CAPTURED BY THE NAVAJOS
BY CAPTAIN CHARLES A. CURTIS U.S.A.
NEW YORK AND LONDON HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1904, by HARPER & BROTHERS.
I. INTRODUCES THE BOYS
II. ATTACKED BY NAVAJOS
III. WARLIKE PUEBLOS
IV. IN A NAVAJO TRAP
V. A SIEGE AND AN AMBUSCADE
VI. CROSSING THE RIVER
VII. A SWOLLEN STREAM AND STOLEN PONY
VIII. OVER THE DIVIDE—A CORPORAL MISSING
IX. THE RESCUING PARTY
X. THE CORPORALS ARE PROMOTED
XI. BOTH PONIES ARE STOLEN
XII. INDIANS ON THE WAR-PATH
XIII. THE BOY SERGEANTS DO GOOD SERVICE
XIV. ON THE DESERT WITHOUT WATER
XV. THE PONIES ARE FOUND
XVI. APACHES IN SKULL VALLEY
XVII. PURSUIT OF THE APACHES
XVIII. ON THE TRAIL OF THE APACHES
XIX. THE ATTACK ON THE APACHE CAMP
"EVERY ONE HELD HIS RIFLE IN READINESS TO SHOOT THE ESCAPING APACHES" Frontispiece
"MOUNTED, THE BOYS PRESENTED A WARLIKE APPEARANCE"
"CORPORAL HENRY ASKED CAPTAIN BAYARD TO INQUIRE FOR MANUEL PEREA"
"'GOD HAS GIVEN ME AMONG MANY FRIENDS, TWO THAT ARE SOMETHING MORE'"
CAPTURED BY THE NAVAJOS
INTRODUCES THE BOYS
It was late in the fall of the second year of the civil war that I rejoined my company at Santa Fe, New Mexico, from detached service in the Army of the Potomac. The boom of the sunrise gun awoke me on the morning after my arrival, and I hastened to attend reveille roll-call. As I descended the steps of the officers' quarters the men of the four companies composing the garrison were forming into line before their barracks. Details from the guard, which had just fired the gun and hoisted the national colors, were returning to the guard-house, and the officers were hastening to their places.
At the conclusion of the ceremony I turned again towards my quarters, and noticed two handsome boys, evidently aged about fifteen and thirteen, dressed in a modification of the infantry uniform of the army, and wearing corporals' chevrons. They stood near the regimental adjutant, and seemed to be reporting their presence to him.
At breakfast, the adjutant chancing to sit near me, I asked him who the youthful soldiers were.
"They are the sons of Lieutenant-Colonel Burton, Corporals Frank and Henry," he replied. "They hold honorary rank, and are attached to head-quarters, acting as messengers and performing some light clerical work."
"How do they happen to be in Santa Fe?"
"Mother recently died in the East, and the colonel had them sent here in charge of a tutor who is to fit them for college, I believe."
Later, on the same day, being desirous of looking over this ancient Indian and Mexican town, I was making a pedestrian tour of its streets, and chanced to be opposite San Miguel School in the eastern section during the pupils' recess. Half a dozen boys were engaged in throwing the lasso over the posts of the enclosing fence, when suddenly from a side street appeared the young corporals whom I had seen at reveille.
The Mexican boys instantly greeted them with derisive shouts and jeers. They called them little Gringos and other opprobrious names, and one young Mexican threw the loop of his lasso over the smaller corporal's head and jerked him off his feet. His companions laughed loudly. The older corporal instantly pulled out his knife and cut the rope. Then the two brothers stood shoulder to shoulder, facing the crowd, quite ready to defend themselves. The young Mexicans, gesticulating and shouting, crowded round the two brothers, and blows appeared imminent.
"Muchachos," suddenly cried a ringing voice from the rear, in Spanish, "are you not ashamed? A hundred against two!"
A handsome lad forced his way through the crowd, placed himself beside the two corporals, and faced his young countrymen. Before the Mexicans recovered from their surprise the bell of San Miguel summoned them to school. They hurried away, leaving the two corporals with the young Mexican who had come to their assistance.
"My name is Frank Burton," said the older corporal, extending his hand to the Mexican, "and this is my brother, Henry."
The Mexican boy grasped the proffered hand, and said, "My name is Manuel Perea, of Algodones."
"We are the sons of the commanding officer at the fort. Can't you come and see us next holiday?"
"I should much like to; I will ask the fathers if I may."
"Come over, and we will try to make your visit pleasant."
"How well you speak Spanish! It will be a great pleasure to visit American boys who can speak my language, for I know but few English words."
"Next Saturday, then?"
"At ten o'clock, if the padres consent. Good-bye," and Manuel disappeared into the school-room.
