Keeping his eyes to the ground, Buck carefully followed the tracks that led away from the village. He knew his chances of finding Little Bird were slim, but he also knew he had to try - besides it gave him a reason to leave that Red Bear couldn't argue against.
Leaving was something he hadn't given a lot of thought to after Little Bird came to live in the village, but before that, the humiliation he suffered at the hands of the other village boys, was a continual reminder of how he didn't fit in here, a half-white among the others. Maybe he'd fit in better in the white world since he didn't fit at all here. It made sense.
Now that Little Bird was gone and his mother dead, there was no reason for him to stay where he was not wanted.
Only pausing for a brief moment to look back, he thought about the only person who would miss him, his brother, Red Bear. But then, Red Bear was preparing himself to become war chief of the Kiowa, and he would have little time for Running Buck anyway.
Penetrated by a sharp gust of wind, Buck continued further away from the only place he had ever called home. Quietly, he paused, kneeling by the tree where he and Little Bird used to meet. He prayed to the gods for strength and guidance, hoping he was doing the right thing. He decided he would tell Red Bear goodbye and leave the next day at dawn. Red Bear did not try to talk his younger brother out of his quest. He simply said, "Do not stay away forever; there is much you still need to learn about being Kiowa."
Setting out early the next day, Running Buck went in search of Little Bird, and his destiny.
Taking only what little items he had, Buck would travel very lightly, for he did not possess many things of value, but the knife that was special.
Under normal circumstances Buck wouldn't have gone this far from the village alone, but these weren't normal circumstances - he was in search of a new life; hopefully a better one.
Very quickly, Running Buck figured out that this new life was not as easy as he thought it would be. No one had any use for a 14 year old half-breed that could barely speak English. While he was wondering aimlessly around trying to find work, he ended up outside the doors to a strange collection of buildings. 'Xtending high up in sky, on top of the main building, was a symbol of some kind. Running Buck new that it had something to do with the god of the whites, but he didn't specifically know what it was.
Yelling children coming out of the doors of the tall building brought Buck back from his daydreaming as he gazed at the commotion that was going on around him. Zeroing in on the person that seemed to be in charge, Running Buck made his way to her.
Alienation was a feeling that followed him like always as he stood and stared at the woman who seemed to be in charge. Brave, though he tried to be, his first inclination was to turn and flee, until he heard the gentle words coming from her mouth.
"Can I help you, young man?" she asked in a soft, friendly voice.
"Do understand not," Buck said in very broken English, feeling like an idiot. Little Bird and he hadn't had enough time together for him to learn more English.
Everything that happened after went very quickly. The next thing he knew he was being ushered into a small room where his belongings were taken away, his hair was cut, and he was given strange new clothing. For the next few days, it seemed everything Buck did was wrong, and all the other children, but one, laughed at him. The sisters had already taken away his Indian name of 'Running Buck', and decided that he should have a proper white name.
Giving him the name "Buck Cross" they fed him, clothed him, and promised him the "new life" that he had been looking for. How on earth could white people sleep in these things," Buck pondered as he shifted position for the umpteenth time and missed his buffalo hide sleeping pallet. In the middle of the night, Buck awoke, briefly forgetting where he was, listening for the sounds of the night animals, but hearing nothing. He heard breathing next to him, and remembered it was not Red Bear's. He closed his eyes again, a tear sliding down his cheek.
Just then he felt someone's eyes on him. Running Buck turned his head and saw the mute boy, in the bed next to his, watching him.
Keeping his eyes firmly on the boy next to him, Buck wondered why didn't make fun of him. Everybody else did.
"Friend?" He asked, hoping that the boy had understood.
Looking at Buck, the boy didn't answer. He just smiled a sweet, enigmatic smile. Then he turned away from Buck to go to sleep
Maybe, thought Buck, just maybe I have a chance at making a friend finally. He wiped away the tear and closed his eyes, hoping he too could rest.
Not long after this, Buck and the other children had a day in town. Each of them were given a small amount of money, to spend on whatever they wished. Running Buck was a fast learner, so his English had greatly improved, but he still had some trouble communicating.
