"It is a wise father who knows his own child." William Shakespeare.
Ken-tah-teh, A Promise.
"Songbird, no," Mingo cried out. The pounding in his chest choked him. "Please don't leave me."
"Mingo," her soft voice haunted him.
"Mingo," she spoke again.
He could feel her hand on his sweat-covered face as he lay in his bed.
"Wake up, Mingo. It is me, Songbird. I am here, beside you."
The Cherokee man was afraid to open his eyes, only to have her dead in his arms, again.
"Mingo," her voice was louder. "Look at me."
Mingo took her hand in his, and kissed it.
"You are all right, Little One?" he asked.
She smiled and nodded.
"And the baby?"
Songbird took his hand and placed it on her belly, where their baby was kicking to get out.
Mingo breathed a deep sigh of relief.
"The same bad dream?" she asked him.
Mingo covered his eyes with his hands, "Are you sure you are all right?"
He needed convincing.
"I'm fine, Mingo, I am right here with you."
"It was so real, Songbird. I thought I had lost you."
"But it was real, Mingo. Remember?" she said.
"I remember now, I remember how I thought you died in my arms, and I had lost you forever. I remember going after those men with Daniel and finding them..."
Songbird put her finger on his lips, then leaned down and kissed him.
"You need to remember the good things," she whispered. "You need to remember how you wrapped me in your arms with the Cherokee blanket of marriage. How our families came together at my Choctaw village for our wedding, and the Boones, and Cincinnatus."
Mingo's face broke into a smile and he sat up. "And we both need to remember today is the day we will take you to the lean-to by the river for the birth of our child."
He thought a moment as he looked at the fire burning in their fire pit. "Are you sure you don't want to stay here in our lodge. One never knows what the weather might be in Kentucky this time of year."
"All Choctaw women have their babies out of doors, my mother, my grandmother. You and I both love the river. That is where I want our baby to be born." Songbird assured him. "And I know if you and Running Deer built the lean-to, it will be warm. But maybe you should rest one more day before we go. You have been working night and day to prepare."
Mingo's hand went once more to her belly. He laughed, "I don't think we have any time to spare. Our son is ready to make his presence known now. Cincinnatus is bringing his wagon so you will not have to walk there."
Songbird placed her hand on his, "Our son may turn out to be a daughter. What will you do if that happens?"
He stood up and helped her stand. "I will cherish our daughter as I do her mother."
"I love you," she said and leaned in close to him.
They stood still, warm in each other's embrace, until the whinny of a team of work horses broke the stillness.
It was early February on the banks of the Kentucky River. A pretty day, one of those welcome warm days that are few and far between. Winter winds and snowflakes could show themselves at anytime, but today, it was sunny and calm, even the chickadees seemed to know something special was happening. They were lined up in a row on the branch of a tall oak tree.
Mingo, Running Deer, Songbird's brother, and Daniel Boone, Mingo's best friend and blood brother stood by that tall oak not far from two women. They were waiting and listening, listening and waiting. It was Mingo and Songbird's first child. The half-English half-Cherokee man and Songbird, his Choctaw wife, married the summer after they met. Love grew and grew between them from the first day they said hello and now they were about to become a family.
"I don't know how you do it, Daniel," Mingo said. He fidgeted with an oak branch in his hands.
"Do what?" Daniel asked, his tall form leaning nonchalantly on the big tree.
"Remain so calm," Mingo answered.
Running Deer, for the last half hour had been cutting up a birch sapling into kindling to add to the fire he had built next to the lean-to where his only sister would give birth to her first baby. Wildflower, their mother, chased the men away when Songbird began to go into labor.
Daniel grinned, "Umm Runnin' Deer, I think you got enough wood there to keep a fire goin' for a week. I'm tellin' you boys, we ain't gonna be here that long." The white man was the oldest of the three and had two children of his own back home in Boonesborough. He turned to the expectant father. At Mingo's feet was a pile of oak branches broken into tiny pieces, a nervous habit Daniel had observed many times before.
"Calm, Mingo?" his voice, composed. "Well I been through this a time or two or three before." He observed Mingo's face covered in sweat and worry. "Besides I heared tell that your Indian womenfolk have their babies on their own all the time."
Mingo rubbed his hands together, "Heh, and did you happen to heared tell what the Indian men folk do while the womenfolk were giving birth?"
Daniel scratched his head until his coonskin cap fell off. He caught it before it reached the ground. "By golly, Mingo, you know I do not recall hearing what the men folk did."
"Hmphh," was the Cherokee man's response and he picked up another oak branch to destroy.
Daniel leaned against the tree and slid down to the ground. Crossing his outstretched legs, he put his hat back on so it slightly covered his eyes. From under the fur, he observed the two Indian men acting out their anxieties and chuckled to himself.
"I'm guessin' since I'm a mite older than the two of you, and already havin' been a father I'm also a mite calmer. Think I'll take me a nap. That little one on the way will let us know when he or she gets here. Relax, boys."
Neither Indian responded to the big man's teasing when suddenly from the banks of the Kentucky came a sound that broke through the roar of the rushing river.
It was a baby crying.
Mingo's dark eyes opened wide and the oak branch he held in his hand fell to the ground. Daniel watched. The Cherokee's feet were not moving. Daniel stood up and put his hand on his friend's shoulder.
"I could be wrong, Mingo, but I think that's a young'un hollerin' for its Pa, and that my friend is you."
Mingo's face broke into a big smile. He raced off to the river. Running Deer started to follow, but Daniel gently put out his hand and stopped him. "Think maybe we ought to give Mingo and Songbird a little time alone?" The Choctaw warrior nodded in agreement as Wildflower approached them. She smiled to let them know all was well down by the river.
"Come and help me with all the things Becky sent for the newborn." Daniel said. "I swear you'd think it was one of her own. She sent baby duds from Mima and Israel, a new quilt just the right size, and lots of old cloths for diapers."
Mingo passed Wildflower on his way to the sound of the crying. Songbird's mother gave him a nod and a pat to his cheek. "They are fine," she whispered, "I will let Songbird tell you if you have a son or daughter."
Mingo put his arm around the older woman, "Thank you."
She nodded, "Go to your family, Mingo."
Songbird lay on the bearskin rug Mingo brought from his lodge. When they knew the time would be soon, he and Running Deer built a small lean-to on the banks of the Kentucky River. Choctaw women preferred to have their babies out of doors. The shelter was just big enough for three maybe four people. Pine boughs overhead would protect the mother and child from sun, wind, or rain. Today only the sun warmed them, there was no rain and a gentle breeze carried the freshness of the Kentucky River to them.
She was covered up with a warm blanket from the general store at Boonesborough, a gift from its owner, Cincinnatus Jones. When Mingo saw her holding their child, he slowly fell to his knees and kissed her. There was a light that radiated from her face. "I love you," he said. "Are you all right?"
Songbird smiled, "I am fine, come and see your son."
Mingo's eyes filled with tears of pride as she uncovered the littlest one for him to see. He was long of body, dark eyes and hair, and strong of voice, all like Mingo. Songbird covered him back up with the rabbit skin blanket her mother had made. Mingo sat down beside them and Songbird handed him his son. The Cherokee man held him gently, but with a father's strength.
"Say hello to your father, Ken-tah-teh," Songbird said and the baby began to cry.
"Sh, sh, sh, my son," Mingo whispered and began to hum low and sweet. The baby seemed to look up at him and quieted down. He and Songbird had chosen the name, Ken-tah-teh, if they had a boy. They loved the big river that provided both the Indian and the white man with food, water, and travel. And it was the name the Cherokee called the land given to them by the Great Spirit-Ken-tah-teh, the Promised Land.
This new baby, this new son of theirs would be a promise of their love and life together, with many more "promises" to follow they hoped. It was the beginning of a family Mingo had always longed for.
