The Swetky Agency

Submission Synopsis

The Secret Arroyo

by D. J. Herda

Print This Page

Anticipated at 70,000-80,000


One Planned Prequel
Three Planned Sequels

When Wade Hawkins learns that his beloved Tantien has been abducted from their home outside of Taos, he sets out to find her—and comes face to face with a renegade troop of blood-thirsty Confederate soldiers making a fortune from a Choctaw flesh-trading ring.

As an Army scout, Wade Hawkins learned his job well—he is the best tracker west of the Missouri. It is a skill that comes in handy, for he’ll need all of his wiles to overtake the murderous flesh-traders who abducted his Choctaw wife from their home several days before. As he closes in on her captors, he finds more than he bargained for: a troop of ruthless, bloodthirsty ex-rangers with plenty of fire power and 16 Indian women—captive squaws—on their hands. But was Tantien one of them?

When Wade Hawkins sets out to find his missing Indian wife, he learns that she has fallen victim to white slavers. When he's forced to kill the only man who can help him, he knows he’s on his own.

He rides out to Ft. Craig near Taos where he hopes to learn something about Tantien. There he meets Colonel Deering, whom he finds overbearing and arrogant. When Deering tries to enlist him to bring a band of Choctaw Indians back to the fort for resettlement to Louisiana, Hawk declines. By the time Hawk asks for three men to help him find Tantien and the others, the Colonel is furious. As Hawk prepares to leave, he runs into a captain whom he'd befriended years before. The former scout denies his services to him, too, but leaves under more pleasant conditions.

Hawk pursues his quarry toward Mexico when he discovers that they’ve broken into two groups. One turned east toward Texas while the others circled back around him, heading north. Knowing he’ll need help, he heads out to the Choctaw Reservation, hoping to run into his friend, Thompson. Instead, he stumbles across a small raiding party of Shawnees. As he watches from the safety of cover, he notices something peculiar. They are traveling with women--unheard of for Shawnees. Closer inspection through binoculars reveals the women to be from several nearby tribes.

As the Shawnees break camp, Hawk plots to infiltrate them in order to learn more. Suddenly, he stumbles across a Kiowa war party trailing the Shawnees. Hawk narrowly escapes, leading the Kiowas away from his only link to information about his wife. Bedding down for the night, he plans to catch up with the Shawnees again the next morning, but he’s surprised by three Kiowa braves who take him captive.

The braves escort him to their camp outside Arroyo de Seco, a magical mountain where several tribes believe the Great Spirit of Life dwells. Hawk has dealt with Kiowas before, and he knows he must show courage and aggressiveness if he's to have any chance to escape. He demands to see the Chief, a man called Ki-otuk, or wise owl, and accuses him and his tribe of being squaw stealers. Outraged, the Chief orders Hawk put to death when the scout, playing his last card, calls the warrior to defend his honor on the sacred grounds of Spirit Mountain.

"I do not defend my honor against white knives," Ki-otuk says flatly.

"And I do not bend to liars, murderers, and squaw-stealers," he replies. Suddenly, he spits into the Chief’s face as the warriors gasp in horror. It is a challenge the Chief cannot refuse, and Hawk is returned to a tee-pee to contemplate the confrontation set for daybreak.

Hawk knows that as long as he battles the Ki-otuk on sacred ground, he has a chance of saving his life. Although the Kiowas are not known for their benevolence, they cannot risk offending the Great Spirit should Hawk win the battle of knives. But Hawk cannot take that risk. He has other plans.

Cutting his way out of the tee-pee, Hawk sneaks through the camp until he finds a solitary squaw whose husband is away. He whispers something in Shawnee before subduing her and carrying her off to Spirit Mountain, where he gags and ties her to a nearby red pine. Then he returns to the Kiowa camp and the tee-pee.

The following morning, Hawk is led on horseback to Spirit Mountain. After a brief ceremony, Ki-otuk and Hawk are handed knives, and the fight begins. He knows if he can defeat the Indian, he will win his freedom. But his adversary is stronger and wilier than he had imagined and soon takes him to the ground, his razor-sharp knife held inches from the scout's throat.

"I have been mistaken," Hawk tells Ki-otuk as the wind from the giant mountain whistle down the valley. "The Great Spirit of the Mountain talks. Do you hear?"

"The Great Spirit of the Mountain tells me you must die for the insults you have delivered to the Kiowa Nation. "

"That is not true," Hawk replies. "I have been mistaken about only one thing. It is not the mighty Kiowa tribe that has descended to stealing other nation's squaws, but the Shawnees."

"Another lie," the Chief says.

"And right now," he continues, "the Great Spirit tells of a Kiowa squaw gagged by Shawnee warriors and bound beneath a red pine."

The Chief looks to his warriors. "It is a trick," one of them says finally. "He is lying."

When Hawk describes the woman to Ki-otuk and tells him where she is bound, the chief orders two of his braves to investigate. Within minutes, the mountainside is buzzing with word of the white man who speaks with the Great Spirit. The abducted squaw is released. As the Chief questions her, she tells of hearing a Shawnee speaking softly before blacking out.

Hawk convinces the chief that the Great Spirit wishes the Kiowa Nation to work with him to stop the Shawnee raiders and return all of the abducted women to their homes.

"And if we do not?" the Chief inquires.

"Then more Kiowa women will perish."

Ki-otuk releases him, and he reports back to Ft. Craig what has happened. The situation is tense, he advises, for as long as the Shawnees are raiding other Indian tribes and stealing their women, territorial warfare is assured. Thompson agrees that Hawk should set out after the Shawnee raiding party with the aid of the Kiowa braves that Ki-otuk promised him. Thompson will follow with a contingent of soldiers as quickly as possible.