This, combined with his appearance inevitably made him a target for the townspeople.
Opening the door to a building that played music, Buck looked inside but soon regretted it as he was attacked by some of the men.
Pinned by at least three of them, he charged them, knowing he had no chance of defeating them, but knowing he wasn't going to make it any easier for them either. Questioning whether or not this was a good idea, Ike jumped in to the fight trying to help Buck but the whole thing ended with them getting the heck beaten out of them.
Resting in the infirmary at the mission, Buck studied the mute boy who jumped in to help him in town, curious as to the reason why.
"Sorry," Buck said quietly, motioning to the other boy's injuries. The other boy just smiled again, and shook his head. Buck was quiet for a moment, trying to remember the boy's name.
"Ike?" he finally said, questioningly. Thoughtfully, Ike nodded.
"Thanks," Buck smiled. "Friend?" he asked again.
Using his left hand, the one that wasn't wrapped in a bandage, Ike made the sign for "friend" that he had seen Buck make two nights before.
He pointed to Buck, and raised his eyebrows questioningly
"I'm Runn...I'm Buck Cross."
Very soon after this, the two boys became inseparable. Wherever one was found, the other was nearby. While the other children would play during recess, Buck was busy teaching an eager Ike the Indian sign, and the boys started making plans on what they were going to do once it was time for them to leave the mission........together.
'Xcited about the prospect of having a friend no matter where they went, the two were soon facing the day they would be able to head out on their own.
"You ready?" Buck asked his friend as the two were getting ready to head out on their own. Zealous to be on their way spilling out in his smile, Ike nodded enthusiastically as he finished securing his belongings.
As they left the gates of the mission, Buck felt almost the same way he had when he had left the village, but this time he felt a little more secure in the fact that he had someone with him to share in what lie ahead. He hoped for the best for himself and his best friend, Ike.
Bouncing from job to job, they managed to get by. They didn't have much more than the clothes on their backs but at least they weren't alone. Most people steered clear of them, but some folks were kind enough to give them a place to stay from time to time.
Clearly it was going to take a special someone to offer them a place to really belong. Buck hoped it happened soon; he was beginning to tire of always being on the move. Digging into his pocket to see how much change he had left to provide for supper, Buck noticed a paper that had fallen to the boards on the walk from where it had been attached, which was on the wall right outside the general store of the town they had just ridden into. Eyeing the paper as he picked it up, Buck smiled and called out to Ike.
"I think I may have just found us the perfect job."
Figuring they had nothing to lose, Ike and Buck walked into the temporary offices of Russell, Majors and Waddell. For once, it didn't matter that Buck was a half-breed or that Ike didn't talk. All the man behind the counter cared about was how old they were, and if they had any family to speak for them. Buck answered no, for both of them. They walked out with an advance in pay, and directions to the home of a woman named Emma Shannon.
Given that people usually only accepted one of them, they made the decision to go in separately and to pretend they didn't know each other. This plan worked fine until it was Ike's turn to "speak".
Heat from the sun wasn't the only thing causing Buck to sweat as the stationmaster approached Ike.
"I said, what's you're name, Boy?" The stationmaster knocked Ike's hat off of his head.
"Ike...Ike McSwain," Buck answered for his friend.
Jumping in could possibly be a mistake so Buck added quickly, "He can hear, but he can't talk. He's real good around horses."
He relaxed when he saw the stationmaster smile. Keeping his eyes from glancing at Buck after his friend's remark, Ike smiled a huge smile. The stationmaster seemed to be pleased about the horse part, and it didn't seem to bother him about Ike not being able to talk, one less rider to sass back to him.
"Lucky for Ike he's already lost his hair." The stationmaster told them.
"Some of you won't be that lucky. More'n likely, an Indian'll get some of yours." The man turned and winked at Buck, and Buck allowed himself the hope that both of them would be allowed to stay.
Much of the first few days were spent with all the riders learning the many tricks the stationmaster, or Teaspoon as he wanted them to call him, expected them to know before they took their first run. Never before had Buck felt such acceptance. He only hoped that it would continue to last.