Running Deer and Daniel could stand it no longer. The two of them wanted to see the new arrival. They carried wood and kindling to the river near the lean-to so there would be plenty to keep the new family warm. It had been unusually mild, but the temperatures could drop over night. Still Songbird insisted her baby be born out of doors and near the river, she and Mingo loved. The three of them would stay there for a few days to let Songbird rest before going back to Mingo's lodge.
It had been an hour since Mingo went to see his new son. Wildflower came over to the two men anxiously waiting outside.
"I think it is time for you to see the newest member of the Choctaw and Cherokee tribes. Come," she said walking toward the lean-to.
Daniel motioned to Running Deer, "You go on ahead, Running Deer, you're family. I'll wait out here."
"No, no, Daniel," the Choctaw warrior answered. "You are family too. You go now and Mother and I will get the fires going. We are going to stay here tonight and I will see them later. I know you must be getting back to Boonesborough and your own family."
"Thank you, Running Deer, maam," he nodded to Wildflower and walked to the front of the lean-to. He shook the heavy buffalo skin flap that kept the cool air out. His normally strong voice was meek and quiet, "Hello, can I come in?"
"Yes, Daniel, please come in," Songbird's voice answered.
His coon-skinned capped head peeked in around the flap. "I won't stay long cuz Songbird you need your rest, but if I come home without reporting' on the newest Kentuckian, Becky and my young'uns won't let me inside the cabin."
Mingo had been sitting beside Songbird. "Come in, Daniel," he stood and took the sleeping newborn from her. "Come in and see our son." Daniel's face broke into a big smile. Wildflower had not told him or Running Deer. Mingo cradled the baby in his arms and uncovered him for just a minute so his best friend could see. The littlest one moved his arms and legs and began to cry. "Sh, sh, sh," Mingo whispered and covered him back up. The baby quieted down as his father rocked back and forth.
"He's a big, handsome boy, Mingo and strong-voiced like you. What do you call the little feller?"
Mingo and Songbird looked at each other and smiled,
"His name is Ken-tah-teh, Daniel," Mingo answered.
There was a shared look of pride on the faces of the two big men. Both had a deep love for the wilderness of Kentucky and had fought side by side to make it safe for the white man and the Indian. Daniel's hand went to his friend's shoulder, "That's a fine name, Mingo, for a fine boy." The big frontiersman bent down and took Songbird's hand. "You did real good, Songbird, now you get some rest. I 'spect I'll be back with my brood in two or three days to help you move back to your lodge." He turned back as he reached the buffalo skin, "G'night, Ken-tah-teh," he hesitated just for a moment. "Well I best get outside 'fore Running Deer sets the whole forest on fire."
Mingo handed the baby back to his mother and joined Daniel outside. "Ken-tah-teh, that's a proud name, brother," Daniel told him.
They clasped forearms and shook the handshake of blood brothers. "I'll be back in a few days like I said to help you move back home."
"If I know Songbird, she will be ready to move back by tomorrow," Mingo added.
"Oh no," Daniel added, "You best make her stay here and rest up at least three days. I'm tellin' you from experience, Mingo. A woman who just had a baby, they need their rest. Three days and I'll be back, ya hear."
"All right, Daniel, three days," the new father went back into the lean-to and joined his family.
What he didn't know that Daniel did was that some of Mingo's friends from Boonesborough were already at his lodge planning a surprise for the new family's return home.
What was once a single-man's lodge would be transformed in just three days to the lodge of a family? Mingo's bearskin rug would still hold a place of honor there, but he and Songbird would no longer sleep on it, on the floor.
"Little Songbird and that baby don't need to be a sleepin' on no floor," Cincinnatus Cicero Jones, the general store and tavern keeper sputtered.
Between he, and Jericho Jones, no relation, they constructed on one side of the lodge, a fine big bunk for husband and wife and the littlest one to sleep in. It would be up off the floor, stuffed with soft animal furs, covered with deerskins. On the other side, they put in another bunk not quite as big. Both Mingo's Cherokee family and Songbird's Choctaw family supplied the furs along with the proper directions for the building of the bunks.
"A fine lookin' bed if I do say so myself, to begin with anyway," Cincinnatus said. "When that Cherokee decides to have a few more young'uns, well he'll just have to add on more bunks hisself." laughing at his own remark. They put a fire pit on the inside of the lodge, like the one Mingo had built for he and Songbird outside where she cooked and they sat together before retiring for the night.
"Or for 'receiving friends,' "Cincinnatus wrinkled up his nose, "Mingo's fancy talk for where we kin sit and have a cup of tea, or some of my Blue Thunder when we come visitin'"
At each end of the new living space they put in shelves for the storage of more furs, blankets, food, dishes and whatever else Rebecca Boone and a few of the women of Boonesborough thought the new family might need. They went through their own cabins and donated what they could. A well-broke in Dutch oven, two cast iron skillets, one big, one small, and Rebecca's extra soup kettle that she needed only when company was coming. And lots and lots of cloths to be used for diapers.
Outside of the lodge Tupper, Issac Crandall, and Yancy Taylor, all 3 family men and friends of Mingo cleared a patch of land for a big garden. They made a place for a root cellar and supplied it with extra tools from their own collections, a shovel, rake and a hoe, things a single Cherokee warrior wouldn't have need for, but a family man would. The three of them would help Mingo build the root cellar when the time and the weather allowed.
Three days passed and a wagonload of Boones had arrived at the little lean-to by the Kentucky. When Rebecca Boone saw Ken-tah-teh for the first time, it was pure love at first sight. The Boone family was there to help Mingo and his wife and son get moved back to his lodge. Songbird handed the baby to Rebecca and the tears began streaming down the red head's face.
"Oh Songbird, Mingo, he is beautiful, so beautiful," she gazed into the face of the little infant, and then looked at her husband. "Oh Dan, wouldn't it be wonderful to have another baby. Israel is growing up so fast and he needs a little brother."
Daniel looked at Mingo and rolled his eyes, "Now I knew this was goin' to happen. Becky, I think we're doin' just fine with the young'uns we got. 'Sides Ken-tah-teh here can be Is'rul's little brother. Ain't that right, Mingo?"
The Cherokee shook his head, "Oh no Daniel, I am not getting into the middle of this little Boone squabble. You are on your own my friend."
"And besides, Rebecca, when ol' Flanders and Jemima finally get married, then you'll have all the young'uns you want, grand-young'uns." Daniel said convincingly.
"Oh Pa!" Jemima yelped.
But the pretty Mrs. Boone wasn't listening. She was walking and singing to the littlest one like any mother would. Songbird and Mingo smiled as they watched the big man try to talk his way out of the situation.
"Now see what you've done," Daniel said grinning. "I'll tell you one thing, if that baby ever comes up missin' heaven forbid, I can tell you the first place to look and that would be our cabin."
"Oh Dan, what a thing to say," Becky shot back.
"Now you know I was just funnin' Becky,"
Mingo bent down, eye to eye with Israel Boone, Daniel's youngest.
"What do you think of Ken-tah-teh, Israel?"
His young blue eyes lit up as he watched his Ma with the baby.
"I think he's just fine, Mingo. I'm gonna teach him how to fish and hunt and ride. And show him my secret hidin' places and everything."
Mingo stood and winked at Daniel and Rebecca.
"Well I think that's just fine too, Israel," the Cherokee man said as he rubbed the white locks on the little boy's head.
"Well by golly, we better git this family home afore it's dark," Daniel announced. "Come on. Cincinnatus lent us his wagon so y'all wouldn't have to walk. Climb up in there Songbird. Becky, you think you can let go of that young'un long enough to
get in the wagon with Songbird?"
Rebecca handed Ken-tah-teh to his father, then reached up and kissed the Cherokee on the cheek. "I am so happy for you, Mingo. No one deserves a family more than you do."
The handsome Cherokee man blushed, "Thank you, Rebecca," he answered. She climbed up into the back of the wagon with Jemima and Songbird. Mingo started to hand the baby to his wife, but Songbird shook her head no.