The following Saturday I saw the two corporals and their newly acquired companion at the post and at dinner in the mess-room, and a friendship was then formed which was to continue for many years.
One evening, nearly a month afterwards, I received an order to march my company into the Jemez Mountains to co-operate with other detached commands in a war being carried on against the Navajo Indians. Just as I had laid aside the order after reading it, Colonel Burton entered, and, taking a seat by my fireside, announced that he had been ordered on detached service to northern Colorado, on a tour of inspection, which would require him to be absent for a considerable period, and that he had been thinking of allowing his sons to accompany me to my camp at Los Valles Grandes.
"The hunting and fishing are fine in those valleys, and Frank and Henry would enjoy life there very much," he said. "They have done so well in their studies that they deserve a well-earned recreation."
"I should much like to have their company, sir," I replied, "but would it not be exposing them to great danger from the Indians?"
"The officer whom you are to relieve has been in the valleys nearly a year, and he reports that he has not seen a Navajo in all that time. Of course, it may be your fortune to meet them, but I do not think so. If you do, then the boys must give a good account of themselves. In any engagement that involves the whole command they must not forget they are the sons of a soldier. Still, I do not want them needlessly exposed. You are quite sure it will give you no trouble to take them?"
"Few things could afford me greater pleasure on such isolated duty, sir. They will be good company for me."
"Thank you for your kindness. The lads will report to you to-morrow morning. I will see that they are properly fitted out, and will write you now and then during my absence, and as soon as I return to Santa Fe they can be sent back."
Colonel Burton then took his departure, and I turned to a local history to learn from its pages something of the tribe with which I might be brought in contact.
The home of the Navajos lay between the Rio Grande del Norte on the east, the Rio Colorado on the west, the Rio San Juan on the north, and the Rio Colorado Chiquito on the south, but from time immemorial they had roamed a considerable distance beyond these borders.
They had always been known as a pastoral race, raising flocks and herds, and tilling the soil. They owned, at the time we began war upon them, sheep and ponies by the thousand, and raised large quantities of corn, wheat, beans, and other products.
They numbered between twelve and fifteen thousand, and could put three thousand mounted warriors in the field. They were industrious, the men doing all the hard work instead of putting it upon the women, as do the Indians of the plains and all of the marauding tribes. They manufactured their wearing apparel, and made their own weapons, such as bows, arrows, and lances. They wove beautiful blankets, often very costly, and knit woollen stockings, and dressed in greater comfort than did most other tribes. In addition to a somewhat brilliant costume, they wore numerous strings of fine coral, shells, and many ornaments of silver, and usually appeared in cool weather with a handsome blanket thrown over the shoulders.
The Navajos and the New Mexicans were almost continually at war. Expeditions were frequently fitted out in the border towns by the class of New Mexicans who possessed no land or stock, for the sole purpose of capturing the flocks and herds of the Navajos. The Indians retaliated in kind, making raids upon the settlements and pasture lands, and driving off sheep, horses, and cattle to the mountains. Complaints were made by the property-holders, and war was declared against the Indians.
The military department of New Mexico was in fine condition to carry on a successful war. Besides our regiment of regular infantry, it had two regiments of California volunteer infantry and one regiment each of California and New Mexican cavalry.
The Navajo upon the war-path was terribly in earnest, and his methods of waging war were like those of the redman everywhere. With the knowledge that the American soldier was an ally of his old-time enemy, and that the Mexican was wearing the uniform of the "Great Father," he no longer hesitated to look upon us as his enemies also, and resolved to combat us up to the very walls of our posts.
No road in the Territory was safe to the traveller; no train dared move without an escort. Towns were raided, and women and children carried into captivity. Frightful cases of mutilation and torture were constantly occurring in the mountain fastnesses. Troops took the field, and prosecuted with vigilance a war in which there was little glory and plenty of suffering and hard service.
Every band of Indians captured was taken to the Bosque Rodondo, on the Rio Pecos, where a large fort had been established. It was occupied by a strong garrison of infantry and cavalry.
I had found social life in Santa Fe very pleasant during my brief stay there, so I was not overjoyed when I received the order to march my company to Los Valles Grandes, there to relieve the California company already referred to. But the order being peremptory, we packed our baggage during the first hours of the night, and were on the road soon after daybreak.
It was the 3d of October when the boy corporals and myself, mounted on sturdy Mexican ponies, rode out of Fort Marcy for our new station, one hundred miles due west. The regimental band escorted the company through the plaza and for a mile on our way, playing, after immemorial custom, "The Girl I Left Behind Me," and adding, I thought with a vein of irony, "Ain't Ye Glad You've Got Out th' Wilderness?"