On the day Ike got kicked in the head by the Mustang, Buck saw how truly close this misfit family was getting to be. He especially was moved and felt a little envy, as Emma tended to the gash on Ike's head, because it made him remember his mother's soothing touch, and soft, sweet voice on occasions when he would be attacked by the village boys.
Presently, they found themselves in a bit of a fix when they had to track down some outlaws who had stolen the mail pouch as well as some horses. Quickly, with the big guns Ike had brought back from the station, the riders soon captured the robbers, and Buck continued on with the mailbag, while the others took the men into town. Reality about the differences between East and West was learned by Kid when the outlaws escaped from jail and came after him.
Sorrow filled Kid's heart as he realized after he had killed the outlaws, that Katy, his horse, had taken a bullet in her leg. When she wouldn't get up, Kid pulled his gun to tearfully put her out of her misery. Then the marshal, Sam Cain, showed up and helped him save her. He was soon on his way back to the station and his new family. Usually by this time, Buck and Ike would have been moving on to another town, another new start. But a few months had gone by and no one had asked them to leave. And even though he had very little in common with these people, they really seemed to accept him just as he was. He was almost afraid to think that he might be part of this "family" too.
Virtually overnight, everything changed. Indians started attacking the Pony Express stations and towns where they were located. Buck began to once more feel blame and hostility as he went about his business; he was thankful that so far the other riders didn't seem to think it had anything to do with him.
When another attack came dangerously close to Sweetwater, Kid brought home something that the Indians had left behind. Buck saw it and his heart sank. It was a message from the Kiowa, and it was meant for him.
'Xactly what it was his older half-brother wanted Buck didn't know. He just knew that he had to go visit with Red Bear, and he wasn't sure even Ike would understand - much less all the others who hadn't known him all that long.
Yesterday, things were simple, but tonight, Buck needed to see his brother. After everyone was asleep he snuck out on his horse, taking the sign Red Bear had sent for him, not realizing he had a witness.
Zillions of thoughts raced through his head as he approached a flickering light ahead - why did his brother want to see him after all this time? How did he know where to find him? Was this somehow connected to the raids that were taking place? Was he in trouble?
Although these thoughts were very present in his mind, Buck was anxious to see Red Bear. He was well aware of his brother's presence, and happy that he could still sense him before seeing him, no matter how quietly Red Bear approached. Buck smiled slightly as his brother came up behind him.
Buck greeted him by saying, "Red Bear," and turning to face him. The two men studied each other closely. Buck was pleased when Red Bear mentioned how much he had grown. Comfortable conversation soon became strained as Buck asked his brother. "Why have you sent for me?"
Disappointment filled Buck's heart when he realized that Red Bear still did not see how unfairly Buck had been treated in the village. He surprised himself when he told his brother that he felt better acceptance from his new group of friends. Even though he had told his brother that he couldn't come back to the village, Buck still felt a great deal of respect for Red Bear. The only thing that saddened him was when his brother slashed Buck's chest with a knife, and told Buck he would weep when he showed his brother's blood to the members of his Kiowa family.
Feelings of sadness and regret were still with Buck as he went about his chores the next day. Going over in his mind, the things Red Bear had said, about how the Pony Express would not be safe anymore, Buck caught sight of Kid getting ready for his run.
Hurrying to the stable, Buck quickly saddled his horse.
*What are you doing?* Ike demanded, meeting Buck as he came out of the stables.
"Finish the rest of my chores and I'll make it up to ya." Buck left his friend in a cloud of dust as he headed out on the prairie.
Incredibly, he managed to find Kid and save him from the band of Kiowa hot on his trail. Unfortunately, things didn't go so well when they got back to the station. Once more, Buck was faced with the fact that people he cared for didn't trust him because he was "different" than they. After a short tussle with Jimmy, Buck left the bunkhouse with the feeling that he was once more about to be on his own - alone and unwanted. Just as they were settling in for the night, Teaspoon came to talk to the rest of the riders. As usual, he managed to put things in such a way that his "boys" had a better understanding of the situation. Realizing how torn Buck must feel, they told Teaspoon that Buck could come back. There was a warm spot for him in the bunkhouse. Teaspoon relayed the message to Buck, but it was too late.
