Estimated reading time — 17 minutes
Doctor Smith has requested that I tell my story as part of my rehabilitation. I couldn’t find myself able to speak it, so, he had me write it down instead. I have chosen this diary form as it is able to most easily draw out my memories without breaking me down into a nervous mess. I’ve decided to record the events in such a manner as to mark out the dates in a journal manner, but it must be noted that although dates will be within fair accuracy they will not be perfect and I of course cannot remember many details. However, such is the impact of the events that I can vividly recall almost the entirety. It should also be stated that though I am now relieved of duty, at the time I was serving in the United States Army with the 24th Mountain Brigade at Fort Worthington. Worthington was located in the southern regions of the Rocky Mountains.
September 30th, 1848 to October 12th, 1848-
It was only around a month after I completed my training I arrived at Fort Worthington. The cold had started to set in but it wasn’t quite so bad. I was but a private, but due to my impressive leadership abilities and competence Commanding Officer Syvern promoted me to sergeant. The ensuing days were rather boring. Miners and travelers stopped by occasionally. Once a local militia came to report a disturbance by a criminal in a nearby settlement, but the matter had already been settled by vigilante hunters by the time we got on it. Most of the days were filled with lounging about the camp, either chopping firewood, acting as sentries on the walls or in the guard posts, feeding the animals, and other trivial tasks associated with keeping a fort up and running. Officer Syvern and I quickly became close, and I also made acquaintance with Private Stryker and Private Anahiem. Stryker was a very hotheaded man, and a soldier through and through. He spent most of his time either target practicing or doing bodyweight exercises. Anahiem was the closest thing we had to a medic, and was big on his faith. Although I was friendly with most of the other soldiers in the camp, these three men constituted what you could call my true companions. The men gathered for a warm supper every night, as breakfast was a light affair and smaller meals were few and far between. This was the highlight in the dreary day as we would tell tales of adventure and danger. But, other than that, fort life was incredibly uninteresting.
October 13th, 1848-
About an hour or so past midnight, as the moon cast its pale light down, I was aroused for my turn as a sentry over the west gate. I should explain that the fort lay in a semi-wide valley, with rocky spires and hills covering either side and a large road heading into the mountains and cutting through the fort out into the east. After a little while of watching over the gate in the cold, rifle in hand, an urgent party surged towards the fort yelling for assistance. A single wagon was being hastily pulled with them, and many of the men carried with them muskets. The wagon was riddled with arrows, and as it came into the light of our torches I could see many wounded or dead loaded on it. I yelled to the guards below to open the gates, and glanced to see if any Indians were pursuing. Although they had been pushed back, tribes such as the Utes were still prominent in the area and attacks were no surprise.
Within a short while, Officer Syvern was out speaking with the leader of the group and coordinating troops, and Anahiem was woken to tend to the wounded. Initially all sentries were told to stay at their posts and watch for attacks, but Private Stryker soon came to tell me I was to lead a platoon up the overlook on the left while another sergeant led a platoon to the one on the right. Most of the soldiers now were dressed in combat uniforms and armed, taking positions in the towers and the wall. I was relieved from the wall by another soldier and rallied my platoon. Marching in a column alongside the other platoon, we eventually split and followed paths that could get us to the top of the hills.
Clambering over rocks and brush, I must admit that I was incredibly nervous. At any moment, an arrow could come flying out of the darkness. I had slung my rifle and drew my pistol, a simple yet efficient muzzle-loader. As the we crested the hill, my fears were confirmed as spears and arrows rained down from behind rocks and trees. I ordered my men to take cover, and we fired back with precision shots. Private Stryker then stormed one of the boulders, discharging his rifle point-blank into one Indian and stabbing two more with his makeshift bayonet. Within moments the entire platoon was charging, dislodging the native warriors and pushing them back. When we reached the edge of the overlook, I personally shot the last as he fell against the rocks, his head hanging over the valley. I ordered that a few of the bodies be brought down for inspection, and we returned to the fort. The other platoon had completed its mission and not found any hostiles.
