Cass County Missouri
August 26, 1863
Stormy Dey leaned from his saddle to address the tiny woman standing in the clearing and prayed she’d not show recognition. If his superior officer knew it was his ma, it would only make things worse.
He cleared his throat. His pa was a man of few words, but when he gave that raspy aahem they all knew they’d best pay attention. Would she remember? “Military Order Number Eleven. Do you know what this says, ma’am?”
“Read it, Dey. That’s an order.” The veins on the Sergeant’s neck protruded—a sure sign he was angry. “Don’t reckon the old lady can read for herself by the looks of the place.”
Storm scowled at the thickset officer. This would not be a good time to argue. He straightened in the saddle and willed the woman to listen without a quarrel. “All persons living in Jackson, Cass and Bates counties and in that part of Vernon County…” He stopped. Did she understand what this meant for her?
Wilson grabbed the missive from his hands. “What you pussyfootin’ around for? Read it. Let her know we mean business. We got a job to do.” He wiped tobacco juice from his chin. “are ordered to move from their present place of residence within fifteen days from the date hereof…” He finished and shook the paper at the woman. “You understand lady? This here order is signed by Brigadier-General Thomas Ewing hisself. You gotta get off this land. You got any questions you better be asking them now. You ain’t off in time there won’t be nobody answering nothin’.”
A wad of spittle hit Storm’s boot, and he reined his horse backward. A mere ghost of a smile and the glint in her eye signaled the woman was quite pleased with the result. She recognized him for sure.
She swiped her frayed sleeve across her chin then clamped her hands on her hips. “Must make you feel real high and mighty, you bunch of soldier boys. Comin’ onto a woman’s property with your dirty hunk of paper tryin’ to say what she can and can’t do. Ever lastin’ one of ‘ya got a ma somewhere, and I’d be ‘bliged to take a willow switch to each of your sorry behinds in her name. Now git off my yard, and tell that fancy mister General Ewing man to come here hisself and say them words ‘stead a sendin’ a bunch of snot-nosed young’uns to do his dirty biddin’.”
The hair on the back of Storm’s neck bristled as burly Sergeant Wilson reached for his pistol. Known for his hot temper and itchy trigger finger, the man was hated by his peers and feared by most who came in contact with him. And he seemed to relish the authority Ewing bestowed upon him. “Clear them off.” Those were the orders, though it made Storm sick to his stomach. “Let her be, Wilson.” Storm glanced around the yard. It wasn’t uncommon for a woman to greet the mounted soldiers. With the exception of a few, the edict affected mostly women and children, or those men too old or too sick to be conscripted. But a fresh mound of dirt under the spreading limbs of an apple tree convinced him this tiny spark of fire had most likely just buried her man.
Sergeant Wilson turned on Storm, gun drawn and veins in his neck bulging even more. “You ain’t the one givin’ orders, Dey. I’m in charge and don’t you forget it. This Order Number Eleven clearly states these people have fifteen days to get off this land.” He turned back to the woman. “But since you’re so almighty sassy I’m saying you got ‘til sundown tomorrow.”
“You can’t do that, Sergeant.” Stormy leaned in the saddle. “Can’t you see she’s alone? How’s she gonna get packed up and out of here by then? Ewing won’t stand for you roughin’ up one old woman before she’s had her fifteen days to clear off.”
Wilson’s eyes bulged. “Ewing won’t know, lest you tell him and I don’t think you want to do that, now do you? Nothing says you can’t help her, you being such a lady’s man and all.”
The woman widened her stance, her eyes ablaze. “Ain’t nobody helpin’ me do nothin. I’ll get off only when the Good Lord tells me. And by crackers, you ain’t Him, and neither is that runnin’ scared Ewing. Now git. The lot of ya.”
Wilson moved his horse closer. “We’ll be back, woman. Come tomorrow night you best be gone , or—”
“You can go dip that or in somebody else’s stream, mister. I ain’t never took orders from a bully and I ain’t gonna start now. You come on back tomorry night, long about supper time. Iffen you got better manners, I’ll feed ya. If not, I’ll shoot ya myself. It’s only cause I’m a lady I didn’t come out to greet ‘ya with my gun anyway.” Her forehead furrowed. “Shame on the lot of ya.”
“You ain’t no lady. You ain’t nothin’ but poor white trash livin’ in the shadow of your uppity neighbors. Probably got an old man and a pack of mealy-mouthed johnny-reb sons off somewheres in the woods lettin’ you do their fightin’ for ‘em.”
Storm bit his cheek. If Wilson suspicioned, for one minute, that he knew this woman he’d burn her out tonight. He and the sergeant tangled more often than not, and he was aware of the rash threats the man made behind his back. Wilson would like nothing better than to have a reason to report him, or shoot him. However, it was a chance he’d take. “I’ll stay a bit and see if I can help her. That is, if you don’t mind Sarge.” Storm dismounted. “I’ll make sure she gets on her way like you said.”
Wilson’s holstered his gun. “It’s your neck, Dey. You wanna stick it out for some sassy old woman I reckon that’s up to you. Just don’t expect me to feel sorry for you when Ewing finds out you turned soft.” He shook his finger. “Don’t get no fancy notion of runnin’, neither. If you ain’t caught up with us by moon-up, I swear I’ll torch this place then hunt you down myself. You think I ain’t noticed you sound just like these people?”
Storm bit his tongue until the last rider was out of sight, then he turned to the small woman by his side. “What were you thinking, Ma? You want to get yourself shot? He would have, you know.”
“He weren’t gonna shoot me, Storm.” She stood on tiptoe to brush her work-worn fingers across his cheek.” Now, ya best get on that horse and catch up with your ugly friends. I don’t need your help doin’ what needs to be done.”
“You really think I’m just gonna ride out of here and leave you like this? What kind of son would that be?”
Her shoulders slumped. “Oh, Storm—the same kind a son ya been since the day ya was borned. Stubborn. Hot-headed. Always lookin’ for what was beyond the next hill. Ya walked away from here ten years ago and ya ain’t never come back ‘til now. Then ya come ridin’ in with that gang of hoodlums tellin’ me I gotta get off this here land.”
Storm ducked his head. He never doubted his parents’ love for him—didn’t doubt it now—but it burned like turpentine on skeeter bites to hear her saying what he knew was true.