IN THE SHADOW OF THE HILLS
You may have heard of me, John Jacob McKenna. I had quite a reputation as a fast gun back in the early part of the 1870's. I killed Red Wade and Curly Jack Turner, and a score of other men whose names and faces I can't recall.
Some folks wonder how I sleep nights, what with all those dead men on my conscience, but none of them ever caused me a moment's regret. Red Wade was nothing but a greedy s.o.b. who wanted to own all of Southern Arizona, and Curly Jack Turner was just plain no good. As for the others, most were just ambitious kids out to make a name for themselves. Only I got the big name, and all they got was dead.
Of course, that's all behind me now, and I'm back where I began. Sitting here, watching the sun rise above Mo'ohta-vo'honaaeva, the sacred Black Hills of the Cheyenne, my mind goes back in time, back to the beginning....
I was born in the shadow of the Black Hills early in the summer of 1849. My father was Sun Seeker, a Cheyenne war chief. My mother was Katherine McKenna, a white woman my father had taken in a raid and kept as his captive.
Other women in similar circumstances had learned to embrace the Indian way of life. A few women even learned to love the men who had captured them. But not my mother. She hated the Cheyenne way of life and she hated my father, and her hatred made her cold and bitter towards everyone, including me.
Contrary to my father's wishes, my mother insisted I learn to speak English. Whenever we were alone in our lodge, she refused to speak to me, or even acknowledge my presence, unless I spoke to her in her native tongue.
“Someday we'll get out of here,” she vowed again and again. “I pray God it will be soon!”
“Get out of here?” I repeated, puzzled. “Where would we go?”
“Back to civilization,” Katherine answered emphatically. “Where men wear suits and cravats instead of war paint and feathers. Where people sleep in four-poster beds and bathe in tubs with hot water and soap.”
She clasped her hands to her breast and her dove gray eyes took on a dreamy, faraway quality.
“Oh, for a hot bath in a real tub with lilac-scented soap and a soft Turkish towel to dry off with. And what I wouldn't give to sleep in a real bed again, with clean sheets and soft wool blankets and a feather pillow.”
Her eyes fairly glowed and her voice took on a wistful note as she murmured, “You'll love it back east. We'll have fresh milk every day, and French pastries and chocolate.” She glanced down at her doeskin tunic and grimaced. “And we'll wear real clothes instead of these dreadful skins.”
She smiled, her expression melancholy. “And we'll have roast beef and lamb chops and fried chicken and dumplings. And presents at Christmas, and birthday parties, and...”
Her voice trailed off as she looked at me sharply and without affection.
“I only hope I can get you away from him before it's too late,” she said curtly. “Before he turns you into a complete savage.”
Abruptly, she broke into tears.
Startled, I stared at her without speaking. I had never seen her weep before, and I did not understand her tears.
I did not understand her words, either. Not then.