"Let Jemima hold him, why don't you?" Songbird said. Mingo smiled at the handed him to the daughter of his blood brother and handed Ken-tah-teh to her. Jemima's face broke into a wide grin as she carefully held the newborn.
Thank you, Songbird, Mingo," she said. "He's so beautiful."
"He ain't beautiful, Mima," Israel huffed. "He's handsome!" The little man looked at Mingo and Daniel and shook his head. "Women"
The three women and the baby settled into the back of the wagon covered in elk skin blankets while Daniel and Mingo took turns driving. Israel was lodged in between the two men. It wasn't a long trip, but the February air had turned colder. The three men had an elk skin blanket of their own to cover their legs.
When they reached the lodge Mingo remarked how it looked as though there was a fire already burning inside then he noticed the addition to the lodge. He jumped down from the wagon,
"What in the world, Daniel, what have you Boones been up to?" he asked.
The big man jumped down and swung Israel to the ground beside them.
"Not just us, Mingo," Daniel waved his arm in the air and a group of Boonesborough settlers came from around the back of the lodge. "Surprise," they shouted in a whisper so as not to disturb the littlest one. Surprise was the look on the Cherokee's face. "You got a lot more friends than you think, Mingo."
As Cincinnatus and Jericho, Tupper, Issac, Yancy and their wives swarmed toward them, Daniel and Mingo helped their wives out of the back of the wagon. Jemima was taking her turn at holding Ken-tah-teh. She gave him to Mingo who showed the waiting settlers his son.
"Mighty fine lookin' tyke ya got there, Mingo," Cincinnatus told his friend. "Ya done real good, Songbird. Let's just hope he don't take after his Pa in looks, cuz yur a lot prettier than Mingo, "the older man poked Mingo.
"I cannot believe all that you have done," Songbird told them.
"Come on, inside and see," Jericho motioned them toward the lodge.
Inside a warm fire was burning, a big pot of coffee was brewing and the wives had baked four large custard pies among them. The lodge was just big enough to hold all of them while Mingo laid the baby down on their new big bed. When he uncovered him, he began to move his arms and legs and fuss a little. All the women cooed like mourning doves at the sight of the littlest one.
"Gonna be tall like you, Mingo," Tupper said,
"And loud like you too," Cincinnatus added. Laughter filled the lodge.
"It's been a long time, Mingo, but I think the little feller is tryin' to tell someone he's hungry." Daniel said. "Folks why don't we move this pie and coffee party outside to and let Ken-tah-teh have something to eat and let Songbird get some rest."
The little Choctaw maiden looked up at them. "I don't know how to thank all of you. You have made us feel very special."
The group moved outside where they built a fire and put the coffee on to heat. In a few minutes, Mingo joined them.
"Songbird and Ken-tah-teh are both sound asleep in that fine new bed you built for us," he told them.
"It was very kind of all of you to do this for us. Our decision to live in our own lodge, close enough to both our families, Choctaw and Cherokee, was not an easy one, but one we both agreed on. And now I can see we have a third family we can depend on."
Daniel stepped in.
"Well now bein' an experienced Father here I know how anxious ol' Mingo must be to get in there with his new son and with his wife." The big man put his arm around Rebecca. "So folks, why don't we get on back to the settlement?"
The group packed into the back of Cincinnatus' wagon. Daniel slapped his friend on the back. "Git on in there with your family, Mingo," he looked at the ground and then looked back at his blood brother with the slightest bit of mist in his eyes. "I'm awful glad for you, Mingo," Daniel said.
Mingo smiled, "Thank you, Daniel...for everything. Tell Rebecca and the children to come and visit anytime."
"I'll do just that," Daniel answered, then heard Cincinnatus crack the reins and turned to see the team of horses start towards Boonesborough.
"Hey! Wait for me!" the big man ran and jumped onto the back of the wagon. Israel and Jemima grabbed him so he wouldn't fall out onto the ground. He waved as his children shared their blanket with him.
"See you in a few days and we'll get ready to go get us a good cache of furs." Daniel shouted.
Mingo laughed as he watched the wagon full of friends head back to their homes. It gave him a warm feeling inside. He turned slowly and walked into his lodge, to see his wife and son sleeping peacefully in their bed-and that gave him an even warmer feeling.
Summer had come and gone quickly. Harvest season was over and all of Kentucky, white man and Indian alike prepared for the cold of winter. But this late day in October, it was unusually warm in both temperature and color. Fallen leaves painted the ground like a rich man's carpet.
The only sound in the empty lodge was Ken-tah-teh suckling at his mother's breast. It had been almost nine months since that day in February by the Kentucky River. Mingo and Daniel had been gone a month on a hunting and trapping venture. Their baby boy had grown and was an armful for her. Songbird knew how much Mingo hated to leave them, but he and Daniel would ready their trap lines for the winter while bringing back fresh meat to be dried and salted.
It was a hard day for her husband to go, as she remembered their conversation the morning he was to leave with Daniel.
"I should be making sure we are ready for the winter. There is firewood to be cut, skins to patch the walls of the lodge. Or maybe a log cabin instead of this lodge." Mingo told her.
"Mingo, you and I are of the same spirit. We both love the feel of the earth beneath us when we lie together, when we sleep," she answered. "Ken-tah-teh and I have no need of a cabin. As long as the three of us are together, it is home. Maybe another bear skin for the floor or some new skins for the walls as you say."
She saw the glisten in her husband's eyes as they both looked at their son watching them from the soft animal skin rug on the floor.
"Or maybe many skins so we can make our lodge bigger, then Ken-tah-teh can have a new brother or sister," Mingo smiled.
She leaned in close to him, putting her hands up under his shirt, "And how many moons is it you will be gone with Daniel?" she teased. At that moment, a twig snapped outside.
Mingo rolled his eyes, "Oh Daniel, this once you would have to be on time."
Ken-tah-teh began to stir. "I promise I will bring you bear skins, deer skins, elk skins, even rabbit skins if need be." Mingo said. Enveloped in his arms, he kissed her, and then bent down to his son's outstretched hands. Mingo picked him up and the littlest one went straight for the turkey feathers on his father's head.
"No, no, no, soon enough you will wear warrior feathers. For right now I have need of them," Mingo took his son's hands away from the feathers and they went immediately into his father's mouth. Mingo laughed as he removed the tiny fingers so he could speak. "You will take care of Mama while I am away?" Ken-tah-teh smiled as if he understood and laid his head on Mingo's shoulder. "My big handsome boy, let's go tell Daniel goodbye."
Daniel stood outside leaning on Ticklicker. When Songbird came out first he carefully laid the rifle on the ground safely out of the way. "Mornin' Songbird," the big man said.
"Good morning, Daniel, Mingo will be right out. Would you like some coffee?"
Mingo came out behind her carrying the baby.
"No, thank you, Songbird. Well by golly, Tah-teh, look at you," Mingo rolled his eyes. Daniel had taken it upon himself to shorten the baby's name.
"Daniel, what do you have against names that contain three syllables?"
"Now, Mingo, what do you mean by that?" Daniel put out his arms to the baby.
"You have shortened your own son's name from Israel, to Is'rul, now you insist on doing the same to my son? His name is Ken-tah-teh, not Tah-teh."
"Awful big name for a little boy, Mingo." Daniel answered.
The littlest one began wriggling in his father's arms as soon as he heard Daniel's voice, begging to be taken by the big man.
"Po. Po," Ken-tah-teh said and pointed at Daniel.
Mingo laughed "It would seem, Daniel, that Tah-teh recognizes you."
"As any fine gentleman would," the big man said and took the baby in his arms. Ken-tah-teh immediately grabbed at the coonskin cap Daniel wore.
"No, Tah-teh, Po didn't bring Is'rul's pony today. Mingo, when you gonna get this boy a pony? You know how much he loves horses. I never seen a young'un take to a horse like him. Big or small, it don't matter, as long as he's sittin' on its back."
