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Authors: Margaret Coel

Wife of Moon

BOOK: Wife of Moon
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


Wife of Moon


Book / published by arrangement with the author


All rights reserved.

Copyright ©
Margaret Coel

This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.

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Books first published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

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Electronic edition: September, 2005

Berkley Prime Crime Mysteries by Margaret Coel



My heartfelt thanks to Elizabeth Happy, archivist, Dayton Library, Regis University Denver, for guiding me into the world of Edward S. Curtis; and to Eric Paddock, curator of photography at the Colorado Historical Society, Denver, for guiding me through the technical nuances of early photography. My thanks, also, to Ed McAuslan, Fremont County Coroner, Riverton; Paul Swenson, special agent, FBI, Lander; Richard Ortiz, Riverton; Fred Walker, firearms expert, and Sherrie Wolff, PhD., international political consultant, Boulder; Rob Kresge, former CIA agent, and Anthony Short, S.J., former pastor of St. Stephens Mission;

And to Bob and Marianne Kapoun and Christopher Webster, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Luther Wilson, director of the University of New Mexico Press; and Ann Pruitt, Boulder Public Library, reference department;

And to my husband, George, and my daughter, Kristin Henderson, and to my good friends who read versions of this story and offered suggestions that could not be ignored: Virginia Sutter, PhD., and Jim Sutter, members of the Arapaho tribe; Beverly, Sheila, and Mike Carrigan; Sybil Downing and Jim Lewis;

And especially to Karen Gilleland.


This is for
Aileen, Sam, Liam, and Eleanor


—the moon, literally “night sun,” from
night, and
sun, or celestial luminary.

—Arapaho glossary, in
The Ghost-Dance Religion and
the Sioux Outbreak of 1890,
by James Mooney



There was a camp circle along the river. One night when Moon was shining brightly, as were also all the stars, there were young women sitting outside enjoying the night breeze. One of them said that she wished very much that she could marry Moon. Of course Moon heard the remark and immediately began to consider the course of events were he to marry a human being.

Traditions of the Arapaho,
George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeber

October 1907

sat their ponies against a glass-blue sky broken only by the mare's tail cloud streaming overhead. The October sun turned the wild grasses and underbrush gold and vermilion and sent tongues of fire leaping off the silver spheres that decorated the harnesses. As the warriors started down the slope, brown puffs of dust rose around them. The sun illuminated the white and blue stripes painted on the flanks of the ponies, marking them as war ponies. The warriors were painted, too. Red, white, and yellow stripes ran across brown naked chests and arms. White paint smeared their faces so that their eyes were like charcoal smudges behind white masks. They wore brown buckskin trousers fringed down the sides. Black hair hung long and straight over their shoulders, secured by headbands that each held a single eagle feather. The warriors reined in and stared down at the village.

Village! Jesse White Owl wanted to laugh out loud. A couple dozen canvas [tipis] dragged out of sheds where they'd been folded away for thirty years. The grandmothers had to show people how to erect the tipis because no one else remembered. Still it had taken all day when, in the Old Time, the grandmothers had set up an entire village while the warriors unsaddled the ponies.

“It must be a traditional Arapaho village,” Edward S. Curtis had said three days ago when Jesse guided him to Black Mountain, which the photographer had pronounced “the perfect location.” They'd dismounted and trudged across the flats at the foot of the slope, the photographer talking out loud—talking to himself, Jesse thought, picturing in his mind the images that he would capture. Curtis was a tall man, half a head taller than Jesse, with a thin frame and arms and legs that moved at angles. He had yellow hair and a yellow beard that jutted from the front of his chin. His eyes looked like pieces of blue glass caught in his pink face, reflecting the images all around him. He wore dark trousers, a white shirt with a black string tie looped at the opened collar, and a light-colored slouch hat that threw a band of shadow across his forehead.

“We'll set up the village here.” The photographer had taken off his hat and waved toward the clumps of sagebrush and wild grasses. Then he'd swung around. “I'll set the camera on the tripod over there and take pictures of people in the village going about everyday chores, not knowing the enemy is coming.”

“They would know,” Jesse had told the white man. “The guards would spot the enemy and warn the chiefs. The women and children would be sent from the village. When the enemy rode toward the village, the men would be ready.”