Inside one of the buildings, Officer Syvern and I examined the bodies. “The settlers told me they were attacked by a large force of Indians that harried them all the way here. They’d been established just a few days trip up the road here; I remember them passing through just a few months ago. They were dislodged and the men forced into a fighting retreat as the women and children carried as much supplies as they could. Looks like most of the party didn’t make it, and if we had been any further I doubt the survivors would’ve either. Some of the things they told me, I’ll never erase,” Syvern explained. “These Indians- I’ve never seen anything like ‘em,” he continued. I’d never seen a non-domesticated native before then, so I didn’t really have anything to benchmark them against. “The excessive use of raw hides, the odd trinkets, the adoration of skulls and bones all over. Certainly Indians can be a barbaric lot but never have I seen them dress so savagely. Well, get some rest. I’ll have these buried and the group sent out back towards the plains in the morning. But midday two days from now, we are going on the offensive. You are dismissed,” he said. He was obviously perturbed by their appearance. Without word, I went to my cot in the barracks and dozed off.
October 14th-16th, 1848-
I woke up around late morning. The survivors had been sent off, although Anahiem had said that some of them were very distraught and probably shouldn’t be left unattended. Stryker said he was going to ‘make them pay with their lives’ and angrily stabbed a wooden post. In fact, the entire camp was filled with irritation, riled by the tales of the Indians hunting down the settlers and killing men, women, and children who were on a desperate escape path. I must say that I was mad myself, and although up on the ridge had been the first time I had taken a man’s life, I felt relatively justified in it for the gruesome descriptions I’d heard. No doubt some had been exaggerated, but the ways they stalked and mutilated the fleeing civilians… how could one not be justified in retaliation?
Most of that day was spent in preparation. Filling supply packs, gearing up the animals, gathering arms and munitions. Drilling formations, target practice. That night we had what could almost be called a feast. The next morning, we made our last preparations. A small garrison of around fifteen men were left to keep the fort running, whilst everyone else was to attack. Syvern addressed us, “Men. We are smarter, better equipped, better trained, than these sadistic savages. These primal manbeasts dare tie helpless boys to trees to die in the cold, skin men alive, and feast on the flesh of women? While I am not sure how true these accounts may be, the fact of the matter is they murdered a huge number of settlers and performed at least some kind of tortures and mutilations. Likely, you will see things you would never hope to see. I hope you are prepared to witness the scarred and bloodied bodies of your fellow kinsmen, some probably picked to the bone. Steel yourself, but know that when we reach their ragged excuse for a settlement we will set it ablaze with brimstone on a magnitude not seen before!” His speech was met with shouts. “Alright. I want Sergeant John Keyes leading a platoon in the front and Sergeant Alferno Hacksaw leading a platoon in the rear. Everyone else, on me around the baggage train.”
We began the trek up through the mountains, and it wasn’t but an hour’s journey where we happened upon a small battle site, where arrows and musket rounds had pocked the rocks and trees around. There were a few dead natives and one dead man, who appeared to be scalped. “Bastards,” Stryker whispered under his breath. Being at the head of the column, I knew that any of the horrors we’d come upon I’d be the first to see.
The next few days were ominously peaceful. Occasionally, we’d happen upon the site of a skirmish. The deeper we got into the mountains, the more scarce the bodies were. I had a feeling that the corpses were taken by them, and that the closer battles were easier pickings for them. I didn’t want to think of what they were going to do with the bodies. At night, we’d set up camp and leave a large force of sentries on duty. Sometimes during the day we’d stop and sent scouting or foraging parties, but mostly we were on the march.
The terrain switched between pine forests, rocky scrublands, and valley fields, but a persistent cold stayed through it all. I could feel the chill in my fingertips through my leather gloves, and the wind beat down upon us like whip cracks. This weather, combined with the morbid nature of our expedition, filled me with dread and depression.
