(Read First Two Chapters Below)
Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Montana
The two Indian teens raced side by side, their dirt bikes kicking up rocks and leaving a swirl of dust in their wake. The bigger boy, Tommy, yelled in youthful exuberance as he accelerated past his best friend. His shoulder-length jet-black hair shimmered in the early summer sun. His bright white teeth stood out in stark contrast against his dark skin, made darker by a fresh smattering of mud.
Despite the fact he was a year older than Tommy, Leonard was half his size. The two boys made an odd pairing but they had been inseparable since elementary school. Leonard pushed the throttle on his secondhand 1964 Honda 90 Trail bike to its limit to catch up with his friend. The max speed on the speedometer was listed at 60 mph but Leonard had never been able to get the well-used 87cc pushrod engine much over forty-five. And even that required a stiff tailwind.
The trail bikes were favored by most hunters and fishermen on the res, because they could handle rough terrain and climb just about anything. More importantly, they were lightweight, so they wouldn’t get stuck in the mud. They had reached the foothills on the western edge of the reservation. Tommy shifted his bike into low gear and began to climb. It didn’t take long, however, for the smaller Leonard to overtake his man-child best friend—one of the rare occasions when Tommy’s size proved to be a disadvantage. Leonard grinned and thrust his fist into the air as he crested Ghost Ridge first.
The two boys paused to take in the picturesque view. Behind them, to the east, they could see for miles as the sweetgrass of Montana’s Great Plains went on seemingly forever. To the west, directly in front of them, the Rocky Mountain front rose up rapidly and majestically. Its many peaks were still blanketed in white from the record snows of the past winter. Just to the north, straddling the border of Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Reservation, stood an isolated block of Proterozoic rock known as Chief Mountain. It was the tallest of all the peaks at an elevation of over 9,000 feet. It was also one of the most sacred sites to the Blackfeet. Spiritual ceremonies had been held at its base for generations.
The old-timers claimed the small ridge the boys had just ascended was haunted by the spirits of a mythical tribe; thus the name Ghost Ridge. Tommy used to be fascinated by the story as a little boy, but had come to believe it was just another bullshit Indian legend the tribe elders always seemed to be trying to pass along to his generation. He’d been out on that ridge plenty of times and never seen or felt anything.
Ghosts my ass. He reached into his shirt pocket for his lighter. He sparked up a fat joint he had rolled earlier that morning and took a long hit before passing it over to Leonard.
They sat straddling their idling bikes, silently taking in the scenery and getting slowly stoned. Getting high had become a daily ritual for the two boys. Life on the res was isolated and filled with hardship, and they had a difficult time envisioning a future with much promise. Tommy began to feel a familiar wave of depression creep in around the edges of his psyche.
Not today. He breathed in deeply, revved his engine, and took off. He was alive again as he barreled down the western slope of Ghost Ridge, hollering at the top his lungs.
The heavy snows of winter had given way to an unseasonably warm spring, causing serious flooding the previous month. As the boys reached the base of the opposite side of the ridge, they could see the significant erosion the last round of flooding had caused. Tommy pointed to a few new caverns carved in the side of the hill by the powerful runoff. The gaping crevices hadn’t been there the last time the two boys had traveled out this way.
The sun was getting lower on the horizon and a glimmer from something on the ground caught Tommy’s eye. He steered his bike in that direction. As he got closer, he saw an odd-shaped piece of metal sticking out from between two rocks. He killed the engine, slammed the kickstand with the heel of his boot, and dismounted. Once he rolled away the few loose stones surrounding the object, it became apparent he had uncovered some kind of metal helmet.
“What the hell is that?” Leonard asked, as he rolled to a stop ten feet behind Tommy.
“Hell if I know, but it looks old,” Tommy answered slowly.
The crown of the helmet was tall and oval-shaped. The sides swept down and then turned up at the ends, almost like the top half of a duck’s bill. It had a number of dings and dents, but considering its age, it seemed to be pretty intact.
Leonard walked up from behind Tommy and grabbed the helmet out of his hands, “Where do you think it came from?” he asked, turning it over to peer inside.
Tommy pointed toward the mountains and said, “Looks like the runoff from the spring thaw must have carried it here. Hell if I know from where, though.” He looked back at Leonard, who had the helmet perched on his head and a shit-eating grin plastered on his face.
“What do you think? Pretty badass, right?” His eyes were still slightly glazed over from the pot and the helmet was too big for his head. He looked ridiculous.
