The Shadow Hunters
By John A. Hallock
Watch and listen with your mind as well as your eyes and ears. You will be
amazed at the fullness of an empty wilderness. Canoe building was, indeed,
something Buck did well. The craft Boss and Abbey had borrowed was water
tight and very sturdy. It barely skimmed atop the current, in spite of the
load, as Boss paddled upstream. They made many stops that day, for Abbey was
not used to sitting on her knees and needed to stretch her legs often. It
was always the same, she would jump out as they neared the bank and wade
through the shallow water to shore. They didn't want to run the delicate
canoe skin into the gravel on the river bottom.
It was late in the day and evening was fast shrouding the forest in dusky
light and long shadows. Both Abbey and Boss sat silently in the canoe taking
in the beauty of the forest and thinking about what may lay ahead. That's
when it happened ... It came so abruptly, so close, this wilderness song,
this wolf howling. It was loud, robust, and frightful; echoing from atop the
steep forest ridge towering over the tiny river valley. It began as a moan,
an eerie cry skipping across the slack river surface to mingle with
twirling, twilight fog.
Boss paddled to hold the canoe steady in the dark, easy current. He scanned
the river scene upstream. Ahead hulking gray glacier boulders were scattered
in the sand bottom shallows. Thick green forest walls, including tall red
and white pine, crowded the banks. The shadowy dusk lay a blanket of gloom,
a primordial, melancholy 'scape across the forest. The elders at the Ojibwa
village near Boss' cabin teach the wilderness is a life, a spirit onto
itself, and now, Boss could almost hear it breath, feel its heartbeat; for
it is the wolf who gives voice to the spirit.
A nervous twinge trembled through the woodsman as the howling spread through
the forest. A wave of wildness and majesty blustering through the tree tops
and over the pine covered hills in this deep forest valley. It spread like
the autumn fragrance, across lakes and swamps and into meadows where
butterflies float and deer graze. Scattering the wildness to every creek and
cranny, every shadowy corner of the woods; to places where no man would ever
Movement on the bank drew the woodsman's attention. The woman saw it, too. A
wolf ... a large gray wolf with a black mask across its snout and a thick,
bushy mane. They watched in silence as the beast moved effortlessly through
the brush in an easy-going foot trot. It glided along barely moving its legs
and appeared to be drifting through the wispy fog at river's edge ...
spirit-like. It is this stride, and the animals quiet dignity that gives
rise to the tales about the spirit wolves who, some think, inhabit these big
Boss studied the wolf who wasn't concerned about the presence of people. The
gray stared back. Its chest was narrow, but Boss knew not to underestimate
its strength. Together with long legs and huge paws the wolf could travel
over a 100 miles in a day and then have the muscle and stamina to take down
a full grown elk ten times its size. The wolf is built for life on the move,
on the ... hunt!
The howling finally stopped and faded into the darkness. The night woods
fell silent. Even the whippoorwill's soft, rhythmic song that had earlier
filled the evening air had died away, for the birds had long since found a
perch and each other. The great horned owl swooped silently to a low
dangling pine limb. Its long continuos whoo-whoo-whoowhoo no longer echoed
through the night. Its belly and the four growing bellies back in the nest
were full. They had been feeding on slow swimming beaver kits since late
afternoon. The crickets and peeper frogs at river's edge had fallen silent,
too. Their bellies full, their breeding complete for this day.
A waxing moon was on the rise. It was still large and round with a silvery
glow and it bathed the forest with a soft, gray radiance. The woods would
never get totally dark on this night.
For that reason Boss surmised the evening hunt would soon begin. He guided
the canoe to the bank on the wide sweeping bend. The wolf had disappeared.
Abbey stepped in the water at river's edge to beach the canoe. She took the
opportunity to vent.
"Does one ever have dry feet in these woods?" Abbey asked as she grasped the
bow and held the craft steady.