October 17th-24th, 1848-
Finally we reached the abandoned settlement. As we neared, some of the men began to curse and murmur. I was shocked. Most of the buildings were heavily damaged, and many of them were badly burned or collapsed. Dried, crusty blood stained the wooden buildings and trash lay strewn about. There was, however, a stark lack of corpses to accompany the carnage.
“Sergeant Keyes, take a detachment of men through the town center. Prepare for an ambush. I’m going to set up camp over on this bank,” Syvern said to me. I glanced over at the winding river, that gushed over rocks in a somewhat beautiful show as tiny waterfalls and little bends produced a calming effect. The collapsed waterwheel in it contrasted harshly with its natural beauty. There was a large, flat area right next to it that was ideal for a camp. On the opposite side, a towering dirt wall led up into a dark timberland.
I took my platoon down the main path, glancing in every broken window and ajar door. Rusty nails stuck through the coarse wood, and poorly carved signs hung precariously over the derelict buildings. A cart on its side lay in front of what I took to be a town hall, which had huge holes seemingly punched into it. Many sections of the roof had given way, and the chimney looked prime to slide right off. My men surrounded the building. “Present arms!” I yelled, and they lowered their rifles. I ordered a few troopers to watch our backs and slowly approached the building, raising my pistol. I peaked inside, expecting a tribal warrior to glare back at me. But nothing was in there. “Alfred, Thompson, on me. We’re going in.”
The thrashed room inside reeked of death and desolation. A hung bearskin was peeling off the wall, and books littered the floor. Broken chairs and tables filled the largely empty space. Walking upstairs, I entered what I thought to be some sort of mayor’s office. There, on a desk punctured with arrows, I found a log of events written by a former town official. I swiped it when my troops weren’t looking. I didn’t, and still don’t, know why, but I felt an urge to hide this manuscript.
I returned to the camp and told Syvern about everything except for the log. He told me to get some rest, and I went to my private tent. There, in the lamplight, I pored over the decaying book.
A great portion of it was useless, trivial events; “Mrs. Marmeson fell today while fetching water from the river and hurt her head. Doctor Overland is currently taking care of her.” However, towards the end, a distinct shift occurred. It started with an entry on September 13th of 1848. “Mr. Willis came to the mayor today to report that some of his sheep have been captured by natives. He shot at them as they escaped across a shallow section of the river.”
As I read, the attacks became fiercer and the writer’s demeanor and handwriting became more panicked. The Indians seemed intent on kidnapping animals and people, and would take any dead from skirmishes. They even raided the cemetery once. By the end, they’d captured nearly half of the town’s population. Somehow, they would manage to cause structural damage including destroying walls and rooftops; the means by which they did this befuddled the settlers. Other odd things started happening, like random illnesses and the deaths of plants. Weird carvings started appearing on some of the trees, and out of superstition the settlers cut them down. Once, a child threw up some matted hair and twigs and did not know how it entered his body. A talon was found lodged in a cabin and bite marks appeared on a carving of an elk made by a town artisan earlier. These strange occurrences perturbed me; something was off. The town militia eventually decided to launch an attack of their own. Crossing the river, apparently the assault went horribly wrong and they were decimated at an area called ‘Wahini’, named by a native from another tribe that warned the militia before they left. The survivors were in a state of shock, babbling about a horrible scene of cannibalism, and the wagons were prepared for a retreat. Some were even stated to mumble about a huge man that attacked them. They were going to be left in a gamble to slow down the attacking natives, without their knowledge. The official writes off as they are about to leave the settlement and hope to escape before the next attack.
