It was the Sickness that made them go. It was the Sickness that won the war. Without it, Longhorn and all the First People would have been decimated. Armed with only knives and skill, the white man’s guns would have killed them all.
It was south in Peacehope’s hills, the ones covered with scrub pine and carved by arroyos, that the white man first became ill. It began with a fever. Sometimes Peacehope’s babies would catch it. Some would pull through, some not. In the lands far west with the longest beaches, the Sickness would sometimes bring down entire families. But most years, it was only the very old and very young who succumbed, and the medicine men and women knew many herbs and healings.
The white man had no such knowledge. They lay in their square tents, burning. If the fever didn’t break within three days, there was no getting better. The white man buried his brothers in large holes in the ground, pounded wooden sticks lashed together in the shape of a T next to the sites. Peacehope, Longhorn, even Angry Cloud respected the holes in the earth filled with dead white men.
Soon there were more men in the holes than digging them. The remaining who could walk ran to the coastlines. Those east of the Great River found ships waiting for them.
Here, Longhorn and the Winners of the Great Battle watched their last foe climb aboard.
As the boats pushed off from the shore, Longhorn stood atop the hill. His robes of white animal hides hung to his ankles, his necklaces of teeth and bones grazed his ribs. Thousands of his people stood behind him, dotting the landscape like buffalo on a western plain.
Thank the sky and the rain and power of the wind for this white man, thought Longhorn. Without him we would still be warring tribes, looting, slashing, losing men and women and children to pride and ego.
Now, thought Longhorn as he craned his neck to watch the sails of the seven large wooden ships catch in a wind headed east, we are one.
A great tribe united by a common enemy.