"Daniel, Ken-tah-teh is only nine months old. Maybe in the spring after we turn in our cache of furs."
Daniel took his hat and put it on the baby's head so that is slid down over his eyes.
"Oh no," Mingo took it off Ken-tah-teh's head. No Choctaw-Cherokee son of mine will be wearing a coonskin cap! Too many times I have been caught in a rainstorm with you. I know what they smell like when they're soaking wet."
"Now hold on there," the big man winked at Songbird. "Tah-teh, you are growin' like a weed and you've got your Mama's good looks."
The pretty Choctaw maiden was readying Mingo's pack. "Thank you, Daniel," her green eyes smiled at him as he handed the baby to her. Mingo put his powder horn and pack over his shoulder.
"Be good for your Mama, Tah-teh," Daniel said as he picked up Ticklicker and Mingo's rifle. He started walking down trail, to let the family say their goodbyes alone. "I'll meet you at the Miller's Spring, Mingo. Don't worry, Songbird, I'll bring him home safe."
The tall Cherokee's embrace easily went around both his wife and the baby she held in her arms. "I never realized how hard it must have been for Daniel to leave on our many journeys until now," Mingo told her, "I hate leaving you alone for so long." He kissed the top of her head. Ken-tah-teh was faster than both of them as this time he was successful in grabbing one of the turkey feathers from Mingo's head. Before he could put it in his mouth, Mingo took it back and tickled the baby's nose with it. The littlest one wrinkled up his face. "Are you sure you wouldn't like to stay with your mother and father, Songbird?"
Songbird turned her husband around and began pushing him toward the trail. "We will be fine, my brother promised to check on us and he will not be able to do so without my mother accompanying him." Mingo stopped, but she kept pushing. "Rebecca also said she would stop for some tea while you are gone." He tried to plant his feet, but still she kept pushing. Ken-tah-teh giggled at the game they were playing. "And," she said loudly, loud enough it caused Mingo to turn and face her. "I expect like last time that Cincinnatus will decide to fish in the river and Tupper will decide to hunt in the valley and both will decide to stop for a cup of coffee several times while you are gone."
Her tone was that of a lecture, a wifely lecture. Mingo could not fool her, he had asked the two men to keep an eye on them the last time he was gone. "Ummmm," his dimples appeared as he grinned, "You might also get a visit from Menewa as well." Songbird scowled at him. "I am just saying the great Chief of the Cherokee said he wanted to visit his great nephew. You would not want to keep the great Chief of the Cherokee from visiting his great nephew would you?" Mingo was walking blindly backwards until finally with no notice he tripped and fell flat on his behind. Songbird laughed, and then the baby laughed. Mingo stood, took her chin in his hand and kissed her until their son grabbed both their noses.
"Go," she said. "Enjoy your time with Daniel hunting and fishing and readying the traps for winter. We will be fine, surrounded by our friends and family."
"I love you," He said to her. "And you too," gently touching Ken-tah-teh's nose. Mingo knew he had to finally turn his back on them and go-and he did.
That had been almost five weeks ago. Songbird knew what her husband would do. Before coming home to her, smelling of animal skins and five weeks on the trail Mingo would stop at the river and bathe. It was not vanity, but respect for her and his Cherokee upbringing. Ken-tah-teh had grown in those few weeks his father had been gone. He looked more and more like Mingo every day.
"If you eat anymore, Ken-tah-teh, your tummy will burst," she said as she took him away from her. Patting his back, he burped once, then twice. She held him in her arms. "Do you think your father will come home to us today?" The littlest one listened to her every word. "Papa?" she said, then his little face broke into the dimpled smile that he shared with Mingo. Songbird hummed until his eyes slowly closed. She laid him on the bearskin rug on the floor, covering him with his little rabbit skin blanket.
Songbird had a feeling her husband would be home today or tomorrow. He would be exhausted; more tired than hungry, so she took his favorite elk skin blanket outside and beat the dust out of it so it would be clean and fresh for him. Mingo would sleep a day, maybe longer; the good sleep of being home. It had been too long since they had lain side by side as husband and wife.
The fire inside the lodge had gone out while she was feeding Ken-tah-teh. Before she could get it started again, she heard a rich and familiar voice coming closer and closer,
"For many years I was alone,
traveling 'cross this wild land.
But all is changed and now,
I sing, I am a lucky man.
My Songbird and my river boy,
they wait for me at home.
Their hugs and kisses comfort me,
no matter where I roam."
Songbird's heart skipped a beat as she looked out the flap of their lodge. There he stood and she was right, his long dark hair was still wet from bathing in the river. His vest lay on the ground next to his rifle, pack, and weapon belt. She checked the baby who was still asleep then ran to him, his bold arms, her rendezvous. His kiss, his embrace was warmer than any fire, any blanket. She laid her head on his chest; they stood still for just a moment. "I missed you, little one," he whispered, holding her close.
"I missed you," she told him, losing herself in his touch, in his smell, then she looked into his eyes. "Your son has missed you too."
Songbird took Mingo by the hand and led him into their lodge. Ken-tah-teh had kicked off his blanket and lay on the bearskin rug, sleeping soundly. She saw the look of a father's love on her husband's face. "He has grown so much in the time I have been gone. Just look at him." Mingo put his arms around her.
"He is going to be tall like you," she told him. And they watched as their son slept.
"I had a feeling you would come home sooner than you planned. You look tired, are you hungry?" Mingo shook his head no, his eyes never leaving his son.
"He looks so comfortable; I think I will join him." Mingo said. He kissed her and lay down on the rug by the baby. "Come lay with us."
"No," Songbird answered, "You rest with him for now. I know how hard you must have worked to get home early. I am going to catch up on some things I need to do and cook you a hearty stew for when you wake."
Mingo nodded as he lay on his back, then he reached over and touched Ken-tah-teh's tummy. "My big boy," he said, to which the baby opened his eyes and blinked. His lower lip began to quiver until he focused on Mingo's face. "How is my handsome river boy?" he whispered. Ken-tah-teh squealed in delight, rolled over on his stomach and crept over to his father.
Songbird started for the open flap of their lodge, then turned back for one more look at the two men in her life. Stretched out on the soft furry rug, both were bare-chested and the littlest one, bare-bottomed. Ken-tah-teh had climbed up on his father's chest and within minutes, both were sound asleep. The rhythm of Mingo's breathing had lulled the baby back into a slumber.
She bent down, kissed them both and covered them with the freshly cleaned elk skin blanket. How lucky she was as she left them to sleep, thankful her prayers for the safe return of her husband had been answered.
"Sleep well," she whispered.
It was mid morning. Songbird went outside; built up the fire she would cook the stew on and brewed herself a cup of sassafras tea. It was her favorite and Mingo always kept her supplied with the root. Later she would gather some vegetables from her garden and clean the two rabbits Mingo shot on his way home. But for right now the little mother planned to enjoy this quiet time she had found for herself.
Ken-tah-teh was occupied elsewhere, safe and snug in the arms of his father. This was the first time since Mingo left that Songbird could enjoy her entire cup of tea while it was hot. The carrots, potatoes, beans, corn, and okra from her garden would make for a fine rabbit stew. And the first of the acorn squash were ready to be enjoyed. Baked squash with a bit of maple syrup was a favorite of Mingo's. Her surprise would be very much appreciated by him.
By mid-day the vegetables were cleaned and in the pot. Two roasting rabbits sizzled over the fire. Songbird had checked on her men before going to her garden. Both were still asleep. Mingo was turned on his side. He had laid Ken-tah-teh next to him on the bearskin rug, his arm around the littlest one. It made her laugh to see them side by side. Ken-tah-teh was an exact miniature of his father.
