Chief of Thieves: Excerpt 2



August 23, 1864


Godfrey raced toward the burning American Ranche, visible in the distance. He had left his wife, Matilda, and his family safe back at his ranch compound, and was aware that he was at risk from Cheyenne along the two mile ride. When he arrived at the American, there was no one to be seen. No guests, no Cheyenne. Just a burning hotel.

Over the past two months the skirmishing among the settlers, the Cheyenne, and various small groups of Colorado Volunteers had intensified. Stages were being attacked, cattle stolen, and settlers besieged with increasing frequency. The Indians had now escalated from stealing horses and cattle to actually killing cattle. The Cheyenne had massacred the Hungate family only twenty-five miles from Denver City in June. Just days before the horse stealing band had attacked Lily and Gus near the South Platte. The family’s scalped and mutilated bodies, including their two little girls, were put on public display in Denver City. Fears of a general Indian uprising were in the air.

Godfrey turned his horse toward the South Platte to warn Iliff at his ranch. As he crossed the river, he saw a small band of Cheyenne downriver but didn’t think they’d seen him. As he neared Iliff’s, he was surprised by a larger band off to his left. They were coming fast down the slope of the hill south of Iliff’s. He fired a warning shot into the air. All the Cheyenne out here knew him. He was hard not to recognize, disheveled grey beard flying in all directions as he raced across the prairie.

The Indians returned his fire, then raced after him.

Godfrey could see the ranch house up ahead, but no people. And the Cheyenne were gaining. One arrow had stuck harmlessly, but comically, between his legs in front of him on his saddle. He continued firing, wounding one but not slowing down the rest.

After another two hundred yards, he could hear a change in the whoops of his pursuers and looked back as he fired at them. They were reining in and looking over his right shoulder. Godfrey turned just in time to see Lily and Lincoln, her escaped slave hired ranch hand, ride by him, shooting as they charged into the Cheyenne.  As he turned his horse to join them, he could see it wasn’t necessary. Lily and Lincoln were pulling their horses to a stop as the Indians raced back the way they’d come. Three lay dead. One was on one knee, getting up.

Godfrey watched in disbelief as Lincoln rode over, leaned down, pulled the wounded Indian up behind him, and trotted him over to one of the Indian ponies.

“You always save people trying to kill you?” He said to Lincoln when he trotted back.

Lincoln shrugged. “Lily doesn’t like killing people in cold blood.”

Godfrey shook his head in disbelief. “Ma’am, I sure hope you get over that before they kill you some day.”

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