September 18, 1847
“For many years now, our tribe has seen the white settlers crossing our land,” the Chief said, looking out over the worried faces of his tribal council. “They always come and they always go, hurrying on to lands far to the west. Far across the deep deserts and beyond the great mountains. The land they call California. We have been blessed that they have not stayed, and that they believe that our desert land is worthless.”
“They once believed that. But they believe it no longer.”
The man who spoke was the oldest among the Chief’s trusted inner circle. Many years ago the man named Drouillard had come to them, desperate for food and water. None of the Goshute knew from where he had come, but it was clear when they looked at him that he was not one of the People. He had said he was half of the People and half something he called “French,” but the Goshute did not understand what that word meant.
The Chief looked at Drouillard, who sat in his honored place among the tribal council, directly in front of his wife.
She was also the Chief’s older sister.
“Wanderer, the white men are soft,” the Chief continued. “They could not survive here in the land of the Goshute. They would wither and die like the grasses in the heat of the midsummer sun. Through the generosity of our gods and the sweat of our brow, our people have been blessed. We gather the desert’s bounty, and we always have enough. But the white man would wither and die here.”
“My Chief, you are wise, as was your father before you,” Drouillard said, and he looked at the younger man with genuine affection. “But you do not know these white men the way that I do. You have not seen them enslave their black brothers. You have not heard them speak of the People as vermin, and wild animals. You have not seen them slaughter and destroy for no reason. And you have not seen how hungry they are for the land. Yes, they have always passed through before now. And so far, their numbers have been few. But those numbers are growing. And the ones called Mormons have now come to stay. They intend to make the valley of the lake their home. Only two low mountains separate us from their settlement. With time, they will want this land too.”
“They will wither and die,” a young brave said, standing proudly at the edge of the council circle.
“They will not,” Drouillard said, his voice firm now. “They are already building a great village at the foot of the tall mountains, not two days walk from here.”
“But that too is a harsh and barren place!” the brave said with a laugh. “How can they survive there?”
“They will not only survive, but they will thrive,” the former mountain man said, his voice rising. “Great numbers of their people will travel from the East to join them. And soon, the city they build will rival the great cities that have already raped the lands of the tribes to the East. They will come like the locusts and the flies. And they will stay.”
“They will never make a great white city in the desert!” said another of the elders.
“They will,” Drouillard said simply. And that was enough to quiet the group, who looked at each other with concern weighing down their faces.
You need to be more than concerned, Drouillard thought. You need to be terrified. These Mormons will be the death of the Goshute.
The Chief broke the silence, and as always, the group listened to his quiet voice with rapt attention. “The words of our brother Drouillard ring true, and I trust them, as did my father before me. But how can we fight them? We are a poor tribe, and we are few. We are a peaceful people. We are not a tribe of war.”
“We must steal their horses,” said the same young brave who had spoken earlier. “I have seen them. They are fine horses. If we had their horses, we could drive them back from our land. Keep them on the far side of the Oquirrh mountains. We could protect our people!”
“Yes!” cried another young man, outside the bounds of the council circle. “Their horses are fine! Horses mean power! It could be us that builds the great city!”
An elder with a withered leg stood and raised his hand. The young braves both sat down in respect.
“We cannot fight,” the elder said to the Chief. “To fight would mean the end of our tribe.” He turned to the young braves. “And we must not steal the white man’s horses. To do so would invite their vengeance upon the heads of the People.” Slowly, he surveyed the tribe, arrayed before him on the sand. “But we can greet the white settlers with a hand of friendship. We can trust that, although they have white faces, these ‘Mormons’ are a good and kind people. And that if we ask, they will respect the ancestral lands of the Goshute.”
Drouillard almost laughed aloud. He looked at the elder, leaning heavily on his staff, and pitied him. How little you know of the white man, he thought. He looked at the Chief, his brother-in-law, who had lapsed into a sad silence.
He is young, Drouillard thought, and he does not have the strength of his father.
Drouillard was old. He had counted his years carefully, and knew they numbered well over seventy. He was unsure if he would live to see the inevitable crushing of his adopted people. It was possible that the coming winter would be his last. But the Chief, his brother-in-law, was much younger. He would certainly live to see what was coming. And for that, Drouillard pitied him.
“I must speak!” said a voice from behind him. It was unheard of for women to speak in Council, but if anyone could defy that tradition, it was Drouillard’s wife Tuilla, the older sister of the Chief. No one would dare challenge her right to speak.
“Has not my husband been telling us all for many years that this was coming?” Tuilla said, striding to the center of the circle. “We call him ‘the Wanderer’ because he has traveled far among the white men, and knows of what he speaks. Has he not warned us that the invaders are relentless, and will eventually wash the Goshute out of this, our home? The Wanderer has always said that the barrenness of the desert would not protect us, and for many years all of you old men laughed at him. Some of you have even thought him mad. But then the Mormons came, and although you will not give it voice here, you now fear he has been right all along. You have seen the signs. We must accept what is coming. We must plan for the day when the Mormons and their white brethren drive us from this place.”
Drouillard smiled at his wife, and took her hand, guiding her gently back to her place behind him. And for a brief moment, their eyes met. She was old too, but not as old as him. And to his eyes, she would always be young and lovely. In her youth she had been the much beloved bride of a young scout who had died and left her a widow with two children—a boy and a girl. He knew no one was more surprised than Tuilla when the strange half-white man from the east had stolen the heart of the young widow. And to have married and taken on the responsibilities of the widow’s children had earned him the trust of the tribe.