She lifted the light canoe and carried the bow onto the beach, again
careful not to drag it on the stones and scratch or gouge a hole in the thin
birch bark material. The sand and gravel beach was several yards wide before
it moved up to a six foot river bank. Boss smiled from the stern, which was
still sticking out in the current. He rose effortlessly and with ease and
great balance took one step in the middle of the craft, atop the bundle
laden load and stepped quickly onto dry land. Not so much as a toe touched
the water. Abbey made a mischievous scowl at his dry landing. It wasn't that
she was complaining; she wasn't. In spite of all the early hardships she
already loved it here in these woods. And she somehow knew she always would.
But she still felt the need to point out the disparity in the amount of foot
wetting on this journey.
"If I'm not stepping into the river, I'm stepping out of it. That problem
doesn't seem to affect you, though we are riding in the same craft."
Boss tried to hide his smile, but couldn't. It wasn't so much that her feet
were wet, but tender. As in Greenhorn. Time in the woods and experience
would clear up both foot problems. But it was up to her to find this out for
"C'mon," Boss said after he carried the canoe to the bank and piled brush on
top of it. It was not completely hidden, but they would not be here long. "I
remember this place, or at least the wolf reminded me. The hunt will soon
begin ... we must hurry."
As they crossed the little beach Abbey couldn't help but notice all the
tracks in the wet sand near water's edge. There were the five toe, web foot
print of the river otter; the raccoon's long, five finger-like prints
criss-crossed the beach; and the tiny mink prints were everywhere, all were
made by animals who hunt the crayfish, frogs, and turtle eggs that are
plentiful along the stream bank. There were web foot beaver tracks, bird
tracks, and deer, and even moose tracks as wide and deep as post holes. It
was plain to see the wildlife congregated near the river. Over head silver
haired bats darted in and out of the shadows scooping mosquitoes. Abbey was
more than a little cautious about the bats that came unnervingly close to
her face especially when they are in the canoe and on the river. But it was
the wolf tracks that stood out the clearest and bothered her the most.
There were several sets, and one huge set more than five inches long that
caused her to catch her breath and hold her upset stomach. For the wolf was
hunting all the other critters that frequent this beach, would it now hunt
them Abbey wondered?
The woods were thick this close to the water, among the scattered pines were
popple and birch trees that crowded the bank, and speckled alder and sandbar
willow actually hung out off the erosion cut banks over the water. There
were cattails and wild rice in the shallows of a tiny backwater, and up on
the bank the thorny raspberry briers were so thick they were almost
impenetrable. And here along the river banks it was darker in spite of the
rising moon. But that didn't slow down the woodsman, and so once again Abbey
plunged into the woods blindly, only her resolve and the woodsman to follow.
As was the case throughout these woods, Abbey noticed, the trees and
underbrush near river's edge soon opened into a spacious, expanse of forest
floor. The poor sandy soil and so much shade from a thicker pine canopy away
from the river was less appealing to briars and brush then closer to the
river water and open sunshine.
Abbey hustled out of the brush along the river bank shoulder to shoulder
with Boss. Together they climbed the steep ridge under the giant pines and
across long black shadows that sliced through the dusky, silver moonlight.
The ridge was steep, and near the top Boss stopped, and dropped to the
ground. He sprawled on his belly and motioned Abbey to join him. She moved
up and lay down near him.
"The wolves," Boss whispered, his voice but a hush rolling silently to her.
"The den is over the crest."
Though Boss' lips moved, little sound came out. Abbey understood his message
from his lips and in her mind. It surprised her ... the things she was
capable of doing once she put her mind to it.
Hand motions further aided the silent communication. Then Boss rolled on his
back, his chest heaved slightly, he wet his index finger on his tongue and
held it above his head. The saliva dried quickly when the finger faced
northwest. The breeze hadn't shifted much all day. That's what he'd figured
but it never hurt to check. They were downwind. He smiled, rolled back onto
his belly, and crawled toward the crest.
For the briefest of seconds Abbey was frozen with indecision. It wasn't that
she didn't trust the woodsman. She trusted him with her dream, her life
everyday. Besides, she was in this adventure way too far to start having
reservations about her guide. It's just she finally realized they were
actually sneaking up on ... wolves! Everything she ever heard about wolves
was bad: baby eaters, throat slashers, cattle killers, sneaky, dangerous,
and most of all ... mad! They were yellow eye beasts that would kill
anything and were driven by an endless thirst for blood.