Back outside the birds were gathering overhead as they did this time of year. The rich colors of autumn showed on the hills. Songbird's stew was cooking nicely as she sat and finished some of her mending. The afternoon passed quickly as she repaired a hole in Mingo's coat. He would need it this winter, and there were always rabbit skins to be made into diapers for Ken-tah-teh. That reminded the little mother that she had forgotten to put anything on him before he went to sleep. He was sleeping so soundly next to Mingo she hated to wake him. But it had been long enough. She got up to go inside, when she heard the giggling of her baby boy.
Both of them were awake when she entered, Mingo was gently tickling Ken-tah-teh's tummy with one of his braids. He stopped when he saw Songbird and sat up. "Mama," Mingo said to the baby, whose eyes lit up at the word.
She had a rabbit skin in her hand as she started over to them. "Before you pick him up you better…."
But it was too late. Mingo stood and picked up Ken-tah-teh, holding him out in front of him. "Look, Mama, at our big boy," Ken-tah-teh immediately showed his appreciation to his father in a most baby-boy like way. "What.." Mingo stood holding the littlest one who was kicking and laughing. He looked at the moisture running down his own chest. Songbird tried to hide her smile. "Songbird, why does he insist on doing that to me whenever I pick him up?"
She walked over to her husband with a rabbit skin diaper in one hand and another cloth she had dipped in water in the other. She proceeded to wipe off Mingo's chest. Ken-tah-teh put out his arms to his mother. "It is your own fault for tickling him and then picking him up."
"Mama," Ken-tah-teh reached for her.
She took the baby and laid him on the rug.
"Did you have a good sleep, littlest one?" She wiped him off and put a clean rabbit skin on him while he jabbered busily to her. Mingo watched and shook his head.
Songbird picked the baby up and gave him back to his father. "Come, the stew is ready," she told Mingo
The baby went straight for Mingo's braids. The Cherokee man followed his wife outside. "You know, Songbird, I don't do that to you when you tickle me," he said to her. Songbird leered at him until a dimpled, sheepish grin broke onto his face. He knew it was time to change the subject. "Mmmm, Ken-tah-teh, I smell something wonderful, don't you?" The sun was setting and a cool breeze blew by them. He felt the littlest one shiver when the air hit his bare arms and tummy. "Are you cold? Let's go sit by the fire and see what your mother has cooked for her men." Mingo had fashioned himself a chair like he made for Songbird and sat down in it. "Ummmm, Rabbit stew and squash, our favorite." The little copper-skinned baby giggled as his father blew on his bare tummy making a noise like a pig.
Songbird went back into their lodge and came out with the little rabbit skin blanket. She sat down beside them and opened her dress. "He is hungry like you I am sure. Give him to me and you can eat while he does." Mingo handed Ken-tah-teh to her. She wrapped the blanket around him and began to let him nurse. Mingo dished up some stew for himself and sat back in his chair. He watched mother and son together. Mingo had seen Indian women nurse their children many times before and thought nothing of it. Now it was something miraculous and wonderful.
It was his family.
Ken-tah-teh was full and so was his father. "Songbird, how is it that you know my weakness for baked acorn squash with maple syrup?" Mingo asked as he finished his third one. The little mother burped her baby for the second time, and then cradled him in her arms. He had become quite an armful for her. "Here, give him to me while you eat something," Mingo took the bundle of life and sat him on his knee, bouncing him gently. Mingo dipped his finger in the syrup and put some on Ken-tah-teh's tongue. The baby smacked his lips and smiled at his father.
"Papa," as if to ask for more. Mingo gave him a second taste.
"You will be sorry when he is sick on you," Songbird said as she dished herself some stew and sat back down. But the baby just sucked on Mingo's finger hoping for some more of the sweetness. She shook her head at them, "A sweet tooth as Rebecca calls it, just like his father." The Choctaw maiden looked in the Dutch oven seeing there was only one acorn squash left. "How did I know your weakness for acorn squash? Because it was the first thing you made certain we planted in the garden even before the corn."
Ken-tah-teh wiggled his way off his father's lap. He stood on the ground between Mingo's legs holding on carefully. They could tell he would soon be attempting his first steps, but for right now the security of his Papa's legs were enough. The littlest one pointed to the fire. "What, what do you want, Ken-tah-teh?" Mingo looked at Songbird. She broke off a tiny piece of a corncake and gave it to him. The baby put it in his mouth, chewing and bouncing up and down at the same time. Mingo laughed out loud, "Corn cakes, now I know he is my boy."
The autumn Kentucky sun was beginning to set. Layers of gold and orange painted the sky. The three of them stayed out by the fire enjoying their first night together in a long time. Mingo told Songbird that it would be a good trapping season and that he brought back many skins to add to the walls of their lodge.
As they sat watching the daystar fall slowly into night Mingo was finding out just what a handful his son was. The baby bounced and bounced until he got tired and bored of that. Then dropping to all fours he crept all over the camp keeping the new father busy chasing him when he went too far. He brought him back to the fire and in no time at all had to go after the littlest one again. Finally leaning on Mingo's knee the bouncing began to wane and he laid his head against his father's stomach. "I think our little man has worn himself out and me at the same time. How do you keep up with him, Songbird?" he asked his wife, who had already taken care of the leftover stew and corncakes.
"That is what a mother does," she said and walked over and kissed the top of her husband's head. It would be the only time she could do so, while he was sitting down. She looked at Ken-tah-teh whose eyes were slowly closing.
"I think he is ready for bed," Mingo said. "How about you, Mama?"
Songbird smiled, got down on her knees in front of her husband and put her arms on his legs looking up into his eyes. "It is so good to have you home, my Cherokee warrior," she said, as she rubbed the top of Ken-tah-teh's head, "We missed you, Papa. It will be a good sleep this night in our lodge."
Mingo nodded, the lump in his throat would not allow him to speak. He picked up Ken-tah-teh, who opened his eyes for only a moment, then put his arms around his father's neck and laid his head on his shoulder, sound asleep. Husband and wife stood up together and walked to their lodge.
The sun had long since dropped out of sight and the only sign of light were the burning embers left in their fire pit. It would smolder all night, soon enough to be lit again for morning tea. And like the fire, the warmth and comfort of a night together filled the minds of the married couple.
November and December passed quickly by. The winter had been a mild one so far and the trapping bountiful. Daniel and Mingo's cache of furs was growing. So much so that their hiding place was filling up already. Both men carried as many furs as they could on their backs home to Boonesborough each trip they made. The bulk of their cache they would bring home in canoes after the spring thaw. The river would be passable then and allow for their last big take of the trapping season.
Their hiding place they found by accident. On their first scouting expedition of the trapping season the thunder of a ruffed grouse's wings startled them both. Losing their footing on some wet leaves, they rolled twenty feet down an embankment. Both of their long bodies stopping suddenly at the bottom with a thud. Mingo and Daniel found themselves facing the entrance to a cave. Neither of them had ever seen it before.
Pointing to a pile of boulders near the entrance, "Probably the rock slide cleared away the entrance," Daniel said.
"Providence, I tell you Daniel, sheer providence," Mingo said as they inspected the inside. It was big and dry, just what they needed to hide their cache of furs until the spring thaw. And it would provide a warm and dry night's sleep before heading home.
"Yeah," Daniel agreed, as he ducked his head and stepped back out into the daylight. Mingo followed, doing the same. Daniel looked up the hill and rubbed his backside. "Providence or clumsiness, whichever, this is a mighty fine place you stumbled on to Mingo."
"Me!" the Cherokee man retorted. "I distinctly remember hearing you yell first, Daniel."
It would be a friendly argument that would keep them going for many trapping seasons to come.
A week had passed since all had been together at the Boone's cabin for Christmas dinner. Cinncinatus and Jericho, Mingo and his family, accepted Daniel and Rebecca's invitation of good will and friendship. Even though Mingo and Songbird did not celebrate the white man's holiday, Keepin' Christmas with the Boones had become a tradition for the Cherokee man.
