Catharine Holt stepped out onto the porch of her family’s log cabin and stared out at the beautiful Tennessee Mountains. For 20 years she had lived in this cabin with her parents and three older sisters. She breathed in the crisp morning air and wished she could walk up the mountain this morning. The cool fall air had a bite to it that promised a cold winter was just around the corner. Puffs of white air rolled from Catharine’s mouth as she sighed. Instead of marching off into the woods she would be riding with her family across the ridge to visit her mother’s friend Margaret Taylor. Margaret was expecting her 5th child and was nervous about it this time. She almost lost her life and the babes on her last delivery so Catharine’s family had been traveling back and forth checking on the expecting mother.
“Good morning daughter.” Catharine’s father, Bob Holt, said as he came out behind her carrying his doctors’ bag. He had graduated from medical school in Nashville, married Catharine’s mother Julie and moved her back here to Indian country, with their four daughters, to serve the mountain people as the only doctor for 50 miles.
“I wish I could stay behind today.” She said looking up at him. Her golden blond hair matched her fathers and her bright blue eyes shone with adventure.
“I’m sorry Catharine. You know it wouldn’t be safe. There have been several Indians spotted in our area lately. That’s why we all have to go together.” Bob’s deep voice was stern, but held a glimpse of compassion for his youngest daughter. She had always been his wild girl, always finding trouble to get into.
“Move out of the way, you’re hogging the whole doorway.” Catharine’s oldest sister Carry pushed her way through. “You’re not the only one suffering Catharine. John was supposed to take me on a picnic today but he had to go help his pa up in Shady Cove. They needed to help Mr. Brown get his goats across the gorge before the heathen savages could make off with any of them.”
“Carry! Watch your language.” Julie came out behind her daughter. “They may not live exactly like we do but they are still created by the same God. They are still human beings.”
“I heard Billy Corn say at Church last week that they weren’t really human at all.” Theresa added walking out with Betsey.
“Yeah.” Betsey added. “He said they were demons.”
“That’s enough.” Bob said angrily. “I’ll hear no more talk on this subject. Now everyone load up. We have a long ride over the ridge.”
Running Deer sat straight and unmoving in the counsel house. The elders had met to decide on a wife for the chief’s son.
“My son wishes to choose a wife on his own.” Silver Fox stated boldly.
“It is important that we unite with the local tribes in our region, so that we will be strong in the face of our enemies. This union will strengthen that relationship we have worked so hard to build with War Horses’ tribe.”
“As you have said, we already have made a treaty with War Horse, why do we still need this arrangement?” Another counsel member spoke up.
“It will show other tribes where our heart stands in the uniting of our nations.”
“But why push a marriage on Running Dear that is not out of love? Should we not let him at least meet this girl before we decide?”
“Has he already a woman that has stolen his heart?”
“Then this will be easier for him than it would be if he already had a woman chosen. There should be no more to argue about; Running Dear needs a good woman if he is to be Chief of this tribe.”
“I agree, but…”
“Enough!” Running Deer could stand it no longer. “Stop talking about me as if I were not here. You are all sitting here deciding my future, do I not even have a say in my own path?”
“The Great Spirits decide our paths.”
“No! God decides our paths. Do you not remember the words of the missionary who taught on The True Creator?”
“Not all of us chose to believe those words. We have chosen to follow the God of our ancestors. We have chosen the old ways of our people.”
“Perhaps Running Dear has strayed to far from the ways of our people to be chief.”
“No, my son will take my place when I have gone. He speaks the truth, I have accepted this God that the missionary spoke of, He is real in here.” Silver Fox pounded his chest with his fist. “My son has wisdom beyond my own. However, I can not overturn the decision made by the counsel. I propose that if by the end of this month, if my son has not found a woman to which he gives his heart, he will be married to the daughter of War Horse.”
Silence filled the counsel house as the proposition was considered. Finally the chief elder spoke. “It is done.”