“Yeah, a real warrior, bro,” Tommy deadpanned. They both burst out laughing.
Tommy took a step forward to grab the helmet off his friend’s head, but Leonard was too quick. He darted out of the way. “Give it back, Lenny,” he shouted, and started to give chase.
Leonard looked back over his shoulder. He could feel Tommy bearing down on him. He knew it wouldn’t be long before his more athletic sidekick caught up and tackled him, so he quickly tossed the helmet back over his shoulder. Tommy caught it in midair, but in the process, caught his toe on a large stone. He stumbled and fell. Leonard flopped to the ground nearby in a fit of uncontrollable, stoned laughter.
A few minutes later, Tommy got up. “Come on, Lenny, it’s getting late. We better head back before the sun goes down.”
He lashed the helmet to his rear cargo rack and turned his bike in a southeasterly direction toward home. The boys were especially quiet on the long ride out of the foothills. Their adventurous day was quickly fading into a memory, replaced by the depressing reality of their everyday lives that lay just a few miles ahead.
A month later, Tommy was home alone in the double-wide trailer he shared with his mother and two older sisters. His father had fled the scene shortly after Tommy was born. A shiny new Cadillac had just pulled into the driveway. Tommy watched as an older white guy with neatly trimmed gray hair got out of the car and made his way toward the front door.
“Yeah?” Tommy said, warily pushing the door halfway open.
The stranger told Tommy he had seen the boy’s picture in the newspaper and was interested in purchasing the old helmet he had found. Tommy could tell by the man’s accent he was from somewhere else.
A couple of weeks earlier, the local paper had run a story about Tommy and Lenny’s discovery. The story had been picked up by some of the larger circulation newspapers in the nearby towns of Missoula and Great Falls. Tommy didn’t have much need for a funny-looking old helmet, and some quick cash sounded good. Weed and beer didn’t come cheap.
The man made an offer but Tommy smelled a bigger payday. He thought he could squeeze more out of the rich-looking guy, so he looked him square in the eye and asked for double. The stranger hesitated just long enough for Tommy to fear he might have blown his opportunity. But then the man reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. The exchange was made quickly. Tommy stuffed the cash in his jeans pocket and watched from the doorway as the Cadillac disappeared from view.
That was the last he ever saw of the man or the funny-looking helmet again.
The plump middle-aged woman kept stealing glances at Matt as she browsed through a table full of architectural fragments. Matt had purchased the pieces at a local auction a couple of months earlier. The restoration of old homes in Savannah was a never-ending endeavor, so period doorknobs, window frames, fireplace mantles, staircase finials, and the like were always in demand. Plus, he had a weakness for the beauty and craftsmanship that went into nineteenth-century homebuilding. That’s why he never passed up the opportunity to salvage a piece of Savannah’s glorious past.
Matt smiled at the woman as she stole yet another glance at him. Finally, she got up the nerve to approach and said, “Aren’t you the guy who found Washington’s surrender letter?”
He guessed she must have hailed from Chicago because the word the sounded more like “da” and the word guy sounded more like “gay.” Matt was more than prepared for the question. He’d heard it a thousand times over the past eighteen months.
He had become quite famous ever since he had unearthed a surrender letter written by George Washington during the Revolutionary War. For a time, He had enjoyed all the attention as he traveled the media circuit, appeared on talk shows, and gave countless interviews. The American public was fascinated by the story, and Matt’s effortless charm and athletic good looks had earned him a legion of fans. He patiently explained to the portly woman and her equally round husband that he indeed was “dat gay,” but of course that was something they already knew.
They hadn’t ended up in his 6,800-square-foot shop by accident. The only reason they came to Hawkins Antiques, located inside a circa-1860s converted mansion, was to meet the famous Matt Hawkins. They hadn’t a clue about antiques and couldn’t tell the difference between Regency and Victorian styles if their lives depended on it. But Matt always made time to talk, so he did his best to patiently answer their questions.
His cell phone began to chirp, which finally gave him an excuse to extricate himself. His good friend, James Fox, the executive director of the Society of the Cincinnati, was calling. Matt walked outside to take the call.
The Society of the Cincinnati was the nation’s oldest patriotic organization, founded in 1783 by officers of the Continental Army. The society’s stated purpose was “to promote knowledge and appreciation of the achievement of American independence.” For the past year, Anderson House, the society’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., had housed the now-famous George Washington surrender letter exhibit, which had been viewed by tens of thousands of curious Americans.
