He liked the name of his hero in Detachment Delta, Charlie Strongheart, so much that when his editor asked him to return to Westerns, Bendell said the first book would be named Strongheart. The author and his wife own the Strongheart Ranch in southern Colorado and have even registered the Strongheart brand.
Strongheart is centered around the Fremont, Custer, and Saguache Counties in Colorado territory in 1873. The story begins with an action-packed stage holdup on Copper Gulch Road and a promise made to a beautiful grieving widow to get back her stolen antique wedding ring. The promise is made by the tall, handsome Joshua Strongheart, a half-white and half–Sioux Indian Pinkerton agent. There are fights, chases, and shootouts from Canon City and Florence to Hardscrabble and Villa Grove in the southern Colorado Front range area.
The plot involves Strongheart couriering a letter signed by the President from the US War Department to Major General Jefferson Davis, who has captured Captain Jack of the Modoc Tribe. Captain Jack is scheduled to be executed by firing squad. Washington does not want the popular Modoc chief, who embarrassed the army eluding capture, to become a martyr, so the missive clearly directs Davis to assure that the chief and his followers get a public and fair trial.
The story also centers around the fact that Strongheart gave his word to a beautiful widow that he would get her ring back. He lives by the creed that a man is only as good as his word, and the storyline proves it as he hunts down the gang who robbed the stage, man by man, and survives gun battles, ambushes, and even has a run-in with a large grizzly bear.
In the process of all this, Strongheart falls in love with the young widow, but it is an unrequited love, as her husband has only been dead a year. She still feels a loyalty, and the highly principled Strongheart feels honor-bound not to proclaim his growing all-out love for her. Strongheart is full of action and suspense from cover to cover, and you’ll have to read it to see how Josh and the widow come out.
Read on for an excerpt from Strongheart...
The tall warrior grabbed his bag and headed to the nearby stream to bathe, clean off his war paint, and change clothes. The Lakota or Sioux and their allies, the Cheyenne and Arapaho, were meticulous about bathing and keeping clean, and he was amused how so many racist wasicun, or white men, used expressions such as “filthy redksins.” The Lakota actually viewed many whites as being very dirty and unkempt.
Thirty minutes later, he returned to the circle of lodges from the stream. Lila Wiya Waste looked at him approaching with a great longing. She wished he was not her first cousin, but wished more he would look at her the way the other braves did. He now was dressed in his normal manner of dress and looked like a totally different person, a white man, with Lakota features.
His long, shiny, black hair was no longer braided but hung down his back in a single ponytail, and it was covered by a black cowboy hat with a wide very flat brim and rounded crown. A very wide, fancy, colorful beaded hat band went around the base of the crown.
He wore a bone hair pipe choker necklace around his sinewy neck and a piece of beaded leather thong hung down a little from the front with a large grizzly bear claw attached to it.
His soft antelope skin shirt did little to hide his bulging muscles, and the small rows of fringe which slanted in from the broad shoulders in a V shape above the large pectoral muscles and stopping at mid-chest, actually served to accentuate the muscular build and narrow waist that looked like a flesh-covered washboard like the wasicun women used.
Levi Strauss had recently patented and started making a brand new type of trousers made of blue denim which whites were calling “Levi’s.” They had brass rivets and Joshua had bought a couple pairs from a merchandiser, who bought them himself for $13.50 for each dozen pairs. They were tight, and they too did little to hide the bulging muscles of his long legs.
Around his hips, Joshua wore his prized possessions, one a gift from his late-step-father and the other a gift from his late father. On the right hip of the engraved brown gunbelt was the fancy holster, with his step-father’s Colt .45 Peacemaker in it. It had miniature marshal’s badges, like his step-father’s own, attached to both of the Mother of Pearl grips and fancy engraving along the barrel. It was a brand new single action model made especially for the army in this year, 1873, and this one was a special order by his step-father’s friend Chris Colt, who was a nephew of inventor Colonel Samuel Colt.
On his left hip was the long beaded and porcupine-quilled and fringed leather knife sheath holding the large Bowie-like knife with the elk antler handle and brass inlays. It was left to him by his father.
He wore long cowboy boots with large-roweled, jingle-bob Mexican spurs with two little bell shaped pieces of steel that hung down on the outside of each from the hubs and clinked on the spur rowels as they spun or while he walked.
Because he had always been trained to keep his weapons clean and knife sharp, Joshua pulled the large knife from the sheath and examined the blade. As usual, it was scalpel-sharp.
Lila Wiya Waste, his cousin, handed him a cup of hot coffee from the large pot he gave her months earlier. He sipped the steaming brew and thought about his childhood quest to learn about his biological father and search for blood relatives.
His biological father, Siostukala, Claw Marks, had disappeared when Joshua was young and was a total mystery to him for many years. His mother would not tell him anything about the man, and Joshua quit asking, because tears would well up in her eyes every time his name was brought up. Joshua figured he must have caused her very painful memories. Asking when family friends were trading with the Sioux, he traveled to Lakota villages every chance he got to locate him.
Finally, at 16, he met his half-brother who grew up with Siostukala . His 13-year-old half-brother named Cate Waste, meaning “Cheerful,” told him how his father died a year earlier.