Running Deer felt his heart sink in his chest. Standing from his place in the circle he ran from before the counsel, mounted his horse and left the village. “How could they do this? How can they force me to marry a woman I do not love?” He needed to pray for direction. Finding his secret place high on the mountain he knelt on a rock and began to talk with God.
“I told you we shouldn’t have come today.” Carry pouted. She sat on a log with her arms crossed. “I could have been spending my afternoon doing something much more interesting, and instead I’m sitting here stranded in the middle of nowhere.”
“I’ll have it fixed shortly.” Bob struggled with the broken spoke on the wagon wheel.
They had been bouncing along laughing and singing, finally starting to enjoy the day when the edge of the wheel hit hard against a rock, cracking one of the spokes.
“I have to make sure this holds so we will arrive safely.”
Julie came to sit next to her daughter. “It won’t be much longer.”
Catharine was fidgety, and tired of listening to her sister’s whine. “Pa, can I walk a ways into the woods?”
“No, it’s safer to stay here.” Julie spoke up. “Don’t let her Bob.”
“Well…” Bob looked at his youngest daughter and understood her restless spirit. She was just like he was. “Only if you stay close enough that we can still hear each other call.”
“Oh thank you pa! I won’t go far.” Catharine hurried away to the peacefulness of the trees before her mother talked him out of it. This is where she was the happiest. She walked a long, admiring the beauty of the woods. She had lost track of how far she wondered when she suddenly emerged from the trees into a small cleared area that overlooked a beautiful view of the mountains.
Catharine’s breath caught in her throat and fear surged through her. She stood face to face with an Indian. She thought of screaming but she couldn’t find her voice.
He was tall and bare chested, with long black hair. He was very handsome, but his stern face sent chills up her back. She felt light headed but tried hard to keep from fainting. He must have seen her distress because he finally spoke.
“I will not hurt you. I am a friend. I am Running Deer.”
“You speak English.”
“Yes. Missionaries came to our village when I was a boy. They taught us their words from God’s book.”
Catharine heard her father call her name and she turned her head towards his voice.
“Catharine.” Running Deer repeated.
“Yes, Catharine Holt.”
“It was good to meet you Catharine Holt.”
“You too.” She answered as she turned and disappeared back into the woods. She ran the whole way and was breathless when she reached the wagon.
“My goodness.” Julie said with concern. “You act like someone’s been chasing you.”
“I was just hurrying. Everything is fine.” She climbed into the back of the wagon and turned back toward the way she had come. Her thoughts were consumed with Running Deer the entire rest of the day.
Running Deer followed Catharine all the way to her wagon. He stayed hidden in the trees and watched her drive away with her family. She was so beautiful. He wished he could see her again. Her long yellow hair had enchanted him as she stood there before him. Her face was innocent and her eyes showed signs of a spirited soul. He had the strange desire to follow the wagon but he resisted. He turned, and with one last look over his shoulder, disappeared back into the woods.
The Holt family visited with the Taylor’s all afternoon. Margaret was only a few weeks away from delivering and everything looked normal and healthy.
After finishing lunch they all went outside.
“I think we should probably start heading home.” Bob said, looking up at the darkening sky. “It looks like we are going to get a good down pour.”
“It’s already starting to drizzle; maybe you should just stay the night.” Emanuel Taylor said.
“Nah, we’ll be alright. Besides, with all these Indian sightings lately, I don’t want to leave my stock unguarded over night.”
“I don’t blame you for that. So in that case you better hurry.”
“Thank you for the wonderful lunch.” Julie hugged Margaret. “And you hang in there; it won’t be much longer until you have a new little one around the house.”
Margaret smiled at her friend as they pulled apart. You’re welcome and thank you so much.”
The Holts waved goodbye as they climbed into the wagon and started out.
“You have been awfully quite today Catharine.” Betsy told her sister.
“I suppose I’m just tired.”
“That’s not like you.” Theresa responded.
“Just leave her alone.” Carry said. “It’s probably just one of her moods.”
Catharine glared at her sister. She sat near the back of the wagon and peeked out the canvas that her pa had put up to keep the rain off of them. She was still thinking about Running Deer. She wanted to see him again. She wondered where she might find him. But it would be too dangerous and foolish to go looking for the village alone.
