. Snowy was a constant companion and a great help in selecting the best paths to follow and in hunting game. Snowy often found something to eat and he usually allowed John to share the kill. John knew the dangers of firing a gun in this mountainous country because not only might it be heard by the local Indians, but it could easily cause an avalanche.

A few times he picked up a trail of unshod pony hooves and each time there were a couple of horseshoe prints among the others. These could be horses stolen by the marauding Blackfeet on their raids. The raiding party had taken several of his appaloosa mares and he hoped the prints might be theirs. Anyway when he caught up with them, the spotted mares would tell him he had found the right tribe or group. He doubted the raiders would give away such valuable horses, preferring to keep such prized horseflesh to themselves. He knew one of the main reasons Indians raided white farms was to steal good quality horses, sometimes they also found rifles and bullets but usually it was horses they wanted.

It appeared from John’s tracking skills, there were about 20 riders in the bunch but some of those would be captured horses trailing behind a rider. Much of the prints were obliterated by rain and snow but there were just enough signs every so often to know he was on their trail. The direction they were travelling also indicated he had picked up the raiding party. He discovered an old overnight camp site and from the signs he could tell they were many days in front of him. This was disappointing because it meant he now had little chance of encountering the group before they reached their village. But at least he was on the right trail and if the weather held long enough, he could track them all the way.

On the fourth day the weather again turned nasty and thick clouds closed in completely blanketing the mountains. John knew it would be treacherous journey now so he paused and took stock of his situation. He was in familiar surroundings and La Barge was just over an hour away so he left the trail and turned away from the mountains to make a brief stopover in the town. In the 18 months since his last visit, the town had changed considerably not only had it grown but it now had a sheriff, council chambers and many more shops. The rain was pouring as he rode along the gravelled main street, sheets of water flowed in torrents and it seemed everyone was inside. John halted at the familiar Deer Lodge Store and stomped on the porch, trying to shake off any water before he entered the shop. He removed his buffalo skin jacket and left it dripping on a wall hook then made his way inside and stood next to the pot belly, soaking in the warmth. The old store owner recognised him and started talking away to him about the filthy weather and those even filthier Indians. John nodded to him and asked for a basic order of essentials he could pack into his saddle. As they were talking, the door squeaked open and the sheriff came in. He looked John up and down then asked him did he know about the new town law prohibiting the wearing of guns in the town limits. The sheriff was a hard tough looking man but he seemed friendly enough so John unbuckled his colt and gave it to the sheriff for safe-keeping.

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