On the morning of the 8th, after four days of gradual and constant ascent from the valley of the Rio Grande, which we had forded at San Ildefonso, we began the slower ascent of the most difficult portion of our march.
The woods were full of wild turkeys and mountain grouse, made fat on the pine-nuts, and Frank and Henry and the soldier huntsmen secured a generous supply for our first meal in our new military home.
It took us from early morning until noon of the last day's march to reach the highest point of the road. What with the frequent halts for the men to fasten a rope to the wagon-poles and aid the severely taxed mules up the steepest places, to fill gullies and sloughs with stones and brush, to pry mired wheels up to firm ground, and repair broken harnesses and wagons, we were over half a day in going a distance which could have been accomplished in two hours by soldiers unencumbered with a baggage and supply train.
The downward march on the western slope of the mountain-range was rapidly made over a smooth road through a continuous avenue of overarching forest trees, and without a halt. From the lower limit of the forest we caught the first glimpse of the Great Valleys. The valley before us was fourteen miles long, and of a nearly uniform width of eight miles. It was almost surrounded by mountains; in fact, while there were many trails leading out of it, there was but one practicable wagon-road—that by which we had entered. But at the southern extremity there was a precipitous canon, through which flowed a considerable stream. To the west was another canon, a dry one, called La Puerta—the doorway—which led into the second valley, called the Valley of San Antonio.
The Great Valley, on the eastern edge of which I had halted the company for a few moments' rest and observation, was lower through the centre than at the sides. It was not unlike an oblong platter, and was absolutely treeless, except that opposite us a bold, pine-clad point jutted out from the western mountain-range about three miles, like a headland into the sea.
The whole valley was verdant with thick grass. The two boys, sitting on their ponies a few yards in advance of the company line, were in raptures over the prospect.
"This is the first bit of country I've seen in New Mexico that looks like Vermont," said Frank.
"Yes, and what a change in the space of a few miles!" observed Henry. "On the opposite side of this range were only bunch-grass, cactus, and sand, and here we have fine turf and waving grass. What are those objects in that farther corner, sir?" he continued, turning to me and pointing to the southwest. "Look like deer or grazing cattle."
"There is a small herd of deer there, sure enough," I replied, after making out the objects through my glass. "We shall not want for venison if we have good luck with our rifles."
"Deer, antelope, turkeys, ducks, geese, sand-hill crane, and trout!" exclaimed Frank. "We've hit a hunter's paradise."
"And bears and catamounts, too, I suspect," said Henry, looking a little lugubrious.
"My, but wouldn't I like to kill a bear!" said Frank.
"Well, I don't believe I shall hunt for one, and I hope a bear won't hunt for me," said the younger lad. "I'll be satisfied with turkeys, grouse, ducks, and trout."
Six miles due west, a little south of the wooded point, detached from it about half a mile, we perceived a line of small cabins, which we inferred was the volunteer encampment. They stretched across a little level space, enclosed by a gently sloping ridge of horseshoe shape. The ridge, in fact, proved to be of that shape when we examined it later. The row of sixteen cabins stretched across the curve, and looked out of the opening towards the eastern side of the valley. Fifty yards in front of the cabins, running across the horseshoe from heel to heel, flowed a crystal stream of water twenty feet wide and two feet deep, which rose from forty-two springs near the northern end of the valley. The ridge enclosing the encampment was nowhere more than twenty-five feet above the level parade.
The cabins were built of pine logs laid up horizontally, flanked on the north by the kitchen and stable, and on the south by a storehouse. Behind the cabins, at the centre of the horseshoe curve, two-thirds the way up the slope of the ridge, and overlooking the encampment from its rear, stood the guard-house, in front of which paced a sentinel.
Resuming our march, a brisk step soon brought us to the encampment. At the brook before the parade I was met by the volunteer officers, who did not disguise their joy at the prospect of leaving what they considered a life of unbearable exile. Even before the customary civilities were passed, the captain asked me if my animals were in a condition to warrant his loading the wagons with his company property as soon as I unloaded mine, as he wished to make an evening's march towards Santa Fe.
I told him I thought they were, provided he took the two wagons belonging to the camp in addition, so that the loads would be light. He approved of my suggestion, and promised to send back the wagons as soon as he reached Fort Marcy.
The wood-yard being well supplied with fuel, I saw no reason why the wagons and mules could not be spared the ten days necessary to make the round trip.
One reason for doing all I could to facilitate the immediate departure of the Californians was that my men were anxious to move into the cabins at once.