Hawk and a party of six Kiowa braves, led by the Chief’s son, set out on the trail of the renegade Shawnees. After nearly two days, they catch up to them in a canyon near Capstan, New Mexico. A battle ensues, and all 10 of the warriors are killed. But no women are found.

Hawk sends the Kiowas back to Ki-otuk to report what has happened, promising to keep them informed as he seeks to learn more about the missing squaws. Suddenly, he stumbles upon a camp of what appear to be three drifters wearing rag-tag Confederate uniforms. They tell him they saw a party of Shawnees leading a group of squaws along the Rio Grande River toward Rio Doso, where they plan to cross into Mexico. Hawk thanks them, shares their grub, and turns in for the night, only to be awakened by a rifle barrel poking his ribs. At the other end of the gun is one of the drifters, who orders him up.

Hawk catches sight of the others loading pack mules with supplies. His hands tied behind his back, he is led into the desert where he is to be killed. As the lone drifter lifts the rifle to his shoulder, pointing the muzzle at Hawk's head, the night air is split by the angry buzz of an arrow landing with a thud deep within the man's neck. Hawk is stunned to see Chicaucus, the Chief’s son, emerge from the darkness.

The two mount their horses and set out after the others. They catch up with them at an abandoned mining camp where several other whites have herded dozens of Indian women into a mineshaft under heavy guard. Hawk leaves Chicaucus to watch over them, instructing him to leave a trail should the women be moved, while he returns to the fort to alert the soldiers.

As Hawk enters the fort, he is arrested and thrown in the brig, a six-foot-square cubicle with one door and no windows. Listening at the door, he overhears Colonel Deering talking with another soldier about the delivery soon to be made to the Federales in Mexico by the men who will take the captive squaws across the mountains into Baja. From there, they’ll be sold into slavery.

Hawk finally manages to escape and returns to the abandoned mine, where he is met by nothing but cold campsites. Following Chicaucus' trail, he rides along the river to the Mexican border, where he beds down for the night, sure that his quarry is less than an hour's ride ahead of him. Suddenly, from the rustling trees before him, Chicaucus emerges.

"What are you doing here?" he asks the Kiowa brave. Before the Indian can answer, he collapses, a Confederate-issue knife protruding from between his shoulder blades. Hawk buries his friend, and, after a fitful night's sleep, resumes the trail the next morning.

When he catches up with the rustlers, he sneaks into camp and releases their horses, hoping to buy enough time to return to the Kiowas for help. En route, he meets a cavalry patrol. As he flags them down, he tells Captain Thompson of what has happened, sure that his old friend will side with him. Instead, Thompson places the scout under arrest. He tells his lieutenant to get a rope ready and place a blindfold on the prisoner. “He’s stirred up enough Indian trouble around here, and he’s stolen Army property,” Thompson says. “He’s going to hang.”

Hawk suddenly stirs. With his eyes shielded, he recognizes that it was Thompson’s voice he heard outside the brig that day—and not Deering’s—bragging about the shipment to the Federales. It had been Thompson all along!

Suddenly, a Kiowa war party of 200 braves swoops down on them. Hawk volunteers to bargain with the Indians for the soldiers’ lives in exchange for his own freedom. Thompson reluctantly agrees.

When Hawk rides out to speak with Ki-otuk, he tells the Chief of his discovery, concluding with the fact that the warrior’s son is dead. When the Chief threatens to take his revenge out on Thompson and his troops, Hawk turns slowly away from him and says flatly, "Do what you want with them. "

After annihilating the soldiers, the Indians join in the pursuit of the Confederate kidnappers. They overpower them and free the women, although Tantien is not among them.

Hawk remembers tales of the angry gods of Arroyo de Seco. Their eyes, he'd been told, glow like so many campfires in the night and their souls cry out like mournful women.

On a hunch, he returns to the sacred dwelling place of the Great Spirit of the Mountain. From a distance, he can see the Spirit’s glowing eyes and hear its mournful cry. As he gets closer, he stumbles upon a makeshift camp where Indian women are being held prisoner, debased sexually, "broken," and then shipped to via Mexico to California Territory.

Sneaking into the camp, he discovers his beloved Tantien, who is deathly ill. She tells of her own debasement at the hands of her captives and begs for her husband's forgiveness. Nothing—not even her love for him—is worth living for now, she says; and, as she clutches him, she looks deeply into his eyes and dies.

Hawk single-handedly kills the six men holding the Indians captive before freeing the women and leading them off Spirit Mountain and into the Kiowa camp where Chief Ki-otuk promises to return them to their homes. The two warriors clasp each other’s arms before Hawk saddles up and rides into the mountains to grieve for his lost woman.


D. J. Herda is an award-winning, full-time professional writer/journalist with more than 40 years of writing and editing experience.  He is author of more than 80 published books and several hundred thousand short pieces, in addition to several screen plays, stage plays, and audio and video scripts.  He currently serves as president of the American Society of Authors and Writers (, is a member of The Author's Guild, and is a former member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Washington Press Club.

Former ghost writer for Ronnie Schell, Lawrence Welk, Art Linkletter, etc.  Former ghost writer/photographer for Sammy Davis Jr.  Scriptwriter for educational and consumer cable television, in-flight airline, etc. 

This story was written visually, with strong character and scene elements and naturally occurring dramatic breaks.  Its dialogue is hip, pointed, quirky, and humorous, and the scenes contain good descriptive passages for visualization purposes.  Several producers have expressed interest in seeing the book. 

Herda is one of the best fiction writers working today.


NOTE: All material is copyright protected.  No portion of this material may be copied or reproduced, either electronically,  mechanically, or by any other means, for resale or distribution without the written consent of the author.  All copy has been dated and registered with the American Society of Authors and Writers.  Copyright 2009 by The Swetky Agency