Boss stopped when he noticed her hesitation. She was so beautiful he
thought. Her reddish yellow hair glimmered in the soft moonlight. Her
angelic smile affected him, stirred in him something he'd never felt before.
He turned his head slowly, and lay nearly invisible, his light brown
buckskins blending with tall, tawny grass along the forest floor at the
ridge edge. She was nervous, he knew it and he knew she needed time. Then in
the pines across the river the shrill, shriek of a grouse echoed out over
the forest after being unexpectedly and sufficiently strangled on its night
perch. The talons of the swift silent owl are efficient killers. Boss'
expression changed to one of anguish. For it had started; the night
"Come!" Boss said and waved her toward him.
Abbey sensed Boss' frustration as he turned and peered over the edge.
Yes, Abbey thought. Her trust would be her shield. But it was the woodsman's
rifle and savvy, and long sharp skinning knife that spawned her confidence.
She would watch the wolves ...
"Lord help me," Abbey whispered as she moved forward to lay beside him.
The opposite side of the ridge opened into a large bowl-like hollow some
eight feet down before it flattened out into the main woods away from the
river. There was an opening, a clearing in the woods surrounded by sand
banks on three sides, the opposite sides of the ridge top overlooked the
river. The den was located on the inside and dug into the banks near the
There was a pack of ten in all, counting the five pups. Boss and Abbey
barely peeked over the ridge crest, their bodies sprawled along the opposite
side, hidden by the hill. The den was converted from what was probably an
old badger den. The wolves enlarged it to their liking the year before and
hadn't moved away permanently since. Of course the 200 mile journey they
took in the early spring prior to the arrival of the new litter kept them
away for weeks. But once they returned from that trip and the pups were born
they stayed close to the den. Game was plentiful and though baby deer and
elk and moose could all run very fast by now in early summer, they still
made mistakes of youth. Deadly mistakes.
Boss pointed out the mother, the queen. She lay near the den entrance,
sprawled out on her side. The silver moonlight blended with the gray color
of her body and she barely glowed on the forest floor. She wasn't gangly or
rangy like the other wolves, especially the younger ones. Her mane was
thick, bushy, her face full and her head was all black, almost like a hood,
with steely yellow eyes looking out. An air of confidence and pride radiated
from this she-wolf, from this wilderness monarch. While they watched the
she-wolf picked up her head and looked around.
"The wolf is alert," Boss whispered close to Abbey's ear. "Even when it is
Abbey studied the queen and her interesting markings. Was the black hood
nature's own mark of royalty. The she-wolf was large and easily
recognizable to Boss from a distance.
"They call her The Black," Boss whispered so gently, so close to her ear
Abbey felt his hot breath, felt his closeness and a shiver raced through her
body. "The northern Sioux named this whole stretch of river valley after
The dominant male, leader of the pack and father to the pups was somewhat of
a loner even as wolves go. He was dark gray, like an overcast sky. Boss had
seen him only once or twice. It was he who took the lead when the hunt got
underway, who chose the prey; it was his strength that led the charge, and
his flashing teeth that plunged deep into the victim's jugular. But now,
with the pack still enjoying its evening reverie he took up his spot
concealed on the ridge edge in thick underbrush. Boss spotted him and
pointed for Abbey to see, too. How did he possibly see that wolf Abbey
wondered? Maybe this woodsman did have the magic of the Indians.
There were three juvenile wolves in this pack from a previous litter. They
milled about close the small black opening to the den in the short sand
bank. All had distinguishing characteristics taken from both parents.
One, a young male, had black markings like his mother but was elusive like
his father. He had gray specks along his back and silver tips near the ends
of the long hairs on his growing mane and ever thickening neck. Boss knew it
was a matter of time before he would leave to take a mate to form his own
Finally, the five pups made up the remainder of the pack. They lay sprawled
all over the area. Tired from a day filled with endless play and tumbling
romps through the open den area on the inside edge of the high river ridge.