It was raining harder now and flashes of lightening and thunder were coming more and more often. They hurried along, trying to stay in front of the storm as much as possible.
They all quite, and knew that if the storm got worse it would make the road harder to navigate for the horses. They all understood the danger and were starting to think that maybe they should have stayed with the Taylor’s until the storm passed.
They were almost home when lightening struck a tree near the road causing flames to surge up the trunk. The horses spooked and lunged forward at a dead run. The wagon bounced and lurched as Bob tried desperately to control the team.
The wagon hit a dip in the road sending it into the air. Catharine tried with all her strength to hang on but she was thrown out of the wagon. No one noticed as they all tried to hang on as the horses ran in a blind panic towards their home.
Catharine hit hard on the edge of the road and tumbled down a steep hill. Her head hit on a rock and she slid to a stop at the bottom. Her head throbbed as she tried to get up. Something was wrong with her left ankle and she couldn’t stand on it. She screamed for her pa but the noise of the pouring rain and thunder seemed to drown out the sound. She collapsed in a heap on the ground. She could feel herself slowly losing consciousness. “I have to stay awake, I have to make it back to the road or they won’t see me.” It was her last thought as blackness overcame her.
Running Deer had started back to the village when the storm came but had stopped. Not quite ready to face his father and the elders yet. So he had found shelter and settled in to wait out the storm. He looked up at his horse as a crack of thunder roared. The horse jumped, but settled back down quickly.
He looked back at his fire and reached for another stick of wood but froze. A woman screamed. He listened for it again, but it never came. Maybe he imagined it. He couldn’t shake the thought that what he had heard was real so he got his horse and headed out in the direction that he thought the noise came from.
It didn’t take long to find her. It was Catharine, lying in a pitiful heap just below the road. He lifted her gently in his arms and remounted his horse. He held her close against his chest and took her back to his shelter. He thought of trying to make it back to his village but the storm was so bad and she was so cold. He needed to get her warm quickly. As soon as the storm ended he would take her to the village.
He laid her next to the fire and added more dry wood to rekindle it. She stirred and he knew he had to get her dry or she could get pneumonia. He gently took her dress off and laid it next to the fire to dry. Then he wrapped her in a blanket and bandaged her head. He lay next to her and held her praying for her to be ok. He wondered what had happened and wished he had been closer so she wouldn’t have gotten so wet and cold.
He only moved away from her to keep the fire going and by the next morning the rain had stopped. He lifted her gently onto his horse. She had stirred slightly several times through out the night but as he held her in his arms atop his horse she finally opened her eyes and looked up at him. Fear crossed her face for an instant, then recognition took its place and she relaxed.
“You are safe Catharine.”
She laid her head against his chest and closed her eyes again. She slept all the way to the village.
Catharine awoke latter that day to the thick smell of wood smoke and something else that she couldn’t identify. Panic seized her as she looked into the face of an older Indian woman. She jumped to her feet and stumbled forward. She felt so strange. Clutching her head she looked down at herself. She wore a strange dress that felt like soft leather. It only hung to just above her knees. Her left ankle was bandaged and she couldn’t put much weight on it. She wondered where her clothes and shoes had gone.
The Indian woman scolded her and tried to push her back onto the cot, but she held fast and wondered where the door was.
“Let me go, I want to go home! Where is my pa?” Her head began to swim and she knew she would faint. The flap of the tepee flew back and Running Deer hurried in. She recognized him and bits and pieces of the night before suddenly came to her memory just as she collapsed into his arms.
The next morning Catharine woke and tried to clear her head. Her whole body ached and she was so thirsty. She looked around, the same woman as before stirred something in a bowl in the center of the room and there was someone lying next to her. She tried to sit up but dizziness flooded her body. The person lying next to her rolled over and gently presses her down with their arm.
“Lay still. You are not strong yet.”
Catharine looked over into Running Deer’s face. “What are you doing here?” She asked. Concern filled her. “Why did you bring me here?”
