Sioux Winter

Sioux Winter, the eighth book in the Bains Series by Bill Freeman, is a story of hardship and danger. It begins with a simple request.

“My mother is held as a prison by the Sioux,” Black Eagle said, looking directly at Jamie. “Will you come with me to rescue her?”

With that request Jamie and Kate Bains set off, with Black Eagle, on a dangerous mission to find Spotted Bird being held captive somewhere deep in Montana Territory. To reach their destination, the three friends must travel hundreds of miles across unfamiliar prairie, battle blizzards, and avoid the U.S. Army and bands of Sioux warriors. The mission becomes a struggle for survival in a hostile land.

Sioux Winter is an adventure story in the acclaimed Bains series for young readers 10 to 14, written by Bill Freeman. The book is illustrated with 19th century photos of the plains Indians who lived on the prairies. The Bains series has won the prestigious Vicky Metcalf Award for a body of work.

ISBN: 1-55028-653-6 Cloth, 1-55028-652-8 Paper

Sioux Winter is available from Chapters Indigo online for $9.95

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Nominated for the Silver Birch Award, 1999.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of Sioux Winter:

The rest of the afternoon they searched for a crossing place but found nothing. The only spot where it seemed at all possible for them to cross was at a bend of the river. A stream flowed down to the river at that point, and they could follow it to the edge of the water. There the Missouri was deep and fast but the deep part looked no more than fifty feet across. The opposite bank was gentle. It would be easy for them to get up with their horses.

They sat by the water’s edge and studied the spot carefully. Black Eagle tried his best to convince the others. “We could search for days before we find a place better than this,” he said. “The bluecoats move up and down the Missouri. If we stay here, they will find us. At least they are not guarding this spot.”

“That’s because they can’t believe that anyone would be foolish enough to cross here,” replied Kate.

“The deep part is not a great distance. Our ponies can wade through the shallow part and swim the rest of it.”

“I think it’s too dangerous.”

“What do you think, Jamie?” asked the Assiniboine.

“The current is strong. It will be risky.”

“But if we take time to look for a better place there will be even greater danger.”

Kate remained unconvinced. “Let’s search again tomorrow.”

“No!” Kate’s caution seemed to make Black Eagle all the more determined. “I am crossing tonight even if I have to go alone,” he insisted, moving off to sit by himself.

Jamie and Kate sat by the side of the river talking about the different alternatives, but it came down to a simple choice: either risk the river or risk being discovered by the bluecoats. Finally Jamie made a decision. “I think we should give it a try, Kate.”

“All right,” his sister replied, “but at least let’s do it in the daylight. There are no soldiers here to stop us.”

“We’ll cross just before dusk and then rest when we get to the other side.”

Finally they had agreed. They had something to eat, then rested until about an hour before sundown. Then they started to get ready. All of the packs were tied securely onto the horses. The food was wrapped carefully to keep it dry. Black Eagle put his bow and quiver over his shoulder to keep them away from the water. Jamie tied his rifle in one of the bags. They were ready.

“Remember to stay with your horse,” Jamie lectured them. “He will get you through.”

Black Eagle led his pony down to the creek and then followed the bed to the edge of the river. Kate followed with her buffalo pony, and bringing up the rear was Jamie and his mare. At the river’s edge they paused and mounted up.

The water’s powerful current surged past them. The horses sensed what was coming and held back, their eyes wide, nostrils flaring. Black Eagle whispered in his pony’s ear and eased him forward into the water.

Kate talked to her buffalo pony, trying to calm his fears and then urged him gently with her heels. The horse took two steps into the water, and the bottom disappeared. The pony was swimming. Frigid water rose up to Kate’s waist. She could feel the current surge around her. The buffalo pony swam strongly, but he was being swept downstream. She held onto his sides with her knees and clutched his mane with all of her strength.

There was a scream for help. Black Eagle was in trouble. He had been swept downstream. The powerful current had pushed him off his pony. He was in the water with only his head showing, desperately holding onto his horse’s mane. Again he shouted for help.

In spite of the water’s numbing cold, Jamie’s horse was swimming well. When he heard the Assiniboine shout for help, Jamie immediately turned his mare downstream. He had to help his friend.

Black Eagle had lost his grip on his horse and was being swept along with the current. Quickly Jamie’s mare covered the distance. In a frantic effort Jamie managed to grasp onto Black Eagle’s braid at the back of this head and pulled him up to the surface.

“Grab the tail!” he shouted. “Hold on tight!”

The current swept Black Eagle along the flanks of Jamie’s horse but the boy managed to grasp onto the mare’s tail.

Jamie knew Black Eagle’s strength would be ebbing from the cold. If he let go he would be swept away and lost forever in the black, frigid waters of the river.

The powerful legs of Jamie’s mare fought against the current. Black Eagle was being dragged through the ice cold water. The boy held onto the tail using every last ounce of strength and determination in an effort to save himself.

Finally the horse hit bottom on the other side. Its hooves struggled to get a foothold on the gravel. A moment later Black Eagle was being dragged through shallow water, but still he clutched onto the horse’s tail for dear life.

Then Kate and Jamie were in the water at his side, helping him up onto the mare’s back. The cold had penetrated Black Eagle to his core, and he shivered uncontrollable. Once he was on the horse, Kate led them through the water and up onto the riverbank.

“We’ve got to get a fire going!” shouted Kate, but she could see that the two boys were too chilled to look after themselves. They seemed in shock. They sat on the ground staring ahead with blank looks on their faces, shivering, their teeth chattering.

Kate’s buffalo pony was a strong swimmer and she had managed to stay on his back and keep the top part of her body dry. She was still warm enough to be able to think. It was up to her to save them. She knew she had to start a fire.

She ran to her pony. The packs were wet, but she found the matches and then pulled out the big buffalo robe she used for sleeping.

“Put this over your shoulders!” she shouted at the two boys. “Sit close together!” But they didn’t move. She tugged at her brother until he moved to sit beside Black Eagle. Then she draped the buffalo robe over their shoulders. It was still wet, but it would keep out some of the cold.

Desperately she ran about on the shore collecting dry firewood. Fortunately it was littered with driftwood. In a minute she had a big pile. Quickly she broke up small twigs and stacked them, tepee-style, on the ground in front of the boys.

By the time she got the matches, her hands were shaking from the cold. She had to get that fire going, or they would all freeze to death. The sulphur matches were damp. The red end of the first one she struck turned to mush, the second did the same. If she could not get one lit they would be doomed.

Frantically Kate examined each of the matches until she found one that looked dryer than the others. She struck it on a stone. The flame flared up. She held it up against the dry sticks. Her hand shook so badly that she feared she would put out the flame but no, one of the pieces of tinder caught fire, then another. Softly she blew on the flames. The fire began to burn.

Slowly, patiently, she added one stick then another until the fire grew into a big blaze. Only then did she dare to leave to collect more wood. A minute later she was back with the big armload and added more to the fire. It flared up giving a beautiful, wonderful warmth. Finally she knew they were going to be safe.

The two boys huddled together until slowly their shivering slowed and stopped. Steam rose from the buffalo robe as it dried. Kate found Black Eagle’s pinto pony, who had saved himself from the river and wandered not far off. She unpacked their gear and set it out to dry beside the flames.

All night long she tended the fire and watched their belongings as they dried. By morning she felt exhausted, but at least they were safe and warm and dry on the south side of the Missouri River.

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