It took much to feed this rapidly growing pack. Daily, the adults would
hunt, deer mostly, but there were the elk and moose and a variety of small
birds and animals: grouse, turkey, rabbits and mice were just a part of
Wolves are never concerned about their next meal. Not even in the fall, when
many other of their forest brethren are gathering, storing, and saving for
the cold season ahead, the wolf had no such encumbrance or priorities. For
the wolf did not save or store his food, or he did not depend on the skill
of another hunter to be scavenged off. The wolf was not a wait and ambush
hunter like man, or a hide and seek hunter like the bobcat or cougar. He was
above that. Stronger, wiser, and swifter. With the wind in his face and the
blood on his jowls ... with the hunt in his heart, the wolf was a bounder, a
runner, anxious for the chase, the run-down, the struggle, and finally ...
the kill. And he could do this at any time of year, winter included.
The hunt would always start the same. As Abbey and Boss watched, the female
slowly got to her feet, stretched her front legs out before her and arched
her back to stretch the sleepy kinks from her body.
The pups quickly surrounded her. They whined and pushed as all tried to get
closer. She stood proudly among her pups, she was nothing but gentle and
caring in the nurturing of her offspring. To Abbey, she certainly didn't
appear to be a bloodthirsty baby eater.
Soon the rest of the pack began to stir. Then, without warning, the Black
threw back her head and howled a long mournful song. The spiraling tone grew
in resonance to take on not just a powerful sound but an eerie, mystical
one, too. A chill tingled through Abbey's entire body. She caught her breath
and closed her eyes for a second. Her life had changed so much, so fast.
This life, this backwoods experience was all so different, so wonderful. She
wrapped her arms around herself and shivered visibly. For she wasn't just
hearing it, but feeling it. This wolf call, this wilderness song was so
different, yet so welcome. She knew she'd never forget this moment.
Boss smiled when he saw her shake. He'd seen it before, and was feeling it
himself, this brush with the wild side. Survival of the fit at its most
basic and natural form. It was why Boss was here in the first place and why
he would never leave the woods. He too, was part of the wilderness, of the
freedom the deep woods can offer a man. And now, he noticed, a woman, too.
By now the entire pack, pups and all, were howling. The sound of their
voices moved up into the tree tops and reached out across the forest. Such a
sound she'd never heard, never imagined. Abbey's smile grew along with the
chorus. She put her hands to her lips, her eyes filled with wonder.
The howls were echoing through the wilderness river valley. Growing loud and
robust, then fading, then building into a crescendo and bouncing back to
mingle with new howls. The sound came from everywhere, from all around.
Boss caught his breath. The wilderness serenade gripped him, too, and held
him in a knee-buckling spell every time he heard it. But something was
different this time. This time he was enjoying it more than ever, this time,
he was sharing this wilderness experience. It surprised him at first. Boss
didn't usually care to share his woods with anyone else. But now it was
different. There really was something more to this woman. Maybe he should
And then it stopped. As quickly as it started. The wolves lowered their
heads and fell silent. And it wasn't long before the last fading echo was
finally absorbed into the pine boughs and brambles. Although, in the
shadowy, wild recess' of the woodsman's mind, the howls are never totally
silent. Several minutes passed before the pack dispersed back to their
hiding places, waiting, but ready.
"Oh, they stopped." The disappointment in Abbey's tone was apparent.
"They'll start again soon, won't they."
Boss turned to face her.
"I bet you never heard anything like that back in civilization," Boss said
shaking his head. "No, they're done talking for awhile. That's the way it is
after a good long evening howl."
Boss scanned the den area below until he located the Black. He took a gentle
hold of Abbey's arm as he nodded in the wolf's direction. The woman's heart
pounded feverishly. She wasn't sure if it was the wolf or the man. Maybe a
little of both. Boss pointed out the Black crouched in her hiding place.
"They wait in silence to listen for other packs to return the howl," Boss
explained. "It helps them locate and learn where other territories begin and
Boss shook his head and spit.
"It's all ... " Boss said, irony slurring his tone. " ... rather civilized!"
