Thunder king was a black mustang (wild horse) which Sama Ree, an American Indian, had captured and brought in from the prairie. Hal Merle. The young son of a ranch owner, had set is heart upon obtaining the horse for his own, but his father said that they could not afford to buy it, for times were hard. Hal, however, did not give up hope.
One day Hal Merle back to gaze at the beast of his dreams. He found Sama Ree at home.
“You buy?” inquired Sama brightly, but ungrammatically.
Hal shook his head. “It isn’t easy getting money out of Dad these days,” he answered, “especially when the price you ask is more than any wild beast can be worth. But I’ll tell you what, Sama: You let me ride the horse so that he gets to know me, then I can take him to the ranch, and perhaps Dad will make you and offer.”
The Red Indian hesitated. “No man ever yet rides him but me, “he said. “Him dangerous beast”.
Nevertheless, an hour or so later, the boy mounted on a little pony was leading the mustang of fat the end of a halter towards a quiet hollow of the prairie. Thunder king was wild-eyed and snorting, but, bit by bit, he became used to the quiet stranger.
Well out of sight, with rolling uplands on every side Hal drew rein, and began to caress and stroke his own pony, talking to her in a quiet voice. Soon the wild on e became interested. Hal took some dainty from his pocket, and gave it to his own pony. The tempting scent reached the nostrils of the mustang, and soon he too was munching at something which he had snatched nervously from the boy’s hand. Hal touched his nostrils and the animal drew back, snorting.
Gently but firmly the boy continued his efforts; at length Thunder King allowed Hal to rub the white star on his forehead. Then Hal lowered his face and breathed into the mustang’s nostrils./ So,. That first day, boy and mustang came to know each other a little, and the wild beast no longer shrank back from the boy’s touch.
Hal came every day after that, and at the end of the week Sama was amazed to see the mustang follow Hal into the corral without even a halter.
“I think I’ll ride him tomorrow’” remarked the boy, at which Sama was still more surprised, for he imagined that every day Hal had been struggling to master the mustang.
So the next day Hal, gently but swiftly, slipped from his own saddle on to the bare back of the mustang. With one snort of terror, Thunder king set off across the prairie in broadside leaps, his back as stiff as a table; then down went his head, and how he bucked! He bucked at full gallop, he bucked standing still, bouncing like a glass marble on stone flags. Still the boy his seat, so with a scream Thunder King flung himself down and rolled.
Quick as the horse was, the boy was quicker. Hal landed on his feet, and quietly stood by while Thunder King rolled; then, as the animal leapt up, Hal slipped back to his place, and away they went once more in wild stampede.
The best horses are not easily broken, and many an evening both boy and horse were exhausted when they returned to Sama’s corral. Now, however, Hal never led the mustang, but left him to follow, and the animal learned to come to the boy’s call. For Hal, who loved his own freedom, understood the burden of even a halter to a beast born on the great open ranges.
Once more Hal tried to persuade his father to buy Thunder King from Sama, but again his father refused, saying that they could not afford to buy another horse.
Meanwhile, Sama used Thunder King for long rides across the ranges, but eh Red Indian knew little about treating horses kindly, and the mustang found him a bad master.
One day Hal, riding his little pony far home, had a bad fall. The pony was killed, but eh boy himself escaped unhurt. Night came on, and as Hal wandered hither and thither in search of a way home, he found Sama lying on the ground.
There were hoof-marks all round, and Hal saw that the Red Indian wore spurs on which were dark stains. The truth was plain; Sama had been thrown by Thunder King and was dead!
Hal was about to leave the spot when he heard a long mournful cry. It seemed to fill the whole heavens. Wolves! A voice inside him seemed to say, “They have scented you! It is you they are hunting!”
Hal looked about him. There was no escape. If the wolves were after him he could do no more than empty his revolver, and then await his fate. It did not seem at that moment that his life worth very much, out there in the purple shadows, so utterly alone.
Hello, what was that? Nearer and nearer it came, the thud of hoofs, rapid as the rumble of kettle-drum. In an instant the truth dawned. A horse does not readily leave its dead master, even though it may not have loved him. It hangs about the place, as though afraid of facing the world alone when it has been so accustomed to having another to choose the way.
Hal clapped his hands and called, the long, shrill call that he had used for the horse he loved. Again he heard the howling of wolves, and he smiled the saddest of smiles, thinking that if it was Thunder King they were chasing, the wolves would have a long way to go before they caught him. Thunder King, with all the open ranges at his whirlwind hoofs!
Again he called, again and yet again. He thought he saw Thunder King passing by in the depending purple of the east; then the shadow drew nearer, nearer.