With my first glance at the encampment, it had seemed to me too open to surprise. The adjacent forest-clad point crept up near the left flank, offering an effectual screen to an attacking party, and the overlooking sentinel at the guard-house did not have a range of vision to the rear of more than fifty yards. He was not on the summit of the ridge by at least half that distance, and walked along the side of the guard-house next the cabins. He could see nothing of the surface of the valley to the west of the ridge, and when passing along the front of the building, as he paced backward and forward, he saw nothing to the rear of his beat.
I expressed my opinion of the situation to the volunteer captain, but he replied, "Pshaw! you might as well take the sentinel off, for all the good he does as a lookout for Indians."
"Have you seen none?"
"Not a solitary moccasin, except an occasional Pueblo, since I've been here—eleven months."
"I suppose you have scouted the country thoroughly?"
"There isn't a trail within thirty miles that I do not know. These bundles of wolf-skins and other pelts you see going into the wagons are pretty good evidence that my men know the country."
We walked to the kitchen, and found, hanging on the walls of the store-room, a dozen quarters of venison, the fat carcass of a bear, and several bunches of fowl.
"We are not obliged to kill our cattle to supply the men with meat," added the captain. "We butcher only when we need a change from wild meat."
"I saw from the edge of the valley where I entered it that you have deer."
"Pretty much everything but buffalo is here."
"I hear your brook is full of fish."
"There's where you make a mistake," he replied. "There is not a fish in this valley. The water is spring water, and must possess some mineral property distasteful to trout, for they never run up here. In San Antonio Valley, six miles to the west, in a brook less clear than this, you can catch them by the cart-load."
"I suppose you intend to take this venison with you?"
"Not if you will accept the gift of all but a few quarters, which we will take for friends in the city."
"Thank you and your men. It will be a treat to us, and keep us going until we can put in a hunt on our own account."
We went back to the parade, and stood looking at the surrounding mountains in the deepening twilight.
"What other ways are there in and out of the valley, besides the one which we entered?" I asked.
"Well, on the east and south sides there is a trail between the peaks, four in all, and one good bridle-path to the Pueblo of Jemez. That descends from the valley level to the Jemez River bottom, a drop of nearly three thousand feet, in a distance of three miles, zigzagging twice that distance."
"And to the west and north?"
"To the north there is a trail to Abiquiu, rarely used, and to the west there is only La Puerta, into which all the other trails from the east and south concentrate. It is to watch La Puerta that this camp was established."
"And you say you have seen no Navajos or signs of them since you came?"
"Yes, plenty of signs, but no Indians. Parties have passed here in the night, but none were driving stock."
I learned all I could of the captain while his men hurried their baggage into the wagons, but he was too much excited over the prospect of leaving the Great Valleys, as well as curious to know of events in Santa Fe, to give me much information. When the guard of regulars relieved the volunteer guard, I placed my sentinel on a beat a dozen yards in rear of the guard-house, which enabled him to see several hundred yards back of the ridge, and yet not show himself prominently to an approaching foe.
The volunteers at last marched away, and I made a casual examination of the cabins. I noticed that the inner surface of the log walls had been hewn smooth, and the names, company, and regiment of the former occupants had been carved with knives or burned in with hot pokers along the upper courses. Each had a wide, open, stone fireplace and chimney set in one corner, after the Mexican fashion.
No uniform design had been observed in the construction of the cabins, the occupants having followed their own ideas of what would prove comfortable. Height, width, and depth were variable, but their fronts were in perfect alignment.
The hut which had been occupied by the officers and which fell to the boys and myself was at the right of the line, next the storehouse, a little removed from the others. It was twenty by twenty feet, partitioned on one side into two alcoves in which were rude bedsteads, one of which was assigned to the boys and one to myself. A door opened on the south side, and a window, the only glass one in camp, looked out upon the parade. Floors in all the cabins were of earth, raised a foot higher than the outside surface of the ground, smoothed with a trowel and carpeted with blankets, until later, when skins of wild animals took their place. Doors were made of puncheons, swung on wooden hinges and fastened with wooden latches operated by latch-strings.
Our first day in camp was principally spent in making ourselves comfortable. The men were busy in filling bed-sacks from the hay-stacks, and in repairing the cabins and articles of furniture. Ten head of beef cattle had been turned over to me with the other property of the camp. I had placed them in charge of a soldier, with orders to herd them in the valley immediately in front of the opening, where they could be plainly seen from the parade as well as the guard-house.
At noon two Mexican hunters, father and son, rode up to my door, the former mounted on a mule and the latter on a burro, or donkey. The elder said their names were Jose and Manuel Cordova, of Canoncito, that they were looking for deer, and would like permission to make the camp their place of rendezvous. I gave them permission to do so, and their animals were turned loose with our stock.
About four o'clock in the afternoon the boy corporals and myself, tired with our work of repairing and arranging quarters, sat down to a lunch of broiled grouse.
