This is from the short story, “The Gift of Cochise” by Louis L’Amour. Amazon had one of those specials where a collection of L’Amour’s short stories were either free or ninety-nine cents. I’ve never read anything by L’Amour but I do know he’s a western fiction genre writer. According to Wikipedia he prefers to call his fiction frontier stories and not westerns. I was intrigued and the price was right. So I read this first story, and it is definitely a genre fiction with its limitations, but I did appreciate some of the passages. L’Amour creates many tense moments. I can see why he was successful. There are those that snub genre fiction, but all writing, even so called “literary writing” is “genre” in some way. Good writing and good story telling comes in all forms. I try to expand my universe of reading, especially with short stories since they are not as time consuming.
I’m going to highlight the opening scene where Angie, left alone with two small children on a homestead in a remote valley, confronts a dozen Apache warriors, Cochise being the chief.
Tense, and white to the lips, Angie Lowe stood in the door of her cabin with a double barreled shotgun in her hands. Beside the door was a Winchester '73, and on the table inside the house were two Walker Colts.
Facing the cabin were twelve Apaches on ragged calico ponies, and one of the Indians had lifted his hand, palm outward. The Apache sitting the white-splashed bay pony was Cochise.
Beside Angie were her seven-year-old son Jimmy and her five-year old daughter Jane.
Cochise sat his pony in silence; his black, unreadable eyes studied thewoman, the children, the cabin, and the small garden. He looked at the two ponies in the corral and the three cows. His eyes strayed to the small stack of hay cut from the meadow, and to the few steers farther up the canyon.
Three times the warriors of Cochise had attacked this solitary cabin and three times they had been turned back. In all, they had lost seven men, and three had been wounded. Four ponies had been killed. His braves reported that there was no man in the house, only a woman and two children, so Cochise had come to see for himself this woman who was so certain a shot with a rifle and who killed his fighting men.
These were some of the same fighting men who had outfought, outguessed and outrun the finest American army on record, an army outnumbering the Apaches by a hundred to one. Yet a lone woman with two small children had fought them off, and the woman was scarcely more than a girl. And she was prepared to fight now. There was a glint of admiration in the old eyes that appraised her. The Apache was a fighting man, and he respected fighting blood.
"Where is your man?"
"He has gone to EI Paso." Angie's voice was steady, but she was frightened as she had never been before. She recognized Cochise from descriptions, and she knew that if he decided to kill or capture her it would be done. Until now, the sporadic attacks she had fought off had been those of casual bands of warriors who raided her in passing.
"He has been gone a long time. How long?"
Angie hesitated, but it was not in her to lie. "He has been gone four months."
Cochise considered that. No one but a fool would leave such a woman, or such fine children. Only one thing could have prevented his return. "Your man is dead," he said.
Angie waited, her heart pounding with heavy, measured beats. She had guessed long ago that Ed had been killed but the way Cochise spoke did not imply that Apaches had killed him, only that he must be dead or he would have returned.
"You fight well," Cochise said. "You have killed my young men."
"Your young men attacked me." She hesitated, then added, "They stole my horses."
"Your man is gone. Why do you not leave?"
Angie looked at him with surprise. "Leave? Why, this is my home. This land is mine. This spring is mine. I shall not leave."
"This was an Apache spring," Cochise reminded her reasonably.
"The Apache lives in the mountains," Angie replied. "He does not need this spring. I have two children, and I do need it."
"But when the Apache comes this way, where shall he drink? His throat is dry and you keep him from water."
The very fact that Cochise was willing to talk raised her hopes. There had been a time when the Apache made no war on the white man. "Cochise speaks with a forked tongue," she said. "There is water yonder."
She gestured toward the hills, where Ed had told her there were springs. "But if the people of Cochise come in peace they may drink at this spring."
The Apache leader smiled faintly. Such a woman would rear a nation of warriors. He nodded at Jimmy. "The small one-does he also shoot?"
"He does," Angie said proudly, "and well, too!" She pointed to an upthrust leaf of prickly pear. "Show them, Jimmy."
The prickly pear was an easy two hundred yards away, and the Winchester was long and heavy, but he lifted it eagerly and steadied it against the doorjamb as his father had taught him, held his sight an instant, then fired. The bud on top of the prickly pear disintegrated.
There were grunts of appreciation from the dark-faced warriors. Cochise chuckled. "The little warrior shoots well. It is well you have no man. You might raise an army of little warriors to fight my people."
"I have no wish to fight your people," Angie said quietly. "Your people have your ways, and I have mine. I live in peace when I am left in peace. I did not think," she added with dignity, "that the great Cochise made war on women!"
The Apache looked at her, then turned his pony away. "My people will trouble you no longer," he said. "You are the mother of a strong son."
"What about my two ponies?" she called after him. "Your young men took them from me."
Cochise did not turn or look back, and the little cavalcade of riders followed him away. Angie stepped back into the cabin and closed the door. Then she sat down abruptly, her face white, the muscles in her legs trembling.
Admiring courage and strength, Cochise lets her stay on the homestead in peace, his gift. But the story follows other twists and turns. You can read the entire story on the internet, here.
It’s enjoyable, and if you take the time to read it, let me know what you think.