A late December snowstorm was swirling outside, ready to announce the beginning of a new year. 1776 had decided to come in with a bang. Inside the general store and tavern in Boonesborough, it was just Cinncinatus and Jericho at the bar. Cinncinatus behind and Jericho in front. In the back corner table, Yancy Taylor and a group of men were having a drink together.
The door to the tavern opened slow and easy, a sure sign it was a regular customer who was about to enter. It generally took only one tongue-lashing from the bearded proprietor to learn the proper way to open the door in the middle of winter.
For some like young Jericho Jones it took more.
'"How many times do I have to tell you! You come bustin' in here like a herd of buffalo, door wide open and wind and snow right behind ya. Next thing I know the fire goes out and the merchandise on the shelves goes flyin' one more time, Jericho Jones, and you'll be keepin' me in firewood for the next three winters and payin' for the damaged goods. You hear me?" Cincinnatus clamored.
"Yes sir," Jericho answered earnestly until the next time when he opened the door and the fire went out and the merchandise went flyin'.
This time the door opened just wide enough to let a hulking snow-covered figure inside. The familiar leader of Boonesborough stomped his feet and shook the flakes of snow off his coonskin cap. His rifle almost leaned itself to its regular place by the door.
Daniel Boone walked his long legs over to the fireplace, turned and faced his friends.
"Wooeeee it's cold out there. Cincinnatus, how 'bout somethin' to warm up my insides?" He waved to Yancy in the back and joined Jericho at the bar.
"Comin' right up, Dan'l," the bearded tavern keeper answered. "Now see Jericho, that is how you open and close a door," and proceeded to draw two rums from the barrel, one for Daniel and one for himself. Daniel motioned to Cincinnatus to pour one for Jericho too. He slapped his young friend on the back.
"What's a matter, Jericho, Cincinnatus got it in for you again?"
The young man had his head in his hands, elbows leaning on the bar.
"Aww Dan'l, you know me and that door. I come rushin' in here with some news, door open wide and sure enough out goes the fire and goods go flyin' off the shelves. Now he's holdin' back what little pay I git for helpin' around here. He shook his head. "I was hopin' to pay Mingo back what he lent me the last time we was in Salem."
Cincinnatus set the two rums down in front of Jericho and Daniel and went back for his own.
"Well you know Mingo ain't in no hurry for you to pay him back. He knows you will when you get it." Daniel told him. Both men took a swallow of their drinks.
"I know, Dan'l, but with him havin' a family now, I thought he might be needin' it." Jericho answered.
"Well I wouldn't worry about it, Jericho. Just be a little more careful with the door," the big man laughed.
Yancy and the men he was sitting with started pounding the table and laughing.
Daniel turned from Jericho to see what the ruckus was.
"Who are the men Yancy's sittin' with, Cincinnatus?" he asked.
"Oh Yancy's been doin' some scoutin' for the Continental Army to make some extra money. Those are some land surveyors he's been workin' with. The army is looking to build a new road 'tween here and Salem. They been stayin' here while they're surveyin'"
The big frontiersman turned back to the bar and took a big swig of his rum.
"Mighty good, mighty good," he added.
"Say speakin' of Mingo, where is he, Dan'l? Cincinnatus asked him.
"Now just where do you think he is? We come back yesterday and dropped off our first cache of furs here and he high-tailed it home to Songbird and the little feller."
Cincinnatus cackled as he wiped off the rum from his beard, "Who would've ever thought it? Mingo, a family man, but it sure do suit him, don't it?"
Both Jericho and Daniel nodded in agreement.
"It surely does. Why it's all I can do to drag him away to tend to our traps." Daniel's voice lingered off to a whisper. And a big grin erupted on his face.
"You're up to somethin', Dan'l Boone, with that curly-q of a smile on your face," the tavern keeper said.
Daniel slapped the bar, "Got me an idee," He grabbed the scarf Becky made him for Christmas and wrapped it around his neck. "Yes sir got me an idee, that's gonna solve your money problems, Jericho and make Mingo real happy family man." His green eyes were sparkling.
"Well what in tarnation is it, Dan'l?" Cincinnatus screeched.
"Yeah," Jericho said, "I'd like to know what's gonna solve my money problems."
Daniel put his arm around the young man's shoulders, "How would you like to finish out the trapping season with me?"
"What do ya mean, Dan'l, finish out?" Jericho asked.
"I mean take Mingo's place, work his half of the trapline with me. That way you could make up the debt you owe him and he can stay home with Songbird and little"Tah-teh" there. What do ya think, Jericho?"
Jericho looked at Cincinnatus, his present employer. "I don't know, Dan'l, I ahhhh," he stammered.
"Aww Natus you'd let ol' Jericho here go with me wouldn't ya. Fer Mingo," his eyes got a sad look in them, "Fer Songbird?" he continued, "Fer little 'Tah-teh'?"
Cincinnatus had a soft spot in his heart for Songbird and now their little boy.
"Hmmph, be good to get you outa my hair," he said looking at Jericho.
Both Daniel and Jericho looked up at the receding hairline of their friend.
"Now never you mind, the both of ya!" he shouted. "But Dan'l, you know how proud Mingo is of doing his own work. How you gonna convince him to let Jericho work his traps for him?"
Daniel walked over to where he had left his cap and mittens.
"You just leave that to me. I'll get him at his weakest moment. We're headin' back out tomorrow for a month. You ain't seen him like I have, gentlemen. 'Bout that third week away from home he gets to starrin' into the campfire at night, thinkin' bout that little baby boy of his and Songbird. Don't you worry, I'll convince him."
The big man picked up Ticklicker, turned back and waved, "Happy New Year, boys!" he shouted. Yancy looked up and waved.
"Same to you, Dan'l," Jericho and Cincinnatus answered.
"Good trappin'," Cincinnatus added.
"And we'll see you back here come February 2nd!" Daniel winked.
"You betcha!" Cincinnatus answered. "February 2nd it is!"
Daniel opened the door real careful and stepped out into the last snowstorm that 1775 would bring.
The first chirp of the cold morning could be heard outside. Those birds who chose to stay north for the winter announced the dawn's early light with a song. Inside Mingo and Songbird's lodge, safe and warm from the late December snowstorm, a little bird had begun his chirping too.
Ken-tah-teh was awake, ready for dry pants and something to eat. He sat up in bed between his mother and father, waiting to see which of them would wake up first.
"Mama? Papa?" he repeated.
Both Songbird and Mingo knew the instant their baby had sat up, but neither had stirred enough to open their eyes. In their big, wide bed padded with soft animal skins, Songbird slept on the inside against the wall. Mingo slept on the outside, close to his rifle, able to get up quickly if trouble arose. Ken-tah-teh slept in between them and was usually the first to wake in the morning.
Songbird moved first, opened her eyes and patted her baby's bare belly.
"Mama," he said aloud with a smile on his face. Could his big, brown eyes be open any wider, she thought.
"Sh, sh, sh," Songbird put her finger to her mouth. "Papa is sleeping." She pointed to Mingo who was covered up to his bare shoulders by the big elk skin blanket on the bed. Their lodge was warm so she knew he had gotten up some time in the night and put more wood on the fire.
The baby turned and looked at his father, "Papa 'seep?"
Now in his eleventh month, Ken-tah-teh had begun to put words together. Songbird nodded and climbed gently over her sleeping husband. She put on the long deerskin robe Mingo had given her. Open in the front like most mother's wearing apparel was, the baby watched her attentively. When she turned back to him, his arms shot up in the air.
"Up, up," he begged.
She picked him up and walked toward the fire ring.
"Papa 'seep?" he said again, pointing back to their bed.
"Yes, Ken-tah-teh, Papa 'seep," she mimicked him.
Songbird laid him down on the bearskin rug by the fire that warmed their lodge. With the extra skins that Mingo had put on the walls for insulation and plenty of wood for the fire, their home was a warm and happy one.