We were busily picking the last bones when we were startled by loud shouts. Quickly running to the centre of the parade, where the men were rapidly assembling with their arms, I saw the soldier-herdsman coming towards camp as fast as he could run, waving his hat and shouting. Behind him the steers were running in the opposite direction, driven by six Indians on foot. They were waking the echoes with their war-whoops.
ATTACKED BY NAVAJOS
The six Navajos made no attempt to shoot the herder, although for some time he was within easy rifle range. They contented themselves with driving the cattle towards the southern section of the valley.
At the first alarm Sergeant Cunningham got the men into line without a moment's delay. He had hardly counted off when the report of the sentinel's rifle was heard, followed by his shouting, excitedly, "Indians! Indians! This way! This way!"
In the direction of the guard-house I saw the sentinel and guard getting into line with great rapidity. They were gesticulating wildly to us. Frank Burton, who was standing near me, shouted, "Henry, get your carbine and fall in with me on the left!"
"Don't expose yourselves, boys," I said. "The colonel told me to keep you out of danger."
"We are needed, sir," answered Frank, promptly, and the two youngsters instantly placed themselves on the left of the line.
I broke the company to the rear through the intervals between the cabins. The men had only the marching allowance of ten rounds of ammunition, so I had a couple of boxes broken open with an axe, and cartridges were distributed to them. The two Mexicans joined us, and steadily and rapidly we advanced up the slope to unite with the guard.
Scarcely two hundred yards distant we saw a compact body of over three hundred Indians. They were charging down upon us, and with a general and frightful war-whoop they began firing.
We deployed as skirmishers. The men fired by volleys, sheltering themselves behind bowlders, logs, and ridges.
Instantly, at the head of the mounted column, there was an emptying of saddles. The onset was suddenly checked, and the Indians broke into two divisions. Part of the force swept along the outer side of the horseshoe ridge to the south, and the other part wheeled round to the north.
I met the attack by dividing my men into two divisions. The men moved along the interior slopes, firing as they ran, and kept pace with the ponies running to the extremities.
The Navajos had lost twenty men. A chief, who had been in the front of the fight throughout, had the utmost difficulty in holding them in close column.
"That is the great chief, El Ebano," cried the elder Cordova, as he put his gun to his shoulder. Taking careful aim at the gray-haired leader, he fired, and one of the most famous chieftains of the Navajos rolled from his saddle. The beautiful black horse he had been riding ran on towards us. With El Ebano dead, the Indians were dismayed. A moment later they were in full retreat, and joined their comrades who had stolen our cattle.
* * * * *
Our casualties were few. Sergeant Cunningham's scalp had been grazed along the left side, Private Tom Clary had the lobe of an ear cut, Privates Hoey and Evans were wounded along the ribs, and Corporal Frank Burton had a bullet wound in the right shoulder.
The Indians had gathered in a compact body about three miles to the southward, evidently holding a council of war. Reflecting that they would not be likely to repeat their attack immediately, I walked out with the first sergeant and a few of the men to note what casualties had befallen the enemy, and learn if there were any wounded men in need of assistance.
As I neared the place where the charge had been checked, I met Corporal Frank Burton leading a black pony, gently stroking his nose and talking soothingly to him, while the animal seemed half divided between fear and newly awakened confidence.
"Oh, isn't he a beauty, sir!" exclaimed the boy—"isn't he just a perfect beauty!"
"He certainly is a very handsome horse," I answered, after walking around him and taking in all his graces and points. "Take him to the stable and we will see to what use we can put him."
"Do you think it would be possible for me to own him, sir?" inquired the boy, in an anxious voice.
"As spoil of war, corporal?"
"I suppose so, sir. I was first to capture him, you know."
Before I could reply to this we were startled by a loud whinny, a little to the north, which was promptly answered by the black, and, looking in that direction, we saw a cream-colored pony, with high-erected head, looking anxiously in the direction of our captive.
"That seems to be a friend of your pony's," I said.
"Another beauty, too, sir! Can't we catch it for Henry?"
"Perhaps we can. It seems inclined to stay by this one. I see all the other loose ponies have joined the Indians. But wait now until we look over the field."
We now turned our attention to the prostrate bodies of the fallen enemy. All were dead.
The body of El Ebano, clad in black buck-skin, ornamented with a profusion of silver buttons, chains, and bracelets, lay face upward, his resolute, handsome countenance still in the embrace of death. I told the men we would give him and his comrades a warrior's burial on the morrow, and returned to camp to make it defensible against a possible night attack.
The advantage of numbers was decidedly on the side of the Indians, and I felt if they could show the firmness and dash of white men our chances of repelling a resolute attack were small. Counting the Mexicans and the boys, we numbered but forty-eight, to their three hundred or more.