“I found you in the storm. You were injured and cold so I brought you here for help. You kept trying to run away last night so I stayed here to protect you.”
She couldn’t remember last night. Then slowly her mind began to clear and she recalled trying to escape.
“I want to go home.”
“I will take you when you are strong enough.”
“My family will be worried. They are probably out looking for me.”
“You can’t even stand now without fainting. When you are strong I will take you to your father.”
“Can’t you just take me back to the road, I’m sure they will find me there.”
“It’s not safe. Other tribes could find you first and abduct you. You are safer here with me. I can protect you.”
Catharine felt a strange connection with this man. It scared her, but she hung on his words. He stood and left the tepee and she watched him go. The woman that had been stirring whatever was in the bowl came to her and helped her sit up. She made her drink horrible tasting soup, but she drank it all. She wanted to get her strength back so she could go home.
Running Deer wanted to keep Catharine in his village. He was beginning to fall in love with her. No, maybe he fell in love with her a few days ago when she walked up on him in the woods. He had heard her coming. She was humming softly and the sound of her voice had been intoxicating. He had stood and waited on her to come to him.
He had spent as much time with her in the last few days as he could. She seemed to enjoy his company. But she was getting stronger and still wanted to go home. He had confided in her the villages desire that he marry and he told her that he would like her to stay. But he didn’t come out and tell her he was falling in love with her and as much as he wanted to keep her, he couldn’t do it against her will.
He went to the coral and retrieved his horse. He needed to know where her family was looking for her. He planned to take her there and deliver her to them himself. He knew it was dangerous for him, but he couldn’t just take her out into the woods and leave her there for them to find. The risk was too great for her. He would rather take the risks himself than to put her in danger.
He turned at the voice of his father.
“Come here, I have someone for you to meet.”
He went to his father, leading his horse behind him.
“This is Bright Moon, daughter of War Horse. I wanted you to meet her before you made your decision.”
Running Deer stared at the girl. She had to be several years younger than he was. There was nothing about her that spoke to him. She wasn’t at all beautiful like Catharine was. She was shy and never made eye contact with him. She seemed like she would make a better little sister than a wife.
“It’s good to meet you.” He told her, but she never spoke or looked up. “I have to go father.” He swung up onto his horse.
“But son, Bright Moon has come a long way to meet you.”
“I’m sorry father but there is something I have to do.” He turned and rode away.
It didn’t take long to find the men searching for Catharine.
He snuck close enough to hear where they had already searched and where they planned to look next.
He quietly went back to his horse and started back to the village. He thought of going back for Catharine now but decided to wait until the morning. That would give him at lest a few more hours with her.
Catharine was helping the woman who had been taking care of her wash dishes by the creek when Running Deer rode up on his horse. He was so handsome sitting up there. He swung down easily and walked over to her. She noticed the way he watched her as she worked and suspected that his feelings for her were more than he had said they were.
She smiled up at him. “Hello.”
“Hello. It’s good to see you out.”
“It feels good to be in the sun again.” She took a deep breath of the fresh air and turned her face towards the sky.
“Would you walk back to the coral with me?”
She stood and they walked next to each other towards the village. “I saw your family today.”
“I went and found the men who are looking for you. Your father was with them. Tomorrow I will take you to the place they will be searching and you can go home.”
Without thinking Catharine threw her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. “Oh thank you so much! This means so much to me, I miss my family and I’m sure they think I am dead or something awful like that.”
Running Deer liked the feel of her against him and hugged her back.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” She said pulling away.
“No, I like having you close.” They stared at each other for a second and he finally grew brave enough to continue. Love for her overwhelmed him and he wanted to keep this woman here with him forever. “I want you to stay.”
For several minuets she didn’t speak. She knew she was falling in love with him. There had been a connection between them since they first saw each other. She wanted to stay with him too but then she thought of her family. “I can’t. I have to go to my family.”