“We know and respect the Wanderer,” said the Chief, drawing Drouillard’s attention back to the circle. “But we also know that he has long been consumed with hatred for the white man. He has told us tales of the ones called Lewis and Clark, and the trappers who fought the Blackfoot tribe to the north. He has many reasons to hate the white men. Perhaps this anger has clouded his mind.”
Drouillard raised his hand, and the entire circle went silent. Even the chief was listening now, with rapt attention.
“I am very old,” Drouillard began. “And I love every one of you as my brothers and sisters. You, my chief, I love as not only our leader, but as my brother, and as the son of the great Chief, who I loved as a father.” He took a deep breath before continuing.
“But hear me now: These are the times I have warned you about since I first arrived, more than thirty-five winters ago. I told you then that the white man was coming, like a deadly plague on my heels. We have survived those winters since, with little harm to show from it, beyond seeing their wagons and their horses passing through the barren lands to our north. But that time is past. What comes next is deadly. The wolves are drawing close. The setters who have made their home in the valley of the Great Salt Lake are just the first. The white wave, that until now has stayed to the east, will soon crash on our shores. It will come, and it will be relentless. The small settlement across the mountains will not remain small. Eventually, it will grow, and they will demand our land. The Mormons will push us further into the western desert. If they do not destroy us all.”
Drouillard looked at his wife. “Tuilla knows of what I speak. She has heard my warnings for all these years, and she has heard my stories. Many more than I have shared with you, my brothers. I am old, and Tuilla and I may not live to see what comes next. But many of you will.” His eyes traveled to those outside the bounds of the circle, all sitting and listening respectfully. Among them he saw his adopted children, and for a moment his eyes locked onto those of his twelve year old great-granddaughter. She was staring at him with such trust it broke his heart. “It will be up to you. The children, and the young. Up to all of you. If the Goshute are to survive, it will be because of the young braves I see standing at the edge of our Council circle. I pray you act wisely. And soon.”
An elder who had not spoken before finally broke his silence. But his voice was weak. “They have fine goods. Perhaps we can trade. Perhaps we can get some of their strong horses, as our braves suggest.”
Drouillard laughed, but there was both fear and anger in his voice as he spoke. “And what would we trade? We have nothing they want except our land. Will we trade that away? My friend, you do not know the white people as I do. I have lived among them. I helped the great white scouts chart the vast northern lands. Our young men see their horses and are filled with a desire to ride them through the desert. But I have ridden their horses. They have no value to the Goshute. They will only deplete our grasses and destroy the young shoots that we need to survive. It is folly. There is no trading with the white man, any more than you can trade with a cloud of locusts, or a trembling of the earth. They are a plague. This is why I have refused to accompany you, when you meet the wagon trains to bargain for their trinkets. It is why I no longer speak their language, although it is burned into my soul. Heed my warning!”
“But what can we do?” asked the elder with the withered leg. “We are so few, and they are already so many. They have horses and guns and see us as wild animals. To fight them is to die.”
“Perhaps,” chimed in one of the young braves, brandishing his spear. “But perhaps we don’t need to fight them. We just need to make them fear us. We can raid their fields, we can kill their cattle, we can steal their horses. We can make them want to move on, like all the others before them.”
“And then they will kill us,” said the Chief. And the entire group looked to Drouillard, hoping he would say otherwise. His stillness spoke volumes.
The council was silent for a long time. They were looking to the Chief for answers, and when none came, they turned again to Drouillard. But he also had no more to say.
After a time, the elder with the withered leg rose to his feet, leaning heavily on his staff. He spoke, his voice full of grief. “We could leave this place. There is more desert to the West. Land the whites don’t yet covet.”
“For how long?” Drouillard asked, his voice sad and low. “How long until there is nowhere left for us to go?”
As he finished speaking, his great-granddaughter rose and came forward. There were tears in her eyes, and without a word, she crawled into Drouillard’s lap. Tuilla reached over to comfort the girl, and the Chief surveyed his family, and his tribe, in the silence.
Tuilla spoke. “I have had children here in our lands. My children have had children of their own here. And now, there is our first great-grandchild. All of us have been born on this, our sacred land. And when the time comes, we will die here.” She straightened her back, and looked directly into her husband’s eyes, as if to issue a challenge. “We will stay. We have nowhere to go.”
Drouillard looked at his wife. She was an amazing woman, and her strength far surpassed his own. As he often did, he wondered what it would have been like to father children of his own with her. But although the gods had never graced Tuilla with children by him, he knew that her children, grandchildren, and now this sweet great-granddaughter, could not love him more.
The Chief spoke to them all, in a voice that had grown strong with authority. “We hear and respect your words, Drouillard. You have become a great Goshute and have earned the respect of every member of the tribe. We will think on your words. And we will be cautious.”
Drouillard felt his heart sink. The Chief believed that his brother-in-law was a good man. But he also believed that hate consumed the half-white trapper. The old Chief could never believe that the white men were as evil as the Wanderer said.
“Our youth are reckless and trusting, my brother,” Drouillard said. “Let us hope they heed your words. But caution will not save us. Believe what I say. Nothing good will come from these Mormons.”
The Last Handful of Clover is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.
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