I shut the tome and hid it in my pack. The night was sleepless and the next morning was spent scavenging for extra supplies and patrolling the nearby areas. Apprehension seemed to choke the spirit out of the 24th. At dusk, I again retreated to my quarters to read the events once more. I hadn’t even reached the first settler death when Anahiem entered my tent. Surprised, I shut the log and threw it down. “Didn’t mean to startle you, just wanted to ask if you wanted some warm food,” he said. “No, thank you,” I replied. “Well, it’s just my duty. I’ve noticed since you went into town you’ve been on edge. Perhaps I can ease your stress?” He asked. I could see his cross dangling downward, reflecting the flame from my lamp. “I can sense something is very off here. I have an eye for the devil’s work, and the traditions of Indians, their primal rituals and obsession with skulls and skins, that is witchcraft. This place reeks of it. Maybe it’s getting to you?” He pressed, glancing at the book. “Yes, I am somewhat disturbed by the nature of things. Once it is over I think I’ll recover. I should rest, but thank you for coming.” Spurned, he reluctantly left.
October 25th-26th, 1848
The morning after, we gathered up our supplies and went on the march. Scouts had found evidence of large movements through the brush on the hill, and had determined the natives had attacked from across the river. Crossing a shallow ford, we ascended the slope into the thick pines. The roots, gnarled and large, curled over the landscape like a Kraken. Syvern approached me as we crested a hill. “Anahiem told me you were reading some odd book and seemed very distressed. I don’t want my most level-headed soldier dabbling into whatever you are. He thinks its something dark, but he’s a tad too spiritual. But I agree that whatever you are looking at isn’t healthy. Where’d you find it?” he inquired. “In the town hall,” I replied. “Don’t read it again,” he ordered. “If there was anything we needed to know from it, I’m sure you would’ve told me. But I am willing to be spared of whatever morbid details lie inside.”
Around midday, we stumbled upon the first… decorations. The images I saw are forever burned into my mind like a branding. Half-decayed corpses hung from branches, and charred bodies were tied to trunks. Skulls decorated the woods like ornaments, and rotten heads were impaled on stakes seemingly watching us. The dead bodies of children, bound to bushes, dotted the disturbing scene and some of the strung-up cadavers were thoroughly skinned, leaving nothing but degrading muscle and sinew. Syvern muttered that the settlers didn’t exaggerate. A few of the men threw up, and many turned away from the scene. We were shocked. The longer you looked, the more details you saw. The bodies had bite marks in them that punctured deep. In the center of the clearing, a shrine of sorts made of tied sinew, ribcages, and skulls sat over an extinguished fire. The symbols that the official had described were carved all over, on rocks and trees.
Nobody spoke for a little while, until Stryker broke the silence. “These goddamned bastards… I swear to God right now that I’m going to shoot every single damn one of these inbred degenerates!” Tears were in his eyes, and his expression could only be described as utter hatred. Anahiem had dropped to his knees and ways praying vigorously. A couple of the troops were crying in disgust and sadness. Others through down their packs and yelled, while others remained solemn. I looked down, shaking my head. A gnawing angst in my stomach threatened to burst from my throat, and the feelings of dread I had reading the log were now amplified. The stench of death forced its way into my nose, penetrating my skull. But nobody was alert, except for Syvern, whom I glanced at; perhaps I thought he would have some insight or consolation, my steadiest friend in this primordial wilderness. He did not look disturbed or angered, but focused. When he raised his pistol, slowly yet deliberately, silence fell as a wave. As men stopped stammering and cursing, others looked up to see what had changed. Then it dawned on me and everyone else. While the scene was quite gruesome and infuriating, its perpetrators were still out here. Not only that, but they could be anywhere, waiting to do the same to us.
Panic fell on the brigade as the feelings of isolation and primal fear gripped us. The woods, peaceful outside the immediate carnage, twisted into a horrifying mirage of inescapability. I felt alone and most of all vulnerable, like a hunted animal being stalked by an unseen but felt predator. The forest was a cage, the boughs the bars and the pine needles the roof. I pulled out my rifle, pointing it aimlessly into the foliage Men ducked behind trees and rocks, holding their weapons outward.