“I understand.” They walked on to the coral and Catharine wondered what it would be like living in an Indian village for the rest of her life. She looked up at Running Deer as he lead his horse into the coral and thought about what it would be like to call him her husband. She weighed these thoughts over in her mind all that night but always excitement for seeing her family again and letting them know she was safe won out.
The next morning she climbed in front of Running Deer on his horse. She turned to look at the village one last time and they left.
“Catharine, I want you to know something before we get to your father.”
“What is it?”
He paused and took a deep breath. “I want you to know that if you change your mind and want to come back to my village I will take care of you forever. I love you Catharine Holt and I want to make you my wife.”
Catharine sat in silence for several minutes. She wasn’t surprised at his feelings. “Running Deer, that means so much to me. But…my family.” Before she could go on he interrupted her.
“I understand. I just wanted you to know.”
They rode in silence until they spotted the searchers. Catharine saw her father sitting on a stump, his face was in his hands and she could tell he was praying.
She saw him look up, tears running down his face. “Catharine?”
“Pa I’m here!” She jumped off ran towards him and threw herself into his arms.
“Oh thank God you’re alive! I was beginning to think we may never find you.”
“I’m ok Pa; I’ve been well cared for.”
“An Indian!” Catharine heard one of the men yell. “Quick shoot him!”
“Catharine were you with him?” Her father asked
“Pa he rescued me, he took care of me. I’ve been in his village. I was injured and they nursed me back to health.”
“He is still an Indian Catharine.” One of the men said. “We have to kill him.”
She heard several guns cock and ran back to Running Deer, planting herself in front of him. “No, I won’t let you kill him.”
“Catharine, please come here, I don’t want you hurt.” He father told her.
“But father it will be murder, you can’t let them kill him.”
“She’s right, let him leave.”
“We can’t do that, how do you know he didn’t abduct her and brain wash her into believing he was taking care of her?”
“Then why would he bring me back? Please leave him alone.” She turned to her father. “Pa, he is a Christian, several in his village are as well. Running Deer would never do anything to harm me, he saved my life.”
“Back away Catharine.”
The hatred in some of the other men was so blinding that nothing she said would change their minds.
“Catharine you will be shot!” Her father pleaded as he tried to drag her away.
“No! You can’t do this!”
“No! I love him!” She broke away from her father’s grip and threw herself into Running Deer’s arms. “I love you.” She told him.
Suddenly she knew what she wanted to do. What her heart was telling her to do. She turned towards her father. “Pa, I want to marry Running Deer and live with him in his village.”
Stunned silence fell over the group and Catharine continued. “Running Deer’s father is the chief and they have been trying to force a marriage on him that would create an alliance with another tribe. Well, why not our tribe?”
“Catharine, you can’t marry an Indian just to create a peace treaty.”
Catharine and Running Deer were holding each other and starring into each others eyes. “No, Pa, that’s just an extra benefit. I want to marry him because I love him.”
“Catharine we need to talk about this.”
“Come meet my people.” Running Deer spoke up. “We can talk, and you can see that I love your daughter. I will always love and protect her.”
Catharine’s father thought for a minuet.
“Please Pa. Come and get to know him. Then we can go home together and tell mother.”
Bob Holt looked at his daughter in the arms of what he thought was one of his greatest enemies. But for some reason he felt compelled to go. “Ok. But just to talk.”
Catharine squealed with joy. “Oh thank you Pa.” She hugged him then turned back to Running Deer. He smiled down at her with more love than she had seen before. She let him lift her onto his horse and they made their way towards the village.
Two weeks latter Running Deer held Catharine in his arms as his father performed the wedding ceremony. Catharine’s family had come and Running Deer could already see they had begun to relax. Most of the village had accepted Catharine already into their tribe and it appeared her family was beginning to accept the village as well. Perhaps Catharine was right and this marriage would bring some peace among the Indians and the settlers.
Running Deer looked deep into his new brides’ eyes and thanked God for answering his prayer. He had prayed for a solution and he had gotten more than he had hoped for. He leaned down and kissed her passionately on the lips and then lifted her into his arms and carried her to their tepee.