At last, through the stunted sage, came Thunder King-a black ghost of the wind mane and tail streaming wildly, a child of the desert, rejoicing in his own power, for the sounds at his heels held no terror for him! He had heard Hal’s cry, for he came straight up then he, began to circle round, shaking his glorious head and snorting, while nearer and nearer came the terrifying howls.
“Thunder King! Thunder King!” The boy held out his hands. He might have run out and tried in his desperation, to catch the mustang, but a life spent among timid horses had taught him the folly of such an action. Unless Thunder King came to him his chances were small, for the mustang was in no mood to stand still.
And yet, what was that look in the wild eyes? Did Thunder King understand Hal’s danger? He was standing stock-still now, grazing in the direction of the howling wolves, snorting softly. Hal went softly up to him, quietly but firmly clutched the wild mane, and next moment was astride the glossy, silken back. Then they were off like the wind, saddle less, bridle less, for somehow Thunder King had managed to slip his bridle, as only a wild horse can. Faster, faster they went, the dust clouds rising far behind them.
All through that night Hal, with throbbing head, managed to keep his seat. When morning came, he dismounted and washed at a stream; he drank deeply of the cold water, and felt better.
This country w new to him, and so far as he could see, there was no sight of human dwelling, nothing but the unending purple sage! In which direction they had been heading all night he had not the least notion, so that he was as completely and entirely lost as could be.
Anyway, there was nothing for it but to keep on riding in the hope that something would turn up. The chance seemed small, for their own ranch was thirty miles from anywhere, and to the west lay unbroken ranges.
During that morning Hal became more and more certain that Thunder King was making for some place that he knew, perhaps for his own wild where his own wild kindred lived, which would be about as far from human dwelling as it was possible to get. Hal, however, had no say in the matter. If Thunder King knew the way even to nowhere that was more than Hal knew!
Sundown made things clear, for just as Hal, completely exhausted, was about to drop, the mustang pulled up, and the boy saw before him a rough cabin, built into a bank. It was a Red Indian cabin, for his was a Red Indian trick to save the trouble of building a fourth wall.
Hal dismounted and knocked. Of course there was no answer. He noticed a pan lying by the door; it was half-filled with sand. Hal took the pan up. He was astounded at the weight of it, for the sand that it contained was not sand at all, but coarse, yellow gold-dust!
At this Hal’s interest was properly aroused. No ten yards away was the stream from which the dust had been washed. He went into the cabin; it was well-stocked with stores-flour, buckwheat, and the like. On the wall was a hunting-belt adorned with stained porcupine quills. Hal had seen that belt before: it was very like the one which he had often seen in Sama. Then there was the hunting-knife, with the brass stud sticking out from the fire-blackened handle. Hall recognized that too: It was Sama’s!
Had Sama, then come to this place? Was this Sama’s cabin-here, back in the wild? Was it here that he spent his time when he disappeared, sometimes foe weeks-here, washing out gold from the tiny stream about none but himself knew?
Bit by bit, Hal began to solve the mystery. It was believed by all that Sama possessed great wealth, and here was the secret of it-an unclaimed gold-field!
Now Sama was dead. This gold – field had not been claimed; it belonged, therefore, to whoever found it – it belonged to Hal! By a trick of fate Hal had come to possess not only Thunder King, Sama’s priceless mustang, but also Sama’s gold-field! The boy was eager to go out and prospect the property, but wisely he decided first to make himself a square meal. Then obtain a night’s rest. Before that, however, he fed thunder King and made him comfortable in the rough shelter beside the cabin.
During that night Hal considered matters still further, If Thunder King was able to find the way here, he was also able to find the way back. Up till now Thunder King’s jaunts had consisted of two journeys – the one out to his place, and the other back. Well, the horse had come here because his head was in this direction; surely, then, after a day’s rest, he would take the homeward journey.
Next day Hal prospected the property. Here, indeed, was a fortune only asking to be worked. He gathered all the samples he could carry, and next morning, with enough food for several days, he rode away, leaving the black mustang to choose the trail.
After one night on the trail, Hal began to recognize the road, and by midday next day he was home – home astride Thunder King!
“The mustang’s mine now, Dad,” said the boy, having told his story. “There isn’t any question about it, is there?”
“The mustang!” echoed his father, his eyes bright, for he was still unable to believe the boy’s story. “Do you understand, boy, what this find of yours means to us? I fancy one wild mustang doesn’t matter much, but-shake, Hal, shake!”
Yet to Hal the mustang mattered more than anything else on earth.
From H. Mortimer Batten’s
“Tameless and Swift”