Keeping his eyes from showing too much emotion, Buck told Teaspoon that he cared too much for his white friends, but he also cared deeply for his Indian friends, especially his brother, to stay.
"In the morning, I will go to where the sun rises; maybe I will get an answer." He told the stationmaster, who knew there would be no changing his mind.
Later, as Kid and Ike were on a run, Ike was acting strange. Finally, he told Kid that Buck had quit the Express, and showed Kid a special 'bracelet' Buck had given Teaspoon to give to Ike. They were interrupted by a band of Kiowa, shooting at them, and Kid started shooting back, yelling at Ike to ride.
Moments later Ike tried to outrun the Kiowa. He soon found himself surrounded by the very same people his best friend used to call 'family'. He saw Kid start to come back towards him, but motioned for Kid to ride off, hoping he would find some help. One of them alive was better than two of them dead.
Never in his wildest dreams did Buck ever expect to be in the situation he was soon facing, as Kid explained how Ike had come to be taken prisoner by the Kiowa. All he knew was that he needed to get Ike out safely - no matter what the cost to himself. One of the most, no 'the' most important thing Buck needed to stress to Kid, was to not tell Jimmy or the others about Ike at all, because if they knew what had happened, there would be no stopping them from going after the Kiowa to get Ike, and that is what would get his best friend killed.
Preparing to enter the village below him, Buck was surprised when Kid showed up to offer his support. "They'll never see me," Kid told him. "I just want to be here if anything happens to you or Ike."
Questioning Kid's sanity, Buck walked into the village and right up to Ike, to free him. He was tied up in the middle of the village, the sun beating down on him. He was so week he could barely stand on his own. Realizing that Ike wouldn't survive if he didn't get out of the village, Buck agreed to stay if Red Bear would let Ike go. Sending his best friend away, Buck said a prayer of thanks for Kid. At least Ike would make it home.
Then the trials started. The Kiowa wanted to make sure Buck's spirit was strong and that he wasn't gong to betray them to the whites he was so close to. Kid and Ike watched from above as their friend was tested. Using all the strength he had left, Ike had to wrestle with Kid over the rifle, as Kid wanted to put an end to Buck's 'suffering'. With tears in both of their eyes, they agreed to wait a while to see what would transpire.
Virtually every muscle in Buck's body ached as he sat next to the Man of Dreams after successfully completing his trials. He was relieved yet surprised when Red Bear told him to return to his white family. He was soon on his way back to the way station with Kid and Ike at his side. Work got back to normal, and the riders got back to being a family, as close a family as any one of them had had in a very long time.
'Xactly 3 months later, it was time for the Annual Sweetwater Picnic. Everybody was looking forward to a day away from the station, and a chance to show off their riding skills in the race around town. Yearning for some sort of respect from the town's people; all the riders lined up for the race. They were also pleased to see the beautiful young lady that would be awarding the prize to the winner. Zeroing in on Buck in particular, the young woman caught his eye from the grandstand, and held his gaze.
As if mesmerized by her beauty, Buck vowed to himself that he would be the one to win the race, and have the honor of accepting the prize from Miss Kathleen Devlin. He was more infatuated by her as she kissed him on both cheeks after handing him the 20 dollar gold piece.
Before long Buck was entering a totally new world involving rich women, jealous men, and angry fathers. Concern about Jack Devlin's right hand man's warning about staying away from Kathleen nowhere in his mind, Buck met the young lady for some 'riding' lessons, and a picnic filled with new and intriguing things.
During the ride back home, Jack Devlin's men made a fatal mistake when they attacked Buck to "remind him of his place." They weren't soon going to forget the way he paid them back for their transgressions. Each of the two hired guns of Jack Devlin found themselves in quite a predicament. One, facing more than a few tarantulas, while the other gentleman sobered up quickly as he was strung up by his feet, head dangling towards a pit of rattlesnakes.