“Goddamnit, that’s enough! I told you what to expect and if you don’t start acting like soldiers of the U.S. Army then we’re going to be hanging from the trees too! Get in formation, I went Keyes leading the front and Hacksaw in the rear again. I want sentries posted around the column as well. We are going to march until we find their godforsaken camp and burn it to the ground!” Syvern’s voice boomed through the clearing and we hastily arranged ourselves. Although he sounded confident, I could tell that he scared as well and felt the best way to control it was through taking the reins. We once again were on the march, this time with far more apprehension.
Night fell and we set up camp, though we posted far more sentries this time around; I doubt anyone got any sleep, for I sure didn’t. The next morning, we were halted. The pack animals refused to go further, and nobody would dare scout ahead. Syvern, rocked by a migraine, didn’t have the energy to force a scouting party to depart. Although he was adamant to continue the march, he reckoned that first heavy snowfall wouldn’t be for a while yet and supplies were lasting.
October 27th-November 3rd (???), 1848
Eventually we decided to leave the pack animals and risk going ahead without reconnaissance, and Syvern felt better so there was no excuse to linger though many of us wanted to go home. We marched, for hours, in relative silence. Occasionally Anahiem would mutter a prayer, but for the most part nobody spoke. We stopped a few times but mostly were on the move.
As the haze of evening fell, we reached a crest, just high enough to cover you if you crouched. There were a few torches and a fire, so we knew we had reached our destination. The anticipation was crushing me. About half of us took position behind the crest, the other half back further to reinforce if need be. Anahiem, praying softly, was about five feet behind me, and Stryker was on my left. Syvern was down about six men to the right. I glared at the clearing ahead, were more bones lay. The fire pit was in the middle, and behind it was a cave. The entrance opened like a portal to the abyss, a tunnel to Hell itself. The only thing missing were Indians. I knew we wouldn’t have the courage to actually follow the scraps of flesh and femurs into it, so we were going to wait them out. But what if they were out, hunting or otherwise?
Like clockwork, three shamans atop the cave rose. What I had thought to be a few of the torches on trunks above it were in fact the savages. They began making wild cries and moaning ominously, as drummers began to play from somewhere behind them. Warriors sprung from the mouth of the cave almost too fast for us to react. Our muskets knocked them flat to their backs, but too many of us fired at too few targets and suddenly most of the line was reloading. I personally shot at the shamans, killing one. The other two were unfazed, and kept their wild war dance continuing. Syvern yelled to aim for the warriors as the second wave approached. Many of them had bows or throwing spears and pelted our positions. Those that avoided our guns leapt at us with axes and knives.
The battle was bloody and we soon lost our discipline. In many sections it devolved into a desperate melee. One of the warriors jumped at me, spear risen. I swung my rifle butt as hard as I could, catching him in the ribs. He rolled over and before he could spring to his feet I slammed it down on his skull. No sooner did an arrow strike my back diagonally; while the angle and thickness of my garments saved me from significant injury, the searing pain startled me and I fell. Rolling down the slope, I ducked behind a tree. My shaky hands attempted to reload as fast as possible. The thump of shots from muskets and yelps of men on both sides fueled the chaos. However, I took a glance and we appeared to be getting the best of them. Most of the archers were wounded, and the warriors had been pushed back. I felt a boost in confidence; a few more volleys should break them and then we could pursue our fleeing prey into the maw of the cave. Turning back to finish reloading, I peered back down the slope. Eyes stared back at me. Dozens of crouched warriors, bearing brutal weapons, wearing pelts and skulls and horns and all sorts of crazy colored dressings made of animal skins and dyed cloth surrounded our rear.
