It was a lazy day in August. The sun was hot, and Tommy and Elija were lying on the ground near the creek, enjoying the shade of a big cottonwood tree. They had been assigned to watch the thirty head of cattle, which were grazing a half mile upstream.
“Herding cattle might be important,” said Tommy, “but it isn’t very exciting.”
Just then the cattle started to low. The boys heard them moving around as if they were frightened. “Something is bothering them,” said Elija. “Let’s see what it is.”
In a moment the two boys were running toward the cattle, but they stopped short when they saw a small band of Indians coming toward them. They had no way of knowing whether or not they were friendly. But Tommy knew that the Omaha Indians had given the Mormon pioneers permission to camp on their land for the winter and to use their water and their timber.
When the boys came within talking distance, a young Indian stepped forward and spoke to them in halting English. “Last night our enemies, the Iowas, attacked our camp. All of our men except Chief Big Head and I were on a hunting trip. The Iowas took our horses and all of our food. They wounded many women and children. Chief Big Head they left for dead. He will die if he does not get help.”
Tommy looked down on the willow bed that the Indians had made for their chief. What he saw made him want to close his eyes.
“I’ll go for help,” he said.
“I’ll go with you,” said Elija.
The young Indian put his arm across Elija’s chest to keep him from going. “You stay here till boy gets back.”
Tommy knew that Elija’s safety depended on his speedy return, so he ran almost all of the two miles to Winter Quarters.
He went at once to the home of his bishop and told him what had happened. “The Indians really need help,” he concluded, “and they’re keeping Elija with them to make sure I bring some back.”
Bishop Morley listened quietly; then he put his arm around the boy to comfort him while he thought about what to do. “We must find Brigham Young,” he decided. “He might be down at the ferry. You take my horse and ride down there as fast as you can. In the meantime I will look around here.”
The ferry was twelve miles away, and it took Tommy an hour to get there. When he arrived, he found Brigham Young and told him his story.
“We will help the Indians, of course,” Brigham Young said, “but our first concern is for Elija. You must get back to him as soon as possible. Take your wagon and ask Bishop Morley to take his. These two wagons should be enough to bring the badly wounded to Winter Quarters. I’ll meet you at my house.”
Bishop Morley was waiting for Tommy. They took the two wagons and went to get Elija and the Indians.
When they came to the small sad camp, Elija ran up and began talking to Tommy. “At first they were afraid I would run away,” said Elija, “but when I took off my shirt and wet it in the creek so I could cool the forehead of Chief Big Head, they knew I could be trusted.”
“I’m so glad you are all right,” Tommy said.
Bishop Morley and the young Indian helped Chief Big Head into Tommy’s wagon, and the boys started back to Winter Quarters. The other Indians who were badly wounded were put into the Morley wagon. The rest of the Indians walked beside it.
The sun was almost setting when the wagons arrived at the home of Brigham Young. He soon determined that the Indian chief would need special care. He turned to Tommy and said, “Please go and ask your mother if she could take Chief Big Head into her home and nurse him back to health.”
Tommy was off in a flash. He returned in a few minutes with his mother, who said, “Of course, I’ll take care of him.”
Brigham Young smiled and said, “You won’t be sorry. An Indian never forgets a kindness.”
The weeks that followed were anxious ones for Tommy and his mother. Chief Big Head was very sick and needed constant care. Either Tommy or his mother stayed day and night by his side. Then one day, without any warning, the Indian got out of bed. “Chief Big Head well,” he declared. “I must go to my people.”
That night he left Winter Quarters and took with him all of the Indians who had been staying there.
Sometime after this, Tommy was so sick with black canker that his mother was afraid he was not going to get well. Unexpectedly, Chief Big Head came to their door and handed Tommy’s mother some horseradish. “Grind this,” he said, “and make tea for boy. Tea will make him well.” Without even waiting to be thanked, the Indian turned and was soon out of sight.
The horseradish did help Tommy. Afterwards, many who had black canker, a form of scurvy, were given horseradish tea as medicine, and it helped to save their lives too.
“Chief Big Head didn’t forget, did he, Mother,” Tommy asked one day.
And his mother answered, “No, Tommy, and neither will we.”