Mingo knew he should open his eyes and get started. He and Daniel were heading out once more to run their trap lines. But it was still early, too early even for Daniel to be up yet. So the Cherokee man laid quiet and warm under the covers, listening to the sounds of love that now filled his lodge every morning.
It was their ritual, mother and son, their time to be together. Songbird would wash and dry the baby's bottom and give him dry pants. All the while Ken-tah-teh jabbered in his own language to her. Of what he did yesterday and what he was going to do today. It was Tah-teh this and Tah-teh that.
The baby had chosen to go by the nickname Daniel had given him-Tah-teh, much to Mingo's chagrin. Still he loved to listen to their chatter.
"Papa is going trapping with Daniel so we need to let him sleep," Songbird told him.
At the mention of Daniel's name Mingo heard the baby say, "Po? 'Po?" It made him chuckle, for Ken-tah-teh had also chosen a nickname for Daniel. He knew Daniel as Papa's friend. Papa's friend whose son, Israel, has a pony. The baby loved horses, of any size, big or small. When Daniel and Israel came to visit, they were not allowed to come without the pony. So to Ken-tah-teh, Daniel was not Daniel. Daniel was 'Po.
Mingo heard him again, "Po? 'Po?"
"Yes, Ken-tah-teh," he heard Songbird say, "Po."
Then the lodge was quiet but for the suckling sound of Ken-tah-teh at his mother's breast. Soon enough they would wean him away from nursing, but for now it was a special time between mother and son. Mingo watched as his little hand reached up and touched Songbird's face as if to say "I love you." Songbird took his hand and kissed it.
"I love you, Ken-tah-teh," she whispered.
"Good boy, Ken-tah-teh," Songbird said when she heard his second burp. She sat him on her lap thinking maybe he would go back to sleep. Then with a wrinkled up nose, she exclaimed, "Ken-tah-teh, not again. I just gave you dry pants." She tickled his tummy and laid him on the rug again, reaching for another rabbit skin while the baby giggled.
"Papa 'seep?" he asked again and pointed to their bed.
"Yes, Papa is sleeping,"
Then he pointed to the door, "Po?"
Songbird nodded, "Yes, Papa and Daniel are leaving today. It will be just Ken-tah-teh and Mama for a little while." As she finished with his dry pants, the baby listened to every word she said.
"Papa 'seep?" he asked and pointed to the bed again.
Songbird knew he wanted to get to their bed and Mingo.
"Yes," her finger to her mouth, "Shhhh, you lie here, Ken-tah-teh, on the rug while Mama washes her face."
She knew better, and turned to the basin full of water by the fire. Out of the corner of her eye she watched as he rolled over on his belly. Then he crawled like an inchworm over to the side of their bed-where she also knew her husband was pretending to be asleep.
Mingo purposely rolled onto his side so he would be facing out to his approaching baby boy. Making believe he was asleep, Mingo knew when littlest one reached the bed and slowly pulled himself up to a standing position. Holding tight to the side of the bed, Ken-tah-teh began to let his wishes be known.
"Up, Papa, up," he begged. "Tah-teh up, Papa," when he stretched to touch Mingo's face, his feet went out from under him. Before his little behind touched the floor Mingo swept him up.
"Papa's got you," he said and sat Ken-tah-teh on his own bare stomach. "Papa's got you." Mingo raised up and kissed the baby's cheek then laid back down.
"Good morning, "
A grin from ear to ear, Ken-tah-teh reached out, "Papa."
Mingo gazed into those love-filled brown eyes, "Can Papa have a kiss?"
Throwing himself forward onto Mingo's chest the baby landed a kiss on his father's chin.
"Thank you," He told his little warrior.
Mingo looked over at Songbird who was still by the fire.
"Mama's watching us, Ken-tah-teh."
The baby pointed, "Mama?"
"Yes," Mingo answered and poked his little boy's bare belly. "Is Ken-tah-teh's belly full?"
The littlest one giggled and poked his own tummy.
Mingo nodded, "Yes, Ken-tah-teh's belly. Where is Papa's belly?"
The baby scooted back leaning against Mingo's raised knees and poked his father's belly. Mingo pretended it tickled him making the baby laugh even more.
And so father and son's morning game began.
"Where is Papa's nose?"
Ken-tah-teh put his finger on Mingo's nose, then his own.
Mingo nodded, "Yes.,"
They went thorough the eye, the mouth, the nose again, each time the baby making the right choice until Mingo asked him.
"Where is Ken-tah-teh's ear?"
The baby touched his own ear. Mingo grinned, "Where is Papa's ear?" He looked and looked at where Mingo's ear should be. But they had played this game too many times before. Again he scooted his bottom up so he was sitting on Mingo's chest. He picked up one of his father's braids and grabbed the ear hidden by the long black hair.
"Papa's ear," the baby said victoriously.
Mingo raised him up, "Ken-tah-teh is such a smart boy," he said, lowering the laughing baby down to his face he kissed him. Then Mingo laid him down on the bed beside him. He pulled the blanket up over the two of them. Then folding his hands behind his head Mingo laid back and sighed. When he looked over, Ken-tah-teh was trying to do the same thing.
Mingo could see Songbird smiling,
"Oh Ken-tah-teh," he groaned and stretched his arms and legs as far as he could. "Papa would stretch a mile if he didn't have to walk back." The baby did the same until his father reached over and tickled the little, bare belly with his braid.
Songbird sat by the fire ring enjoying a hot cup of tea.
"Mama," Mingo's voice spoke to her. "Come over and lay down with your men."
"Mama," Ken-tah-teh's voice followed. She looked over and saw the two of them stretched out on their bed. Holding Mingo's blue woolen trousers in her hand she stood up.
"If Mama doesn't mend Papa's pants before Daniel gets here, Papa will be very cold out in the snow." But those two pair of dark brown eyes called to her.
"It isn't even light yet," Mingo assured her. "Come over with us."
Laying the trousers down by Mingo's pack that she had readied for him earlier, she slipped out of her long robe, climbed over him and snuggled under the covers next to her men. The Cherokee man turned on his side facing his wife and son.
"Mama, Papa," Ken-tah-teh reached up and touched their faces. His eyes were slowly closing, until he was fast asleep.
"Our little warrior sleeps," Mingo told her and leaned over to kiss her. Under the covers he found Songbird's hand, then he laid back and they both dropped off to sleep themselves.
Mingo woke to the smell of something wonderful. The sweet smells of sassafras tea, corn meal mush, and maple syrup filled the lodge. Songbird had snuck out of bed without waking him and prepared him a hearty morning meal before he had to leave.
His pack, powder, and shot along with his rifle, whip, knife, and weapon belt she had ready for him by the door. The newly mended trousers were with his vest and moccasins waiting for him to change in to. Ken-tah-teh was still asleep as Mingo quietly got out of their bed. The first inklings of light were beginning to show as he peeked out the door. Daniel would be there in a couple of hours to pick him up. Those two hours belonged to he and Songbird.
"Brrrrrrrr," he shivered as he closed the door. He washed in the basin of fresh water his wife had poured for him. If only it was spring and the river was thawed, then he could have his morning swim. He joined Songbird by the fire. She stood up next to him,
"Would you like some mush, it is ready,"
"No, thank you,"
"No? But you will be hungry on the trail,"
Mingo put his arms around her and held her close to him. It would be four weeks until he would be able to do so again.
"This is what I will hunger for on the trail," he hugged her tighter. "And Ken-tah-teh's laugh."
He looked over to the bed where their baby boy was still sleeping.
Songbird laid her head on his bare chest.
"And I will hunger for your touch as well," she murmured.
They stood quietly in each other's embrace. Mingo saw the morning meal she had prepared for him. And his gear all packed and ready for him by the door. He kissed the top of her head.
"Whatever did I do before you came into my life, Little One?" He looked at the bearskin rug on the floor.
"Come and lay with me before it is time to leave."