Finally, the situation with Kathleen Devlin came to an end and the riders could once more go about their lives without having to worry about an angry bank owner or his spoiled daughter. Getting through each day was never as easy as most of them would have hoped for. Still, as long as they had each other, they felt they could carry on. When anything affected one of them, it eventually affected them all.
Having all these people around that considered him a friend was strange to Buck but he would be lying if he said that he didn't like it. It had never occurred to him that having a family could be so satisfying and stressful all at the same time. He liked the fact that the others all cared and took an interest in him, but there were times when he really just wanted to be able to spend some time alone - away from the noise and bustle of people.
Just being able to sit down by the swimming hole, or even to go swimming alone, and reconnect with nature, as he had done as a small child, was getting harder and harder to do, without one of the other riders inquiring as to where he was off to. Kindness and caring were still both new to him, and it was beginning to wear on his nerves; he really just wanted some time alone. 'Leave me alone!' he sometimes wanted to scream out loud. But it would only hurt his new friends.
Meeting Kid's brother Jed was an experience in its own way. For one of the rider's family members to accept him for who he was, gave Buck another reason to appreciate the family he had acquired by joining the Express. Even though, it was surprising that Kid had a brother since he never talked about it. Needless to say, there was a bit of a strain in the bunk house when it turned out Jed was trying to steal some gold from the army. No one was sure what Kid would do.
Opinionated, though they were, the riders kept their's to themselves. They knew Kid would do the right thing, and Kid knew they would stand by him no matter what. Presently, they all found out just how much of a "family" they really were when in the course of stopping Jed and his men, Jimmy had to shoot Jed.
Quietly, they gave Kid time and space to mourn the loss of his only kin, then they were off on another adventure as a family. Buck felt a little less different each time one of these incidences occurred, for it showed just how each rider had their own hidden demons they were wrestling with also.
Reality took a turn for them all, when Sam and Emma decided to get married. While they were happy for the couple, they all were saddened that it meant Emma would be leaving them since Sam's new job would take him away from Sweetwater.
Searching for a replacement for Emma would prove not to be an easy task. The boys found out that Teaspoon didn't have much of an eye or knowledge about the type of person required to fill Emma's shoes. They were gonna have to try to get used to Jimmy's cooking permanently. Thankfully, they were saved when Rachael Dunne stumbled into their lives. Not only was she a good cook, she was rather nice looking. Unfortunately she was also wanted for murder. When her past caught up with her, it put all of their lives in jeopardy. Vowing to prove she had killed in self-defense, the rider's joined Rachel on the quest to find the one man who could prove her innocent: The victim's younger brother.
When confronted with the truth, her accusers backed down and Rachel was allowed to live the life of her choosing. Fortunately for the riders, she decided to stay and work with them. X-tra good looking only made her cooking that much better tasting, at least if it wasn't good to eat, Cody thought, she was good to look at.
Yet another adventure found the riders when Noah Dixon joined the group. Zipping his whip around, Noah really didn't need a six-shooter to protect himself. Almost overnight, he too became part of the family. Before long, Buck had an ally in Noah, as they both faced similar prejudices by certain townsfolk. Certain that he'd found a good bunch of people, Noah decided to stay around for a while after things settled down. Daily life settled into a routine, and the riders relied on each other for stability, even as the country found itself painfully divided. Eventually the small group of friends were joined by yet another stray - Jesse James.
From the first moment they met him, they could tell he had a past, kinda like the rest of them. He was drawn especially to Jimmy. Growing up is a hard thing to do, and all the boys were reminded of that as they watched Jesse try to find a way to fit in. He was eager to learn everything anyone could, or would, teach him; Sometimes, maybe too eager for his own good. In time, he settled down a bit, and soon things were running smoothly as the riders adjusted to life in a new town. They should have known it was too good to last.
