It was a bitterly cold winter in 1850, especially for El Paso, Texas. The chilly winds blew snowflakes swirling and dancing merrily about, some of which adhered to Jana Luchsinger's long blond hair. Bravely, she held tightly to the reins as Van Gogh, her painted horse, seemed to fly as his hooves barely touched the ground.
She had previously heard the sounds of a cougar near the mountains where she painted earlier in the week. Her father told her not to venture too far from the ranch, but the acres melted away as she rode hard and fast away from the ranch.
Why did she think her father was so overly protective? In four more years, I will live with Mimi while I go to Texas State. Then I'll only visit the ranch on holidays. "Oh, I cannot wait to get older," she mused.
Again, she thought she heard the scream of a cougar, and it seemed nearer as the snow flurries whirled around her, and the sky had grown dark. It was so dark now that Jana could barely see the path. "This is my own fault because I stayed too long," she thought.
She quivered with fear, and for a 14-year-old, she was usually very brave. Jana knew she had gone too far. "Van Gogh, it is fine; we will rest in the pines on the hill. Just go slowly and be surefooted for us both." Jana said softly as she rubbed Van Gogh's head. When they reached the top of the hill, Jana got off Van Gogh and pulled a blanket out of the saddlebag along with some carrots and a bag of oats.
She put the blanket on Van Gogh and then started feeding him some carrots because feeding him always calmed him. Everything was quiet for a while, and then she heard the cougar getting closer and closer until he was on the hill above them.
Jana grabbed the reins and held on to Van Gogh, trying to keep him unruffled. Finally, she got her chance to jump on Van Gogh, and instantaneously the cougar leaped from the top of the hill. It was like Jana was seeing in slow motion as she waited hypnotically for the cougar to land on her and Van Gogh as he leapt from the hilltop. She could not move.
He seemed to soar through the air, eating up the space between the beast and the beauty sitting on her horse. Until another arrow explored from a hidden place, he speared the cougar through the neck. The beast fell into the frozen white pine needles, dead.
Jana could not move, and neither could Van Gogh. Then stealthily, from the tall pine trees, an Indian boy appeared with a bow in his hand. He was a young boy, about 15 years old. He stood six feet tall, and his hair was long and black with a red headband around his head. He wore buckskin pants and a shirt with Moccasin boots, pulled tightly around his legs.
Jana thought the Indian boy was very handsome, with the darkest eyes she had ever seen. She blushed, just thinking these thoughts about a boy. He smiled at her and said, "I am Lightning Cougar, the same as Na Hopoa, which means the beast."
Jana’s blue eyes widen as she listens to Lightning Cougar speak English. "Where did you learn to speak English?" asked Jana.
"Please forgive me for my bad manners and thank you for saving our lives." This is Van Gogh, my horse. I named him that because he is a painted horse, and Van Gogh was an artist. My name is Jana, and I live near Guadalupe Mountain on a ranch.
Lightning Cougar spoke then, "Yes, I was taught about Van Gogh and English by the missionaries at the Fort."
"Where do you live?" asked Jana.
"We are living over the hills from the fort, back in the forest area, where we can fish in the creeks and rivers and hunt deer and turkey—these are the favorite meats of my people."
We have an abundance of corn from the summer harvest, and so we have plenty to eat and enjoy living there.
My people are Choctaws; we are from the Panther family. We are traveling through this area and are only staying one more year. Then, we will go north to the Carolinas," explained Lightning Cougar.
"Why are you here in the area today?" inquired Jana.
"I have been tracking the cougar since he killed one of our dogs from our camp. We have children and older ones who cannot run away so fast. The cougar was a great danger to us all."
"Well, the sky is really dark now, so we both should go." You go first, Jana, and I will bury the cougar. Choctaws believe his spirit can once again hunt in the happy hunting grounds. Jana "I hope to see you again," he stated. Then he added, "Please take this turquoise necklace as it will protect you from other evil ones."
Jana did not want to leave, but she knew it was necessary for her and Van Gogh’s safety. She looked back once and waved as she and Van Gogh rode towards home.
She saw her father riding to meet her. She smiled and waved at him. Jana knew she would see Lightning Cougar again because it was her destiny.
She smiled sweetly to herself as her fingertip caressed the turquoise stone. "We will be just fine now, Van Gogh." She whispered in his ear.
Yes, she thought one cougar to fear and one to love, maybe.
© 2022 Barbara Purvis Hunter