The wolves left soon thereafter. The young male stayed with the pups and the
other four adults disappeared silently into the forest shadows. Abbey took
note, the wolves did, indeed, appear spirit-like.
Boss and Abbey moved away from the edge and back down the ridge side to the
river and their canoe. They pushed it back into the current, jumped in, and
paddled upstream in moonlight that sparkled across the water. They didn't go
far before they stopped to build camp. Boss wanted to give the wolves plenty
of room, he didn't want to disturb the den area or the pups. Abbey sat
quietly in the canoe, wondering when she would hear the she-wolf's
enthralling, mystical call again.
They made camp on the river bank as the moon moved highest in the sky. Boss
built a fire then moved out into the woods to set out varmint snares. When
he was finished he cut pine boughs to lay across the frame of a hastily
build lean-to and others to lay on the ground. They would provide a little
comfort and keep them off the cold ground.
"Pine branches and a good thick wool blanket will make for the warmest of
nests," Boss said as he came out of the woods with an arm load of boughs.
Abbey smiled and unwrapped bread they'd taken from Buck's. She heated river
water for tea. It wasn't long before a sharp, dying squeal signaled a rabbit
snare had done the job.
Boss cooked the meat slowly over a fire of dry popple sticks. The meat was
tender and it would stay moist if she didn't let Boss over cook it, which
was his habit. Abbey loved this delicate taste. Until this adventure she'd
never tasted rabbit, it was just another one of the interesting, appealing
aspects of her new life.
After they finished their meal, and a far away whippoorwill had finished his
forlorn but sweet song, Abbey and Boss sat in silence before the crackling
campfire. The dome of yellow light bathed Abbey's face as she sat close to
the flames. Boss, accustomed to staying out of the firelight, sat a little
The experienced woodsman was always more concerned with stealth than comfort
and that included the warmth of the fire. It was a practice that had saved
his hair more than once, in fact, even now as they sat so quietly he
wondered if their campfire was wise, seeing how they were now on Sioux land.
But Abbey had asked for, craved the warmth and company of a fire, "just a
small one," she'd asked? Boss had relented in spite ...
Boss' troubled thoughts were interrupted by a far away howl. So far away, at
first, it wasn't easily discernible as a howl. But as they listened the
spiraling tone of the she-wolf became recognizable.
"They made their kill," Boss whispered in reverence to the she-wolf's song.
"It's so beautiful," Abbey gushed. "The way her smooth sweet voice grows so
evenly, such perfect tone. I once had a voice teacher who would kill for
Abbey wiped a tear from her eye. She didn't know why she was crying. But
she was truly moved. She wondered, was the she-wolf echoing her own
loneliness? A loneliness Abbey felt, too. An emptiness inside, in spite of
living in the midst of others. Abbey didn't know, maybe she cried because
she was here in the woods with this woodsman. She had these feelings ... or
maybe she cried because she was sad to be trying to accomplish what her
father could only dream about, sad because it was her, not him? Her father
was gone, her house, all she ever knew or cared about was gone ... forever!
And now, this wilderness life was all so new. But it was all she had left.
Maybe that's why she clung so quickly to the wolf song. It just felt right,
The wolf call beyond rose to a crescendo, it snapped Abbey back from her day
dream. The wolf was a part of her new family, her new life!
"We are linked with the pack," Boss whispered above the crackling flames.
"As we are linked with all of nature, even the plants and animals, the wind
Boss pulled a burning stick from the fire and touched the flames to the bowl
of the pipe he'd produced from a pocket. The bluish gray smoke billowed
around his head before disappearing into the darkness above. Boss was
enjoying the taste of the fine smoke filling his head, his mind. But now he
cleared his throat.
"The wolf is the spirit of the forest," Boss said. "And through our own
spirit we are connected ... like brothers. A man comes to know this in his
own heart the first time he hears the lonely howl echoing through the tree
tops. To destroy it, to silence the howl, is to deny the spirit, the essence
of nature, of life itself in these big woods."
"That is beautiful," Abbey said choking back another tear. "It somehow
reminds me of my mother ... someone I never knew. How can this be?"
Boss puffed on his pipe and didn't say anything for a few seconds. It was as
if he were enjoying the quiet.