After catching up for a few minutes, Fox came around to the reason for his call. “Matt, something remarkable was donated to the society a couple of weeks ago. One of our members bequeathed a rolltop desk used by William Clark when he was the superintendent of Indian Affairs back in the 1830s,” he explained.
“You mean William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame?” Matt replied. Matt was an amateur history buff and had always been fascinated by the 1804 expedition that was the brainchild of Thomas Jefferson.
“One and the same,” Fox said excitedly.
“Wow, James, nice score,” Matt said enthusiastically. As he talked, he walked across the street from his shop and into the beautiful confines of Monterey Square. Monterey was just one of twenty-two beautiful square-shaped parks scattered throughout the historic section of Savannah. He found an unoccupied bench and sat down.
“Thanks, but I haven’t even told you the best part,” Fox said. “Inside the desk, we discovered something even more remarkable—a cache of field notes written by Meriwether Lewis during the final months of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.”
“What?” Matt nearly shouted. “How is that even possible? I mean, how come nobody ever found them before?”
“Well, the gentleman who willed the rolltop desk to the society was ninety-seven years old when he died. The desk had been left untouched in his attic for more than fifty years. Nobody even knew it was up there except for the old man. And he suffered from dementia for years. According to his will, it had been passed down to him by his grandfather who had acquired it shortly after Captain Clark’s death in 1838.”
“And Meriwether Lewis’s notes were just sitting inside the desk all these years?” Matt asked, still in disbelief.
“Well, they weren’t exactly sitting out in the open. In fact, they were pretty well hidden. When the society received the desk, it was in rough shape. It was filthy and stuffed with all kinds of junk. As our curator was cleaning and preparing it for display, he came across a clump of wadded-up old newspapers in the back of a bottom drawer. Out of curiosity he unraveled the bundle. You can imagine his shock when he discovered handwritten field notes from one of America’s most famous explorers wrapped inside.”
“And you’re sure they’re real?”
“One hundred percent,” Fox replied without hesitation. “We hired a highly credible authenticator. He assured us they were written by Meriwether Lewis.”
“They must be worth a fortune,” Matt said excitedly. “So when are you going public with your find? Lewis and Clark buffs are going to go crazy over this.”
Fox paused before continuing, “Actually, it’s funny you mentioned the word crazy, Matt, because that’s the reason I’m calling.”
“Sorry, James, but you’ve lost me now.”
“Well, here’s the thing. The notes were written in a somewhat rambling nature. You might even say they were incoherent in parts,” Fox explained, his tone turning more serious. “You see, Lewis tells an unbelievable story about being captured by a tribe of Indians. More remarkably, he describes them as looking a lot like York, Captain Clark’s black slave who accompanied them on the expedition.”
“Wait a minute, James,” Matt interrupted. “I’ve read a lot about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and I don’t remember reading anything in the history books about Lewis being captured, let alone by a tribe of black Indians.”
“That’s because there was never any mention of it in Lewis and Clark’s official correspondence. Believe me, we made a trip to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia and read copies of the original journals cover to cover, just to make absolutely certain,” Fox related. “Like I said, it’s an unbelievable story, and by unbelievable I don’t mean remarkable. I mean we’re not sure if we believe it.”
“I guess I see now why you haven’t gone public with your find,” Matt said.
“That’s not all,” Fox continued, “Lewis also claims that during his short captivity he saw what he describes as a ‘religious shrine.’ And sitting atop this stone shrine was a helmet. He even drew a picture of it.”
“What kind of helmet?”
“It’s a conquistador helmet,” Fox said. “There’s really no mistaking the distinctive shape. It’s the same type worn by de Soto, Coronado, and all the other famous Spanish conquistadors in the 1500’s.”
“That’s incredible,” Matt said.
“Actually, more like impossible,” Fox corrected. “Spanish conquistadors never made it farther north than Colorado, which is more than a thousand miles south of where Lewis claims he saw the helmet.”
Matt’s mind was spinning trying to reconcile all of the improbabilities in Lewis’s story. “So what happened next? Were they friendly? How did Lewis escape?” he asked in rapid succession.
“Whoa, slow down, Matt. I know you’ve got questions and we’ve still got a lot more to tell you,” he said, “but we’d rather discuss the next part of the story in person. Buzz and I want to fly down to Savannah in Buzz’s plane tomorrow afternoon. Are you available?”
“Believe me, James, even if I had box seats at Fenway, I’d give them away for this.”