A Yellowstone ChristmasBy: Peggy L Henderson
Daniel kissed the top of her fur-covered head. “It is precisely your heated reactions that encourage his behavior,” he said softly.
“Well, he needs to be put in his place,” Aimee grumbled, but she knew Daniel was right. If she simply ignored her brother-in-law, and didn’t react to his antics like Daniel had obviously learned to do over the years, he might stop tormenting her about her different ways.
“Let’s chop down that tree, wife, before you change your mind, and we have to look for another one.” Daniel pulled her close for a kiss, then released her and headed toward the tree his sons danced around impatiently. He pulled a long-handled ax from under his robe, and handed it to Zach. After giving each boy a turn to swing the ax, Daniel finished chopping down the tree. He tied a rope around the end of the trunk, and they headed back the way they came, toward their cabin a few miles upstream of the river, Daniel dragging the tree behind him.
Fifty yards from the cabin Daniel abruptly stopped. Aimee released Sam’s hand she’d been holding, and shot a questioning look at her husband. All softness left his face, and he stared with an intensity she recognized when he sensed danger. He dropped the rope, and gripped his rifle. Suddenly, a faint wail pierced the air.
“What on earth?” Aimee said. Daniel reached for her arm, no doubt to pull her back, but she darted to the side to avoid his grip, and headed for the cabin. A small fur-covered bundle lay in the snow at the foot of the cabin door. Without a second thought, Aimee picked up the bundle, moving aside some of the fur. A newborn infant cried loudly in her arms.
Daniel glanced over Aimee’s shoulder at the crying infant in her arms. His wife hovered over the baby like a mother grizzly. Her cherished Christmas tree was all but forgotten as she fussed over the child.
“He can’t be more than a couple of hours old, Daniel.” Aimee darted a worried look up at him. “He’s hungry, and I have nothing to give a newborn. You have to go and find his mother, or he will die.”
Aimee voiced what Daniel already knew. He studied the black-haired infant, and the hides and furs he was wrapped in. The workmanship of the Tukudeka clan of Shoshone was unmistakable. The deerskin hide that the baby’s body was wrapped in was soft and pliable. Daniel’s adoptive people employed laborious and time-consuming methods to tan their hides. No other tribe he knew took the time to soften their hides using two layers of animal brains, and soaking the hides in water for days. It made the material softer than the cotton shirts he bought in St. Louis.
“Daniel?” Aimee shot him an expectant look that demanded an answer. “Where do you think this baby came from? Do you know of any Tukudeka women who were close to giving birth?”
“This is not a Tukudeka child,” Daniel said quickly. “No Sheepeater woman would abandon her baby.” The thought disturbed him. Although he was absolutely convinced he was correct, where else but from the people who lived in this area could this child have come from?
“There are no other tribes in the area this time of year. Who else could it be?”
“I don’t know.” Daniel’s eyebrows furrowed. “But I will find out.” He adjusted his buffalo robe around his shoulders and met his wife’s worried stare. He offered her a tentative smile, and squeezed her arm. “I will find the mother,” he said, then turned to head out the door.
“Are we keeping the baby?” Zach ran up to him as soon as Daniel emerged from the cabin.
“No.” Daniel smiled at his son. “Somewhere he has a family who misses him.”
“What about our Christmas tree?” Matthew asked, disappointment on his face.
“The tree will have to wait. I’m counting on you two, and Sam, to help your mother while I’m gone to find this baby’s family.”
“Yes, Papa,” both boys answered in unison. They couldn’t hide their disappointment on their young faces. It would be good for them to learn to be patient.
Daniel knelt to eye level with his sons and waited until he had their full attention.
“Your mother always says this time of year is one of giving. It is important to remember that sometimes we must do things to help others, even if we may not want to do them because it takes us away from the things we wish for.”
The twins nodded in silence. Daniel patted them both on the head. He stood to his feet. “Take Sam inside and offer your mother any assistance she might need.”
After the boys disappeared into the house, Daniel scanned the area around his cabin. Faint footprints in the snow led from the old cabin nestled against a stand of pine trees some fifty yards away. Daniel didn’t expect to find the woman who had birthed the child in the old cabin, but he headed for it anyway. Slowly, he opened the creaking door, and peered into the darkness. For years, this cabin had been used as a storage area for his traps, furs and supplies. His eyes fell on his old bunk against the left wall. Blood covered the cotton blanket on the cot. No doubt this was where the woman had given birth to her child.
Who was she, and why would she abandon her baby? A Tukudeka woman would have been in the village’s birthing hut preparing for her child’s arrival for several days already. He convinced himself again that this was not a Tukudeka child.