Jesse's brother Frank came to town. Though, the young boy was excited at the prospect of his brother coming for him, he didn't realize the trouble Frank would bring to his newfound friends. Keeping his family together could possibly ruin his chance at happiness with his new found friends so Jesse had a tough decision to make. Leaning more and more towards moving on with Frank, Jesse started to become a little distant with the people he had learned to trust and love, causing this new 'family' of his to work hard, trying to keep him on the straight and narrow. Many times they would just about decide it was hopeless, when he do something to once more make them think - Maybe it's worth all the trouble to be sure he keeps out of trouble.
Not one of the riders, nor Teaspoon or Rachel, wanted to see Jesse make the biggest mistake of his life, so they continued to give him the friendship and love a true family would give their brother or son, hoping maybe he would heed a little of their advice. Of course most often he didn't, because he was a young man trying to find himself in the world. He wanted the others to think of him as grown; not a kid.
Putting his heart before his head led Jesse down a path that would ultimately test his loyalty to the people who had come to think of him as 'family'. Quite often, trouble would find him even when he wasn't looking for it.
Reasonably enough, out of all the riders, Buck understood a little of what Jesse was going through, as trouble had seemed to follow him all through his life, also. Trying to fit in anywhere had never been easy, but the Pony Express station had become a part of his life he hoped he would never have to leave.
Soon they were all recovering from the shock of losing Ike, and dealing with the news of a possible war. Tremendous guilt plagued Buck, as he wrestled with the fact that he hadn't gotten to Ike in time to save him, and though the man who killed him was dead, he still felt no release.
Unfortunately, he and the others had no sooner started to adjust to life without Ike when Noah was also taken from them. It looked like things were going to fall apart completely, and there wouldn't be any family left.
Various happenings occurred, like Kid and Lou marrying, Jesse riding off with his brother, and Cody riding off to join the war, but the most devastating blow to the Express was the telegraph lines which had finally made their way through the country, cutting out the need for what these boys offered. Now, the biggest test of all was upon them. Without being together every day, could they still survive as a family?
Wondering what his future held, Buck decided to have a talk with Teaspoon. X-actly what the stationmaster, now also the sheriff, would have to tell him that would be of any help, Buck wasn't sure, he just knew the man he looked up to would give him the best advice he could. Yearning to keep a place where he felt welcomed, Buck entered Teaspoon's office.
"Zander Holowell," Buck heard the older man chuckle as he was going through the stack of 'WANTED' posters on his desk. As Buck entered, Teaspoon looked up from his duty and held one of the posters towards Buck with a grin on his face.
Always wary of Teaspoon's stories, Buck took the poster and asked, "You know him?"
Buck sat down in the chair opposite Teaspoon. "You could say that, not someone you're likely to forget once ya meet him." Teaspoon replied, then noticing Buck's serious look, he continued, "Somethin' on your mind, son?"
"Can I talk to you Teaspoon?" Buck asked, his voice suddenly sounding like a scared young boy.
"You know you can talk to me about anything Buck. What's the matter?" Teaspoon leaned forward in his chair, suddenly concerned for the Kiowa.
Dread filling his soul, Buck spoke quickly before he lost his nerve, "Do you have any idea what I can do once the Express ends? I was hoping..."
"End'll be comin' soon, that's for sure." Teaspoon looked at Buck for a long moment, and Buck held his gaze.
The older man knew what Buck was thinking. Once this job was over, where in the world would he go?
Feeling for the boy, Teaspoon asked, "Why don't you stay and work with me?"
Grinning just a little, Buck asked " Are you sure you want me to do that?" though deep in his heart he knew Teaspoon wasn't kidding.
Handing Buck the stack of Wanted Posters, Teaspoon said, "I'm sure. You can start right now. Those need to be sorted and the new ones posted." With that he settled back in his chair and pulled his hat down over his eyes.
In a matter of minutes, Buck had gone from being an out of work Express Rider, to being a full-time deputy for Teaspoon. He smiled as he thought of how Tompkins would react once he found out.
Just before he headed out the door to start his new job, he turned back to Teaspoon.
"Hmm?" the older man pretended to be asleep already.
Email The Authors