It was a sunny Saturday morning, a perfect autumn day for the Calumet City Founder’s Day Parade. At the eastern edge of town, along the banks of the Arkansas River, the River Park gravel parking lot filled with boisterous parade entrants. Chrome fixtures were polished. Makeup was retouched. Musical instruments were tuned. Flags were unfurled. The parade coordinator stood on a step ladder and shouted instructions through a megaphone but she could barely be heard above the din of excited chatter, churning engines, and flat wind instruments. Her urgent tone revealed her desperation which escalated as her directives went unheeded. Then, five minutes before eleven, as if by divine intervention, the chaos spontaneously ordered itself into a proper parade queue – much to the coordinator’s delight. The parade was a celebration of the harvest, the end of the season, and the founding of Calumet City way back on October 15, 1870, the date of the dedication of the first jail house and permanent gallows, there.
“Who’s Captain Jack?” Meg Turcot asked as she pointed to the name painted on the fender of the MaxxPro tactical assault vehicle.
“That would be Captain Jack Nicaagat,” answered Deputy Kennesaw. “Are you familiar with Ute Indian history, ma’am?”
“Not really,” Meg replied. “I’m from Ohio.” She turned to her husband Monte, but he just shrugged his shoulders. “Tell me about him.”
“Captain Jack,” Kennesaw explained, “was a famous Ute warrior. He fought the U.S. Cavalry at Milk Creek – about three hours northwest of here – in what has come to be known as the White River War.”
“What was he fighting for?”
“He was fighting for liberty, ma’am,” Kennesaw replied, “and the dignity of his people.”
“What started the war?” Monte spoke up.
“Well, like any war, it was the final, desperate response to thousands of injuries and years of abuse inflicted by one group of people against another.”
“So what happened?” asked Meg.
Kennesaw put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the polished black fender of Captain Jack. “It’s a sad story. I don’t think it tells well…minutes before a parade, anyway.”
“Oh, please tell it,” Meg pleaded.
“Okay,” Kennesaw agreed. “So the Ute were a peaceful, nomadic society, living in the high country here in Colorado. Their culture was based on the horse; it was their source of wealth and their symbol of prestige. But unfortunately for them, the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs appointed a bankrupt, religious zealot named Meeker to act as the Ute’s steward. He was responsible for allocating the Ute their rations and farm implements. Mr. Meeker, a devout man and eager to make a name for himself, believed it was his divine purpose to convert the Ute from what he deemed “horse-faring savages” into proper Christian farmers. As you might expect, the Ute resisted – just as you might resist being converted into an atheist, factory-laborer if the Chinese were ever to invade. The tipping point came when Mr. Meeker arrogantly imposed his will by ordering the Ute to slaughter their horses and plow up their pastures. The Ute protested, but Meeker was emboldened by his religious fervor and he refused to back down. The angry Ute surrounded his compound. Meeker sent for aid. A Major Thornburgh of the U.S. Cavalry answered the call, but was met at the border of the reservation by the half-Arapahoe, half-Ute warrior known to white settlers as Captain Jack. He told the Major that if he crossed the frontier, he would be in violation of their treaty. He offered to allow an envoy of five to meet with the Ute who surrounded Meeker’s compound but Thornburgh refused.”
“And the cavalry crossed the border, instead,” Monte finished.
“They did,” answered Kennesaw.
The deputy nodded. “Isn’t that what all invasions are about?”
“Then the Ute attacked?” Meg asked.
“No one’s agreed on who fired first, but the Sand Creek Massacre, where over a hundred Cheyenne women and children were murdered, was well known to Captain Jack’s warriors. They weren’t going to risk any repeat of that. The battle began, and within an hour, the Major and most of the company’s horses and mules were killed.”
“It sounds like the Little Bighorn,” Meg said.
“But unlike Custer’s men, who were all annihilated, messengers escaped and brought reinforcements,” continued Kennesaw. “Most of Thornburgh’s men survived.”
“What happened to Meeker?”
“He was killed, and his wife and children were held hostage.”
“What happened to them?”
“The Secretary of the Interior and the Ute Chief Ouray negotiated for their release.”
“What deal did the Ute get in return?” Monte asked skeptically.