“It’s an ambush!” I yelled, but it was too late. Like stepping bear trap, we had triggered their perfect plan and were suddenly beset on both sides. The rear line turned to fight, but their panicked and inaccurate shots couldn’t hold back the wave. I missed my own mark with my rifle, and out of desperation drew my pistol. Shooting one, I pistol-whipped another. I ran back towards the crest, attempting to make a reload with my easier-to-load pistol. My fellow troops were locked in hand-to-hand with the savages, a wall of blue coats and wool hats against a sea of brown and red garments. I surveyed the carnage in a quick second, and I saw Syvern, his throat slashed open, gasping on his knees and gripping his neck, blood pouring from the wound.
I had no time to mourn as what happened next is truly terrifying. The surviving shamans cried a guttural yell so inhuman it split my ears. The war drums stopped and the natives suddenly retreated into the woods. The few remaining troops shot at them as they ran, catching a few. But largely, they escaped. Stryker lifted his pistol to shoot at the shamans, but suddenly the fire reignited by itself and out of the cave crawled a hulking beast. It was long and sinewy, and appeared somewhat human but horribly unproportional. As it came out into the clearing, it rose to its hooves; huge, ugly hooves. It was an unnatural pale, and had warpaint across its chest. It must’ve been at least eight feet tall, and its arms draped to its knees. Huge talons burst from its stretched fingers. The head of the creature was extended down into a snout of sorts, and crooked antlers sprouted from its cranium. Huge wings slowly unfolded from its back and without warning it lunged.
None of us were prepared and the few shots made missed. It slammed into the front ranks, sending bodies flying. It began tearing and biting and clawing, throwing entrails and organs as it feasted. Strikes with bayonets and musket butts proved useless. It stepped on the head of a soldier I recognized as Anahiem who screamed in agony as his skull caved in. Most of the troops now began fleeing, but the natives struck down any who tried to escape. The beast grabbed Stryker by the collar and bit into his lower jaw, tearing his face open.
The insidious monster turned to look at me, red splatterings covering its face and chest. I was frozen with fear, but before it could spring I remembered my pistol and I aimed and pulled the trigger. The shot caught the feature in its right eye, and it shrieked as it fell. It rolled over to its stomach, and its taloned hand covered its wound. But its left eye stared at me with pure contempt and hatred.. Somehow, when I made eye contact, I think it literally tainted my vision as now my peripheral is cracked and fuzzy. My instincts kicked in and I ran. Avoiding arrows and natives, I made away with blinding speed. They cried out as I had wounded their creature and chased me down through the thicket. Eventually, I made away and lost them.
It took me a very long time to get back to the settlement. I was constantly watching my back, expecting a party of savages to ambush me at every turn. Any noise set me off. I found the pack animals, gutted, and the supplies ransacked. My own rations were running thin and I was fatigued. I felt like I was insane. I couldn’t think straight. The only thing I could do was just head to the fort. I kept repeating, “Make it to the fort.” One foot after another. I couldn’t and wouldn’t think of anything else. I didn’t load my pistol or even think to. After many days and nights, filled with the pain of frostbite and hunger, I reached the fort.
November 3rd (???)-January 15th, 1848-1849
Reportedly, I had passed out at the gates of the fort and I was hurried inside. I was unresponsive for nearly four days before I awoke the first time. I had horrible terrors, and apparently had struck those who attended me and screamed incessantly. Obviously the garrison became very spooked and the soldier in command had the fort abandoned, taking me and the rest of the troops towards the city. I refused to tell anyone what happened except that they killed everybody and that nobody should ever return.
The following weeks are a blur, and I ended up honorably discharged from the Army and was enrolled into a mental institution where I currently am.
It is here, at the Osawatomie Asylum in Kanas that Doctor Smith has been treating me. I am told to be suffering from the trauma of the massacre, and I think he believes that the creature is some sort of manifestation in my distorted memory. As I can barely speak about it, perhaps this will convince him some. The only thing he hasn’t been able to explain, is why I keep throwing up matted hair and twigs.
(Author’s Note: Any reference to Native Americans as “Indians” is used from the character’s perspective and only to provide authenticity to the story, and does not wish to offend or improperly describe any Natives or anybody else)
CREDIT : Spike1117