We were in the centre of a large valley, with no knowledge of our surroundings nor with any way out except the road by which we had entered. Should we leave the protection of our ridge and cabins and take to the open valley we should be at the mercy of our foes.
Even supposing we could pass out of the valley unmolested, there were the forests and defiles, filled with natural ambuscades. We could not hope to pass them and reach the Rio Grande alive.
Only a few hours of daylight remained. Whatever was to be done in preparation for defence must be done at once.
In the wood-yard there were tiers of dry pine-logs, many of them four feet in diameter, and all about twenty feet long. With drag ropes and by rolling we conveyed them to the points of the ridge and to each end of the guard-house, and erected effective barricades.
While this work was going on the two boys were busy in an attempt to capture the cream-colored pony. Frank led the black towards it, while Henry rattled the contents of a measure of corn and coaxed the cream-color in a tongue foreign to that with which the animals were familiar to approach and partake of it. Tired at last of what seemed a vain attempt, the young corporal set the box before the black, which at once began to munch the crackling corn, and the other pony, attracted by the sound, trotted up and placed her nose beside her friend's. Instantly its bridle-rein was seized, and the lads uttered a shout of triumph and led the prizes to the stable.
From the top of the ridge I looked occasionally through my field-glass at the enemy. They still continued well to the south on the western side of the brook. They had dismounted and appeared to be carrying on an animated consultation.
After a considerable interval of time, four of their number mounted, and, collecting the ten beeves, mule, and burro, which had been grazing near by, drove them up and down in front of the camp, beyond rifle range. They made gestures for us to come and take them—an invitation which, for obvious reasons, I declined to accept. I quite agreed with Private Tom Clary, who, as he placed his brawny shoulder to a big log to roll it up the slope, remarked to his "bunky," Private George Hoey, "That's an invitation, begorra, I don't fale loike acciptin'."
"Ye'd niver make yer t'ilet for anither assimbly if ye did, Tom. I don't think the lutinint will risk the comp'ny's hair in that way," replied Hoey.
To have attempted to recover our stock would have necessitated a division of our force, and the main body of the Navajos stood ready to dash in and cut off a party making such a reckless move.
This was what they had originally attempted to accomplish, as I heard years afterwards from a chief who took part in the raid.
Failing to draw us out in pursuit of our lost stock, the Navajos moved slowly away in the deepening dusk to a point close against the forest on the eastern side of the valley and nearly opposite our camp. There they built a row of five fires, which soon became, in the darkness, the only evidence of their presence.
I caused the sentinels to be increased, and, after dressing the wounds of the men and removing a bullet from Frank's shoulder, went to bed without undressing. After some half-hour of silence, Henry said:
"Yes; what is it?"
"I'm going to name my pony Chiquita."
"And I'm going to name mine Sancho," added Frank.
"What are you going to do with the animals you brought here?" I asked.
"Turn them in in place of the two we captured," answered Henry.
"All right; for general utility. Good-night."
"Good-night. Thank you, sir."
Half an hour before midnight the sergeant of the guard aroused me to report that strange noises could be heard from the rear of the camp.
I went to the top of the ridge and listened. A sound like the dragging of branches over the ground, with occasional pauses, fell upon my ears. I sent for the elder Cordova, and he listened long, with an ear close to the ground. His opinion was that the Indians were creeping up for another attack.
Orders were sent to Sergeant Cunningham to wake the men without noise and assemble them at the barricades.
A little after midnight the moon rose over the mountains and bathed the valley in a beautiful light.
As the moon cleared herself from the summits of the range and her rays fell upon the line of paling camp-fires of the Indians, my field-glass revealed the fact that the raiders had departed. Ponies and riders were gone. In the whole length and breadth of the Great Valley not a living being was in sight outside the limit of our encampment.
An inspection to the rear, to the scene of the late conflict, revealed the fact that the body of El Ebano and the group of dead warriors which lay about him at nightfall had been taken away. Their removal had caused the rushing and creeping sounds we had heard.
Mounting my horse, and accompanied by four men upon the four ponies, I crossed the valley to the Indian fires, but found nothing there except the horns, hoofs, and entrails of our captured cattle. The flesh had probably been packed upon the Cordovas' mule and burro to ration a raiding party into the valley of the Rio Grande.
A well-defined trail went back through the forest, which Cordova afterwards assured me led to the town of Pina Blanca.
Returning to camp, I wrote a letter to the commanding general, giving an account of the attack and its repulse, and despatched it by the Mexicans, who, taking cut-offs with which they were acquainted, and borrowing horses in relays at ranches on the way, delivered it next evening at Santa Fe.