Songbird glanced over at Ken-tah-teh. Mingo put his hand under her chin.
"He will tell us when he is awake like he always does," he assured her.
And they lay down by the fire as husband and wife.
Mingo was right. Ken-tah-teh woke up and began to cry. Songbird went to him and picked him up while Mingo got dressed. He sat down by the fire and poured them a cup of tea. The baby was waking up slowly and not as happily as he usually did.
"Sh, sh, sh, baby," Songbird said as she changed him again. She put one of his shirts on him and joined Mingo at the fire.
"Oh what's the matter,Little Warrior?" he said and put out his arms. "Come and have some mush with Papa." The baby went to Mingo who sat him on his knee. Ken-tah-teh settled back into the cradle of his father's arms.
"There now," he said wiping the tears that ran down the baby's cheeks, "You just woke up too quickly, like an ornery little bear cub didn't you?" Mingo poked him in his tummy and Ken-tah-teh began to smile. "I thought so," Mingo said and broke of a tiny piece of the cornmeal mush, dipped it in the syrup and gave it to the baby. Ken-tah-teh's eyes widened as he chewed on the sweet treat.
"You will be a good boy for Mama, while Papa is gone with Daniel?" Ken-tah-teh was pointing to the mush until he heard Daniel's name.
" 'Po?" the little voice asked.
"Yes, Daniel and Papa must go check their trap lines again."
He held tight to his son for as long as he could before leaving. He knew he must go to provide for his family, but how he hated to be away from them.
"One day, Ken-tah-teh, you and Israel will help Papa and Daniel with the trapping and hunting and fishing. Would you like that?" The baby watched and listened to all his father said to him. Mingo rocked him gently, humming a song to him. Ken-tah-teh reached up and touched his father's face.
"Papa," he cooed, as if to say I love you just like he had done to his mother earlier. Mingo saw the smile on Songbird's face and winked a kiss to her.
The call of a whip-poor-will broke the calm of their morning together. Ken-tah-teh, who was almost asleep in the comfort of his father's arms perked up immediately.
" 'Po?" he looked up at Mingo who laughed at his son.
"He didn't fool you did he, Ken-tah-teh? Good boy."
The whip-poor-will was Daniel's signal that he was outside. Songbird opened the door.
"Come in, Daniel," she said. "And get warm."
"Good morning, Songbird, how are you this cold morning?" the big man in buckskins said as he ducked his head to enter.
"We are all well, Daniel, thank you. Would you like a cup of tea?"
He took off his gloves and set his rifle safely by the door.
"No, thank you, Songbird, Becky and I drank a whole pot of coffee with breakfast this morning."
A little voice could be heard from the fire ring in the center of the lodge.
" 'Po? 'Po?" Ken-tah-teh let his presence be known to Daniel.
"Well hello there, Tah-teh," the big man walked over to the fire where Mingo and his son were still sitting. He put out his arms and the baby reached to go to him.
"Ohhhh," Daniel groaned. "By golly yur gettin' big."
Ken-tah-teh pointed to the door, " 'Po?"
Daniel laughed. "No, Ken-tah-teh, no pony today. The snow is too cold for his feet." He grabbed the baby's toes and wiggled them. "But just look what Becky and Mima made for you." He pulled out of his coat pocket a pair of coonskin slippers just the right size for the littlest one's feet to grow in to. Daniel tickled the baby's foot with the furry shoes. Mingo stood up beside the man he called blood brother and rolled his eyes.
"Well I figured if your Papa won't let you wear a coonskin cap at least you can wear these fine coonskin slippers to keep those little toes of yours warm."
Songbird joined them, "Oh Daniel, you will remember to thank Rebecca and Jemima for me."
The big man was still holding the baby who continued to look at the door, hoping for Israel's pony to come in.
"You'll probably be able to thank 'em yourself, Songbird, cuz they told me to tell you they planned to visit you and Tah-teh while we're gone."
"Tah-teh?" the little dark-haired one repeated when he heard his name.
"See Mingo, even Tah-teh himself likes that name," Daniel tapped the nose on the little face that was looking him straight in the eye.
Mingo's lips were pursed, "Very well, 'Po Boone, 'tall as a timber, big as a mountain.' Yes, I like the sound of that."
Silence filled the lodge as the three adults looked at the littlest one whose answer was to take hold of Daniel's nose.
" 'Po nose?" he asked innocently.
All three of them could not keep a straight face and burst out laughing. Daniel hugged the baby and gently tapped his behind.
"Yes, Tah-teh, 'Po's nose."
"You know Daniel, even my son knows that the whip-poor-will goes south to winter," Mingo said while putting on his coat and weapon belt. "You had better change your signal call to allow for the proper season."
Daniel handed the baby to Songbird when he saw Mingo getting ready.
"Oh I was just testin' you, Mingo."
The Cherokee grinned, and then a glint of pride showed in the father's eyes.
"Ken-tah-teh, let's show Daniel what you can do. All right, Mama?"
Songbird bent down, and let the baby stand in front of her, holding tight to him. Reaching out to his son, Mingo got down on his knees about five feet across from them.
"Come to Papa, Ken-tah-teh."
The littlest one took one step, still holding on to Songbird's hands. Then he took two, three, four and more steps while still holding his mother's hands. Mingo scooped him up, holding him tight,
"That's my big river boy. What do you think of that, Daniel?"
Daniel clapped his hands together. "Won't be long 'fore he'll be helping us run our trap lines."
The Cherokee man held his son close. Daniel reached over and tickled the baby under the chin.
"I'll meet you at the spring, Mingo," he said and went to the door. "Bye Songbird, bye Tah-teh."
"Bye Daniel," Songbird said. "Wave bye to Daniel, Ken-tah-teh."
The baby raised his hand and waved, then laid his head down on Mingo's shoulder almost as if he knew his father would be going too. Daniel smiled and went out the door.
'I'll be right there, Daniel," Mingo stood at the door looking lonesome already. He patted his baby boy gently on the back. "You will be a good boy for Mama, while Papa is gone with Daniel."
Ken-tah-teh lifted his head and looked toward the door. " 'Po?"
"Yes, 'Po," Mingo smiled at Songbird who joined them at the door. Goodbyes were getting harder for him to say to his family.
"Give Papa a big kiss, baby," she told him. Ken-tah-teh gave Mingo a kiss.
"And a big bear hug," she said. His little arms went around Mingo's neck and while he squeezed, both he and his father pretended to growl.
"Grrrrrrrrr," father and son smiled at each other.
Songbird put our her arms, "Come to Mama, so Papa can go."
The baby looked at his father, "Tah-teh go?" Mingo's eyes met Songbird's who knew his heart was breaking. She took the baby from him.
"No Tah-teh needs to stay with Mama and maybe we will go visit 'Eeeoww. Would you like that?"
The baby's face lit up. " 'Eeeoww?" he repeated.
'Eeeoww was Ken-tah-teh's name for Cincinnatus. The first time the grizzled tavern-keeper picked up Ken-tah-teh, the baby grabbed his beard. Cincinnatus pretended it hurt and yelled, "Eeowwww."
Both of them laughed and laughed. So Cincinnatus was given a new name.
Mingo put his pack and powder horn over his shoulder and turned back to his family. He leaned over and kissed Songbird, "I love you," He whispered, then he kissed the baby. "Papa loves you, Ken-tah-teh. Be a good little warrior and take care of Mama."
Ken-tah-teh grabbed his father's nose. Mingo smiled, took his little hand in his and kissed it. Then the tall Cherokee man picked up his rifle and opened the door. He looked back at them and waved.
"Wave bye to Papa," Songbird told her little one. "Be safe, my husband," she mouthed to him.
Ken-tah-teh's hand went up in the air as he waved goodbye.
That was the picture that would keep Mingo safe and warm while he and Daniel trapped for the next month. Mother and son, Songbird and Ken-tah-teh, his family.