“It was decided that the Ute must go. They were allowed to leave Colorado with their lives. They were sent west into what is now Utah, so that they might become the Mormons’ problem.”
“And Captain Jack?”
“He evaded the manhunt for three years, but was finally cornered in a log trading post and blown to bits by an Army cannon…not too far from here.”
“So what was the point of it all if they just got him in the end?” Monte sighed.
Kennesaw tried to answer, but Meg interrupted him. “We all get it in the end,” she said. “I’m sure the Ute were destined to their fate long before this war. But at least – for a short time, anyway – they were able to stand and resist as men.”
“I don’t think I could explain it any better than that,” Kennesaw added as he climbed into the cab of the MRAP.
A driver, seated in a white convertible Cadillac parked directly behind Captain Jack, called for Meg and Monte to get in. He motioned them to the back seat. “Quickly, the parade’s about to start.”
“Mayor?” Monte asked.
“I am but your humble chauffeur for today,” he addressed them as he tipped his black top hat. The Turcots climbed into the back seat.
Ahead of them, Captain Jack gurgled to life, churning out only the faintest puffs of visible exhaust from its 9.3 liter diesel engine. Its federally-mandated emissions control system ensured that only the minutest amount of particulates and carbon dioxide molecules would escape into the environment of any foreign warzone already poisoned by clouds of smoke and ash and explosive vapors, rivers of defoliant chemicals and spilled fuel, and tons of radioactive depleted uranium.
“Are you ready for this?” Meg asked her husband as she bundled herself up against the cool October air.
“I just want to get it over with,” Monte replied.
The train of vehicles lurched forward at barely a walking pace. They exited the River Park staging area and turned onto Main Street heading west. A CCSD police cruiser with its flashers on led the procession. Behind it drove three vintage muscle cars from the Calumet County Classic Car Club (or “5C”). After that, a giant green John Deere tractor pulled a trailer of hay. Local debutantes, nestled into the bales, tossed Jolly Rancher candies at the children who lined the sidewalks. Three off-road buggies from the Mahonville Rock Hoppers followed, raising and lowering their chasses with custom hydraulics and climbing over each other’s tires. Two elders of the Uncompaghre Ute rode on mottled pintos, followed by five marching veterans of five foreign wars dressed in their battle fatigues. The high school marching band alternated between renditions of John Philip Souza and Katy Perry. Captain Jack, normally black and ominous, was decked in red, white, and blue bunting and followed by the Honorary Grand Marshal Monte Turcot and his wife Meg. A county fire truck brought up the rear, blaring its sirens every few moments to the delight of the spectators.
“Maybe you should wave to the crowd or something.” The mayor turned back to speak to Mrs. Turcot between siren blasts. “They love that.”
Meg tentatively waived at the onlookers, who cheered and clapped as they passed. “You should be waving, not me,” she said to Monte, whose arms were crossed and whose face conveyed only bewilderment.
The procession stopped. The firetruck siren blared again from behind, causing Monte to cringe. Someone shouted, “Monte Turcot for mayor!” The mayor turned back to Monte and smiled awkwardly. A high school tuba honked out a wonky rendition of Perry’s “Roar”. Looking uncomfortable, Meg stopped waving, smiled, and grabbed Monte’s arm with both of hers.
The last of the golden aspen leaves on the twiggy trees that lined Main Street flickered in a breeze. A wedge of several dozen squawking Canada geese passed overhead, heading south for the winter. The marching band’s base drum thumped away, trying to synchronize with the tuba. The sun was bright and the sky was blue. The V8 engines of the off-road buggies snarled as they drove over top one another. The crowd cheered them on. The mailman, blocked from his route by the parade, snuck a swig from his flask as he waited at the intersection in his dilapidated Jeep. Six Cub Scouts vigorously waved their American flags. A Black Hawk helicopter pulsed like a grim drumroll as it flew overhead. Monte watched it as Meg gripped his hand tighter. The closer she held him, the farther away the war receded, as if it were being carried away by the helicopter to the east.
“We love you, Monte!” someone shouted. Monte turned to the voice. It was a teenage girl, wearing her boyfriend’s high school letterman’s jacket. He smiled at her, but his eyes turned sad.