The general sent a hundred troopers to Los Valles Grandes, where they came galloping into camp two evenings afterwards. As Captain Wardwell sprang from his saddle and wrung my hand, he exclaimed:
"God bless you, Duncan! I came out expecting to bury the bones of you and your men."
I was glad to see the California cavalry officers, and, during the three days of their stay in the valley for rest after a forced march, did the honors to the best of my ability. On the day of their departure the wagons returned loaded with supplies. Instructions were received to send back all but one wagon and six mules.
With the departure of cavalry and wagons, life in the valley settled down to quiet routine. I spent some time in instructing my companions, according to an agreement I had made with their father. Not being a West-Pointer, but a college graduate with a fair knowledge of Greek and Latin, and some other acquirements not considered of military utility, I was able to carry out a desire of the colonel and assist the boys in preparing themselves for college.
We rarely received visits from the outside world. The nearest hamlet was an Indian pueblo, twenty-six miles away, in the Rio Jemez Valley, and representatives of the army seldom had occasion to visit our outposts. The mail arrived from Santa Fe every Saturday afternoon, and left every Monday morning in the saddle-bags of two cavalry express-men.
To the soldiers life in the valleys was very pleasant. Duty was light, and there were no temptations to dissipation or to be out of quarters at night, and there were no confinements to the guard-house for disorder. Evenings were spent over books and papers and quiet games, and the days in drill, repairing buildings, providing the fuel for winter, hunting, and scouting.
As previously referred to, we were in a region of abundant game. The boy corporals accompanied the hunting-parties, and became skilled in bringing down whatever they sighted. Henry, as well as Frank, shot his bear, and soon our floor was covered with the skins of wolves, coyotes, bears, and catamounts, skilfully dressed and tanned by the Cordovas.
And now I must introduce a principal character of my story, a valued friend who took a conspicuous part in our scouting and hunting, and who, later on, did valuable service to myself and my youthful comrades.
Just as I was about to leave Santa Fe for Los Valles Grandes, the regimental adjutant—since a distinguished brigadier-general in the war in the Philippines—gave me a beautiful young setter named Victoriana, and called Vic for convenience. She was of canine aristocracy, possessing a fine pedigree, white and liver-colored, with mottled nose and paws, and a tail like the plume of Henry of Navarre.
The boys, soon after our arrival in the valleys, carrying out a conceit suggested by the letters "U.S." which are always branded upon the left shoulder of all government horses and mules, marked with a weak solution of nitrate of silver upon Vic's white shoulder the same characters, and as long as she continued to live they were never allowed to grow dim.
Vic came to me with no education, but plenty of capacity, and the corporals and I spent much time during the long evenings and on the days when we did not accompany the scouting and hunting parties, in training her.
She learned to close the door if we simulated a shiver, to bring me my slippers when she saw me begin to remove my boots, to carry messages to the first sergeant or the cook, to return to the camp from long distances and bring articles I sent for.
Vic was an unerring setter and a fine retriever. She was taught not to bark when a sound might bring an enemy upon us, and she would follow patiently at my heels or those of either of the boys when told to do so and never make a break to the right or left.
Our repeated scoutings soon made us acquainted with every trail in and out of the valley. I obtained permission from department head-quarters to employ the elder Cordova as spy and guide, and he was of invaluable use to us. He was able to show me a mountain-trail into the valley of San Antonio besides the one through La Puerta, which I kept in reserve for any desperate emergency which might make it necessary to use another. We frequently went trout-fishing with an armed party, and could pack a mule with fish in a few hours.
One morning, near the close of October, Cordova left the camp before reveille on a solitary hunting-trip in order to reach Los Vallecitos, four miles to the south of our valley, before sunrise.
He had gone but half an hour, and I was dressing after first bugle-call for reveille, when I was startled by the rapid approach of some one running towards my door. Presently the guide tumbled into the cabin, gasping:
"Muchos Navajos, teniente, muchos Navajos!" (Many Navajos, lieutenant, many Navajos!)
"Where are they, and how many?" I asked.
"About half a league over the ridge," pointing to the south. "They chased me from the Los Vallecitos trail. They number about a hundred."
Without waiting for more definite information, I told the boys, who were hastily getting into their clothes, to stay in the cabin, and, going for Sergeant Cunningham, ordered him to parade the company under arms without delay; then, taking my glass, I went to the top of the ridge. Lying down before reaching the crest, I looked through the screening grass and saw a party of eighty-three Indians, halted and apparently in consultation. They were in full war costume, and were painted and feathered to the height of Indian skill.