"That is the way of the forest," Boss answered when he had his fill of
silence. "The big woods is he resting place for many restless souls. Just
because your mother died so many years ago doesn't mean her spirit has gone
from this world. Maybe ... just maybe, that is why you were drawn here.
Maybe this was your destiny and everything happened so, in the end, you
ended up here. You never know."
Boss' voice had fallen to a whisper again. Pipe smoke billowed before his
"Have you ever felt her presence, say on a cold, dark winter night, or maybe
in a clean fresh breeze on a warm spring morning?" Boss didn't wait for an
answer. And she wasn't offering one. "Have you ever felt the presence of
someone or something when no one is there? Something you can't put your
finger on, but something that makes the hair on your neck stand straight and
Abbey shook her head from side to side.
"Not anything ... " Abbey said, but then caught herself and changed her
mind. "At least not anything until I heard the Black howling tonight."
"Well then, maybe she's been waiting for this moment all these years," Boss
said. "Maybe this is the time you will need to draw on a love that
transcends the grave. Watch and listen with your mind as well as your eyes
and ears. You will be amazed how full an empty wilderness can be."
It was the last they spoke that night. Abbey was more than a bit awe struck.
Never before had she had such deep or spiritual thoughts, but to hear such
meaningful dialog from the woodsman surprised her. But then, in another way,
it pleased her. Now she just had to dissect all of what he said. She sank as
quietly, as deeply, into her thoughts as her blanket and finally into sleep.
Boss watched over her as darkness engulfed the woods. He sat motionless, as
much apart of the woods as the trees themselves. The evening fire died
quietly to smoldering coals.
Hours later, after the moon had long set and dawn was on the horizon, Abbey
was startled from her sleep. There was a hand clasped tightly over her
mouth. Boss' solemn, bearded face appeared close to her in the darkness,
just a few inches away from her terrified, bulging eyes. She was confused,
her heart was racing. She wondered what was ...
"Sioux!" Boss hissed.
Boss said it like he knew what it meant. Said it like a member of the
Chippewa nation which included his Ojibwa family and sworn enemy to the
Sioux, would have said it. Though the woodsman didn't like the idea of
fighting without a cause, that's not the way it always went in the
wilderness. In the wilderness one had to choose sides or risk being attacked
from every direction. Consequently, in the wilderness, when you make friends
you make enemies, too. And when the time came to stand up and be counted,
Boss stood with the Chippewa. He would die with them, too.
The Sioux knew who the white woodsman was, knew where Boss stood. Which
meant they wanted to oblige him. To see that he did, indeed, die with the
Chippewa. Or at least they would if they caught him this far into their
Abbey understood the immediate danger they must be in. Boss removed his hand
once she was awake and aware. He turned his head and glanced over his
"There must be a dozen of them." Boss' voice was hurried, anxious, but not
afraid. Abbey felt scared just the same. "You must hurry. Take the canoe and
head upstream. We'll let them find the camp and track me into the woods.
They'll never want to keep going upstream if they think they have one of us
on the run."
Confusion rushed through Abbey. Her face flushed red and, for the first time
since meeting, Boss saw fear in her eyes.
"What do you mean me?" Abbey asked. "Aren't we doing this together?"
Though time was precious and they couldn't afford to waste any Boss knew she
would never go along with separating unless he could convince her it was the
right thing, the best plan.
"Look," Boss said, his tone was soft and sincerity filled his eyes. Abbey
wanted so badly to fall into his arms. "They got wind of us some how. Maybe
it was Jackson's men, or the Winnebago who set them on our trail, their
night scouts might have smelled the smoke from our fire, or maybe they just
got lucky and stumbled across our tracks where we landed the canoe last
night to watch the wolves. But we can't outrun them. Our load is too heavy
and there are too many to stay ahead of them all. We have to trick them and
we have to do it quickly, or else you and me and your dream will die today
here on this river bank."
The words startled Abbey even more. Boss gave her a quick explanation of how
he woke before dawn. When the fog still floated atop the water and lay heavy
above the cool, moist air in the riverside sloughs.