The photographer had waved his hat toward the mountain, as if he hadn't heard. “First a picture of the warriors riding down-slope, then pictures of the village, and then the attack.” He'd set his hat back on his head and squinted into the sunlight, as if the images had already etched themselves in his eyes. “The pictures will document an attack
on a peaceful village. Everyone will be shooting blanks, but the noise will sound like an actual attack.”

“There are no more villages,” Jesse had told the photographer. “The people have lived on the Wind River Reservation for many years.” In wood boxes, he'd been thinking, except for one elder who refused to live in a log cabin. Human beings weren't meant to live in boxes made from trees, he said. So he lived in a buffalo-hide tipi. At night, he led his pony into the box.

Jesse had pushed on, explaining that Arapahos lived like white people now. Farmers. He had his own allotment—one hundred and sixty acres of rocks, brush, and hard, dry earth. He'd plowed the earth the way the agricultural instructor at Fort Washakie had said, planted hay, and sold the crop in Casper, with enough left over to feed his horses over the winter. Sometimes he caught on with the freighters who drove wagon teams to Casper and brought back goods for the Mercantile Store in Arapaho.

Last week, when he'd brought in a wagon load of flour, salt, sugar, and coffee to the store, he'd seen Curtis for the first time, talking to a group of Arapahos, showing around the paper images he'd made of other tribes. He wanted to make images of Arapahos, too, he said. He'd pay anyone willing to pose for him. And he needed an assistant, an Arapaho who could speak English, somebody willing to learn how to make images.

There was a time when Jesse would have been reluctant to speak up. It was impolite to put yourself forward. But after six years at St. Francis Mission School, he'd absorbed the white ways along with the language, and he'd stepped over to the porch and said, “I can help you, sir.”

Now the photographer waved his hat toward the warriors paused halfway up the slope. They nudged the ponies forward out of the half-shadow and into the light, and the photographer turned his attention to the village.

It was as quiet as one of the images the photographer made on paper, Jesse thought. Not like a village in the Old Time, filled with
shouts and laughter and the sounds of horses neighing in the corral. This was like a village of ghosts. The men wore skin shirts and trousers handed down from the ancestors and brought out of storage from time to time for ceremonies. The women had on deerskin dresses, their brown arms flashing through the fringe on the sleeves, and beaded moccasins that poked past the fringe around the skirts. Their hair was in braids wrapped with red and yellow cloth that hung down the fronts of their dresses.

Most of the women hovered near the kettles slung over campfires, pink and blue flames licking the metal. Two women were scraping hides stretched between poles set upright in the earth—kettles holding nothing but water and hides scraped years ago.

The men looked out of place, out of time. Sitting cross-legged on blankets, chipping stones into arrow heads, bending willow branches into bows. A woman was combing the long, black hair of one of the men. “Gonna get my hair braided and wrapped in red cloth,” he'd told the photographer, “just like the warriors used to do.” Jesse figured the man wanted to make sure he'd look handsome in the pictures.

Curtis was approaching Bashful Woman's tipi now, and Jesse made himself look away. He did not want to taste again the bitterness that welled in his throat each time he saw Bashful and Carston Evans—the white man driving a team of horses into Arapaho, Bashful on the wagon bench beside him, the child clutched to her.

Jesse had opened a box of glass plates when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bashful dash past the photographer. He looked around, unable to ignore her any longer. His heart felt like a fist of lead in his chest. The child ran ahead on short, wobbly legs, trailing a toy that clinked over the ground. Bashful scooped up the child—kicking and laughing—and nuzzled her face against the small chest.

The photographer ran forward, gesturing with his hat, his voice bursting like pellets from a shotgun.
No white toys in the village.

Jesse walked over. “My people were traders,” he said to Curtis. “There were many things made by white people in the villages.”

But the white man waved away the explanation. The images would show the village that existed in his mind.

Bashful pried the toy from the child's hand and gave it to the photographer. With back straight and head high, like the image of the woman that Jesse carried in his heart, the proud and beautiful daughter of Chief Sharp Nose, Bashful walked back to the tipi, dropped onto the blanket next to her husband, and cuddled the child in her lap. Carston Evans did not lift his eyes to her. His gaze remained on the rifle in his hands.

Yesterday, Evans had ridden into the photographer's camp just west of the village, dust swirling behind him. He'd reined in next to the supply wagon where Jesse had been organizing the bottles of chemicals and boxes of paper. Wanting the portrait of Bashful and the child that Curtis had made the day before, Jesse thought.