Then police sirens roared past on SR 24, drawing the attention of both the parade and its spectators. Kennesaw jumped out of Captain Jack and directed the crowd to clear a path for the MRAP. He got back in and turned the hulking rig out of the procession and onto the state road, following the police cruisers to the north.
“It sounds like something serious!” Monte shouted in the mayor’s ear.
“Yes, it sure does.”
“Maybe we should follow them.”
“I think you’re right.” The mayor honked his horn and veered the Caddy out of the parade to follow Kennesaw. They drove a half mile to the Calumet County Public Library, where a logjam of six white sheriff’s department cruisers, three silver state trooper Chargers, a police motorcycle, a dayglow yellow firetruck, and a white ambulance converged and filled the street at the entrance to the library parking lot.
“Stay back!” shouted a deputy.
The mayor pulled his Caddy alongside the curb across the street. He and the Turcots got out, but were stopped by the same deputy. A trooper hurriedly strung yellow warning tape around the perimeter of the lot. Law enforcement officers ducked behind their cars, some with their sidearms drawn and aimed at the library.
Another CCSD cruiser arrived and parked in the middle of the street. Sheriff Ellison got out and jogged over to one of his deputies, hunching at the waist as he ran. They spoke briefly while the deputy pointed towards the library front door. Ellison, still hunched, jogged over to Captain Jack parked on the other side of the lot, climbed up the side, and spoke to Kennesaw. Some of the decorative red, white, and blue parade bunting came loose and fell over him. He tore it free and threw it down on the ground.
Uncertain of what course of action to take, everyone waited in fixed, silent repose for several minutes with their weapons drawn and their eyes fixed on the library entrance. Civilians gathered down the street. An Angus cow chewed its cud at the barbed wire fence along the boundary of the parking lot. Above, a red-tailed hawk was pursued by a squadron of angry blackbirds. In the midst of the silent, nervous anticipation, a mule deer buck crossed the street, passing between the police perimeter and the growing throng of curious civilians. A deputy jacked a shell into his shotgun. An autumn gust blew through the scene, blowing off a state trooper’s hat.
A teal green Lincoln Town Car pulled up. Its white-walled tires screeched to a halt. The deputies spun around to examine the commotion, but quickly turned their attention back to the library. They knew who it was. The driver’s side door of the Lincoln opened, and two snakeskin cowboy boots dropped onto the pavement behind the door. After rocking three times to build up enough momentum, the driver pulled himself up and out of the white leather interior of the giant automobile. Five-and-a-half feet tall, pear-shaped, clean shaven, his bald head covered by a white cowboy hat, his shirt festooned with a turquoise-inlaid bolo tie, and his face covered with dark-tinted prescription glasses, he waddled through the law enforcement officers hiding behind their cruisers.
“We got half a parade stuck on Main Street wondering what the hell is going on down here,” Frenchie Francione addressed the gallery in his unfittingly squeaky voice.
No one replied.
“Deputy?” Frenchie asked as he tugged on Sheriff Ellison’s sleeve. But Ellison was still talking to Kennesaw, and ignored him.
“Terrorists!” answered a deputy, crouching behind his cruiser door nearby with his pistol drawn.
“Terrists?” Frenchie squawked disbelievingly.
“Someone reported a bomb in the back of that pickup parked over there…by the library entrance.”
“A bomb? Now I’ve just got to see this,” Frenchie ducked under the yellow crime scene tape, ignoring the orders of several deputies. He went straight up to the truck, peered over into the bed on his tiptoes, and grabbed the alleged bomb out of the back.
“Is this what all the fuss is about?” he shouted.
Everyone ducked and winced. One trooper put his fingers in his ears. A deputy desperately dove behind a mailbox. Ignoring a cry of “No, sheriff!” from an onlooker, Frenchie held the device up over his head with one hand, reached up with his other hand, and pulled the wires apart. After realizing that they had not been blown to bits, the deputies and troopers relaxed and holstered their weapons. Frenchie waddled up to Ellison and handed the “bomb” to him.
“Somewhere, there’s a punk kid who’s getting a real good laugh out of all this,” he said as he scanned the crowd of civilians.
“How could you be so sure?” Ellison asked.
“Do you really think that the terrists would waste their time blowing up an unused library in Calumet County, Colorado?” Frenchie waddled back to his Town Car, plopped himself down into the white leather driver’s seat, and drove off.