Boss had risen early, climbed the ridge, and walked along the ridge top all
the way back to the wolf den. And there, as dawn's first milky gray light
began to filter through the woods he spotted the warriors. They had landed
their canoes where Boss and Abbey had first landed the night before. While
several stopped to inspect tracks and marks in the wet sand at river's edge
the others, the younger men, milled about, alert for a glimpse of the
intruders they knew must be very near.
Boss counted a dozen of them. All were heavily armed with knives and
hatchets hanging from their waist and clubs and bows and arrows in their
Boss wasn't sure how long they'd been there or if they'd only just arrived.
At first he wondered, perhaps it was hope, that they were just a hunting
party, but then, hunting parties didn't wear war paint on their faces and
arms. Besides, he thought he might have recognized one of them. If it was
the man he thought it was he knew the warrior didn't waste time going on
hunting trips unless the game was an enemy.
The warrior was clearly not one of the young ones. The eagle feathers tied
into a fan in his hair at the back of his head told a fascinating, but
deadly tale. Boss read the signs. Red slashes painted on several feathers
indicated the wearer killed many enemies. One feather dyed completely red
showed he'd been wounded in battle once. Several feathers had wedges cut out
with the edges also dyed red. It showed the enemies had been scalped and
their throats had been cut. Silver and copper bracelets around his arms
indicated a man of great strength and honor. This man was not just a
warrior, but a chief, a war chief. He was the only one not wearing war
paint. A long scar gouged across the right side of his face afforded him a
menacing, murderous expression. It also made him easily recognizable which
caused a nervous tremble to move through the woodsman's body.
It was his old enemy Ajassin Etawikoman, Dull Knife. A fierce warrior. One
who has taken many Chippewa scalps. He was a big man who stood almost six
feet tall, with a wide muscular chest. Even now in the cool of night he
didn't wear a shirt. The silver bracelets held tight around his bulging
biceps. Long black hair hung down, falling across his shoulders like waves
of midnight. He had been marked in his first battle. At the age of 13, a
trapper's thick blade skinning knife had opened a gash in Dull Knife's face
just a second before the child warrior cut out the man's heart. The scar
left on his face ran long and ugly, from the corner of his right eye across
his cheek and down to his chin. After watching for just a short time there
was no doubt in Boss' mind about this man's identity.
Dull Knife did not concentrate on the sign or tracks on the ground like the
other warriors. He looked up into the forest on the ridge side. His gaze
moved slowly until it rested upon the spot where Boss was hiding. The
warrior's piercing brown eyes focused on the underbrush in front of Boss.
Even though the warrior couldn't possibly see the hiding woodsman, it was as
if he sensed his enemy was there. Boss knew the stakes in this journey north
had just risen. The fluttering leaves of underbrush that obscured him now
seemed invisible. The warrior's eyes blazed a fiery intent and added to a
fierce, bloodthirsty expression. Boss tightened his grip on the rifle. He
moved his thumb up and cocked the heavy weapon. He might not be able to get
all of them, but if they jumped him he could sure take Dull Knife with him.
The woodsman stared back.
Then, Dull Knife turned and moved away. Boss took the opportunity to back
away slowly himself. The fact Dull Knife and his men had discovered the
woodsman was here made the urgency of their escape even greater. He knew he
couldn't fight them all and his and Abbey's only hope for escape was
tricking them. From atop his spot high on the razorback ridge Boss could not
only see the Sioux on the river side but if he took a few steps to his right
and stooped low to look under the pines he could also see the very edge of
the wolves den area. He saw the pups scurry playfully before the den
entrance, but then, as the breeze rustled the popple leaves, they stopped
their romping and sat with their noses in the air. Boss wasn't sure whose
scent they discovered in that breeze but they all bolted for the small cave
at the same time.
Boss took the cue and turned back to camp. He had to get Abbey on her way
upstream before the Sioux got there. A race through the wilderness had
commenced, with their blood and hair at stake.
Abbey got up quickly and threw what few belongings she had taken out the
night before, back into her bag. Boss pulled the heavy laden canoe into the
current. Abbey waded out into the river. The cool water tugged at her legs
and felt good, refreshing in spite of the dire circumstances. Boss helped
her into the back were he usually knelt.