He said, “The photographer's in the tent still developing his images.”

“Tell him we'll be in the village for the attack he's orchestrating.”

“No white men in the Arapaho village.”

The white man had laughed at that. “White traders were always around. Took themselves Indian squaws.”

Jesse had hooked both hands in his belt to keep from pulling the man off his mount and smashing his face. So Bashful was a squaw, not an honored wife, the daughter of a chief.

“We'll be there. Bashful and the girl and me,” the white man said, turning the horse.

The photographer was examining the Premo now. He ran a finger over the top of the bellows, then ducked under the black focusing cloth, his back curved into the camera. He looked like he had a wooden box for a head, the black lens for a single eye. He was framing the image he wanted and focusing on a spot one-third of the distance from the camera to the warriors, the farthest point in the picture, just as he'd taught Jesse. Then he would stop the lens down and adjust the shutter speed so that he could capture images of the warriors attacking the village.

“Give the signal,” Curtis said, emerging from under the black cloth.

Jesse stepped back to the supply wagon and took out the Winchester 73. Earlier he'd loaded ten cartridges in the rifle, each cartridge a blank filled with black powder and wads of cardboard. Pointing the muzzle to the sky, he pulled the trigger and fired. The loud report stopped up his ears for a moment. In a half second, other shots sounded from the bluff, the reverberations lost in the yells and shouts of the warriors as they galloped toward the village.

The photographer pushed the plunger to make the image.

“Stop!” he yelled, and Jesse shot off another blank, then set the rifle on the ground. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the warriors rein in the ponies as he turned to the camera. He inserted the dark slide into the holder next to the exposed plate, then removed the holder. Working as fast and as carefully as he could, he handed the photographer one of the other holders that he'd also loaded earlier. Curtis pushed the holder into the slot behind the lens and pulled out the dark slide. Jesse picked up the rifle and fired again.

The warriors broke into a gallop, bearing down on the village like a whirlwind that churned up the earth around the horses' hooves, howling into the volley of gunshots and the puffs of gray smoke that rose over the village. Curtis snapped the image.


Jesse pulled the trigger again, but the noise of the gunshot was lost in the wall of noise falling all around. The warriors were galloping through the village as if they had entered another time and become the images the photographer intended to capture—the enemy attacking, compelled to go on and on until the village was reduced to ashes with bodies strewn about and the wounded clawing their way around the dead.

It was as if the people had also entered into that other time, as if they could sense the destruction crashing over them. Men ran toward the warriors, throwing up their palms in the sign of peace, trying to stop the attack. Other men pushed women and children into the tipis
before dropping onto one knee, pointing rifles, spears, and bows and arrows in the direction of the warriors galloping past. Gunshots exploded in the air.

“Wonderful, wonderful,” the photographer shouted.

Jesse removed the exposed plate holders and handed Curtis other holders with new plates, all the time fighting back the urge to pick up the rifle, run to the village, and kill the enemy. They were firing blanks, he kept telling himself. It wasn't the true thing, only an image—
shadows of the old world being captured on the glass plates.

The photographer emerged from under the focusing cloth. “Success,” he shouted. “I have caught everything.” He clapped his hands overhead, as if the sound would puncture the wailing and screaming, the rifle fire still bursting into the air. “Enough,” he shouted. Then he started toward the village, waving his hat overhead.

Jesse went after him. It was then that he saw the crowd flowing like water toward Bashful's tipi. He lunged around the photographer and broke into a run, darting through the waves of people, the images of shock and fear on their faces printing themselves in his mind. He was barely aware of the silence that was flooding the village, as if a river had jumped its banks and was inundating the earth.

He pushed past Carston Evans and stopped. He felt as if a bullet had slammed into his chest. Bashful lay on her side on the blanket, the child crawling close to her, grabbing at her with small brown hands, as if she were only resting after a busy day tending to her child and caring for her home. That was the truth Jesse wanted to see, not the truth that his eyes took in. In her back was a small hole, no bigger around than a marble. But in her chest was a hole the size of a fist. The ground around the blanket was running red with her blood. The thin wail of the child cut like a knife into the silence.

Jesse dropped to his knees and stroked Bashful's silky black hair.

“They killed her,” Evans shouted above him. “They killed my wife.”

BOOK: Wife of Moon
13.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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