"Continue north, upstream," Boss said to her. "I will stay behind and try to
draw them away. But eventually I will have to face him I'm sure. Running,
hiding, and tricking will not be useful tactics too long. Dull Knife is not
the kind of problem you can run away from."
"Him? Who are you talking about?" Abbey asked. She wasn't sure what to say.
How to protest this scary turn of events. Boss ignored her question.
"They are still a good half mile downstream. Stay to this side of the river
until you get around the next bend," Boss said trying to keep his voice calm
and steady. "The shadows are still dark and fog is still rolling on this
side. Watch out for the shifting current around all of these bends. It's a
rhythm. You'll catch on and soon learn to read the water. But up there on
the far bend you have to get across the river through the rising sun light;
do it fast, before anyone spots you from downstream."
Boss made a quick glance upstream. They had camped on the downstream end of
a long straightway in what was otherwise a curvy, twisty river. The water
was shallow and slack, almost like the surface of a lake. Then he turned to
look downstream. The Sioux were nowhere in sight ... yet.
"Keep going until late in the day," Boss said without turning to look at
her. She would hear his plan, but the Sioux would hold his attention.
"You'll see a big creek coming from the east on the other side of the river.
It's a wide easy going stream almost as big as this river. That's Blood
Creek. The Indians slaughter elk there every fall and the waters run red
with elk blood for days. Go upstream on the creek until you get to the
hunting camps. They'll be empty this time of year but I doubt the Sioux
would think to move into the hunting grounds."
It was all happening so fast. She had so many questions.
"What ... what about you?" Abbey asked. "What will happen to you? How will
we meet? How will ... "
Abbey wanted to say so much more and she didn't even care if it was the
proper thing to do or not. For after this many days in the wilderness, after
being dunked in the river so many times her hair hung stringy and her
fingers were forever pickled, after she'd been shot at, rained on, chased
and whipped by Indians, manhandled by ruffians, after she'd picked spiders
from her hair and ticks from her skin, being proper just didn't mean that
Abbey looked deep into the woodsman's eyes. Would it be right for her to
stand up, throw her arms around his neck, and huge him tight, until he
scooped her up in his strong arms and carried her to safety? She felt the
urgency of the moment ... but in the end, she said nothing. This was one of
those times when doing the right thing is an even trade for being silent.
Boss held up his hand. It was like he understood, for the first time since
coming into the woods, Abbey was afraid, really afraid. Though, this time
she wasn't so much scared for herself, although going off alone on a river
in a wilderness she knew nothing about was more than a little frightening,
but she felt for him, too. What if the Indians caught up to him. What would
become of him and in turn what would become of her and her dream. She
wondered if she could find Dogtown on her own even after going over the
crude map the woodsman had showed her.
"I stuffed the map into your bag," Boss said finally. "If I don't show up in
three days ... start north, cross country to Lac Court Oreilles without me."
He saw the concern in her expression.
"There is no other way," Boss said trying to console her.
"And if you don't make it?" Her response was quick and to the point.
"There are no other options," Boss said. "Listen for the wolf. And remember
Then Boss handed her his 50 caliber Hawken rifle.
"Here keep this," Boss said. "It works like the Kentucky rifle of your
Then Boss shoved the canoe out into the river and waved.
"But it won't take three days," Boss said looking for a way to comfort her
as she moved away in the canoe. "I'll see you before sunup tomorrow. I
Abbey was still looking for a way to deal with this, to find comfort in it,
as she took up the paddle. But then, she knew, deep down, that was
impossible. This was a hurdle she had to get over before she could be
comfortable again. She knew what she had to do, she knew she had to meet the
situation head on. Or, at the very least, convince Boss she were strong.
"You better show up, Mister. I'll give you two days," Abbey said with a
stern determined expression, refusing to show her true feelings, her true
"Then I'll go on to claim Dogtown myself and you'll miss out."
Abbey held up two fingers.
"Two days," she repeated trying to hide the fear. Oh, it was all happening