The party of Indians halted for nearly ten minutes, evidently in excited dispute, accompanying their talk with much gesticulation. I had time to notice that the details of dress were not like those of the Navajos with whom we had recently had a fight; but as the old hunter Cordova had pronounced them Navajos, I gave the matter little consideration. They did not seem to be aware of the existence of an encampment of soldiers in the valleys, and after a brief delay moved on towards La Puerta.
Returning to the parade, I ordered the six mules and four ponies brought to my door, saddled and bridled, and all the men not on guard to assemble under arms with cartridge-boxes filled. Fortunately, the mail-riders had arrived the previous evening from Santa Fe, so I ordered them to form a part of the expedition, and placed the party of thirteen under command of Sergeant Cunningham, mounted upon my horse.
The sergeant was directed to take the "reserved trail" through the hills into the valley of San Antonio and bring his men into the western end of La Puerta before the Indians could pass through it. I impressed it upon him on no account to fire unless the redmen showed fight, to leave his mules and horses concealed in the timber at the entrance of the canon, and so dispose his men as to convey the impression that thirteen was but a part of his force.
Just before the horsemen were to start I overheard Private Tom Clary, who was mounted on Frank's recent equine acquisition, Sancho, say to the boy:
"Corpril Frank, laddie, can ye give me the Naviho words for whoa and get up? I'm afeared the little baste 'll not understand me English, and may attimpt to lave for his troibe."
"You needn't speak to him, Tom. Use your reins, curb, and spurs," replied the boy.
"True for you, corpril; a pull to stop, and a spur to go ahead. That's a language that nades no interpreter."
For myself, I proposed to follow up the Navajos with the rest of the company as soon as they were fairly within the canon, and I expected to capture them without blood-shed.
We started, the mounted men turning to the north of the wooded point and entering the forest, and the footmen marching direct for La Puerta. I kept my men out of sight under the rolls of the valley surface, and moved at quick time. When the redmen were well within the walls of the canon we deployed right and left, and closed up rapidly behind them.
The Indians showed perceptible astonishment when they perceived this unexpected and warlike demonstration, but they soon recovered, and then, feeling the superiority of the mounted man over the footman, they broke into derisive shouts and made gestures conveying their contempt for us. This continued for some time, when they suddenly showed confusion. They dashed at a gallop to the north side of the passage, and skirted it for a considerable distance, as if looking for a place of escape. Failing to find one they dashed wildly to the other side, where they met with no better success, and then they halted and consulted.
Presently one of their number rode out and waved a white cloth. Upon this I approached alone and made signs for them to dismount and lay down their arms. They did so, and at another sign withdrew in a body, when my men picked up everything and collected their ponies.
I was certainly surprised at such a bloodless result of my strategy, and, after shaking hands with the chief, began my return march to camp.
We had gone but a short distance when I overheard Private Clary, one of the mounted men, who was riding near me, say to Private Hoey beside him.
"D'ye moind the cut uv thim chaps' hair, Jarge?"
"Indade I do that, Tom," replied George.
"Thim's no Navihos!"
"Not a bit uv it. I'd as soon expict to see one in currls!"
I had a wholesome respect for the opinions of these old soldiers, for they had campaigned against Indians in Texas, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico long before I had seen a more savage redman than the indolent, basket-making descendants of the Passamaquoddies and Penobscots. Accordingly, without appearing to notice their remarks, I approached the chief, and said, interrogatively:
A shake of the head.
"Si, senor!" he said, with a bow of his head, and I moved triumphantly on, satisfied that my eighty-three prisoners were Navajos.
But presently I heard Clary ask, "Jarge, did ye iver see Navihos with blankets like thim?"
"Niver!" answered Hoey, emphatically.
Evidently the two soldiers did not believe they were Navajos, and were "talking at me." But if not Navajos, Apaches, or Utes, who were these warriors?
When we were near camp we were met by Cordova, who had remained behind to recover from the fatigue of his early morning run. As soon as he came up to the Indians there seemed to be an immediate recognition. He and the chief met and embraced, and conversed for a few moments in a language that was neither English nor Spanish. Then the hunter turned to me, looking shamefaced, and said, in Spanish, "Lieutenant, these Indians are Pueblos, of Santo Domingo."
Whoever knows the character of the Pueblos will appreciate the joke I had perpetrated upon myself. Many towns in New Mexico are inhabited by these Indians—towns which stood on their present sites when Coronado entered the country in 1541. They form an excellent part of the population, being temperate, frugal, and industrious. They dress in Indian style, and when at war paint and disfigure themselves like any other of the red peoples, so that a green soldier would see no difference between them and the wilder tribes.
The Pueblos explained that they were in pursuit of a band of Navajos who had stolen some of their cattle the previous night. When they first saw Cordova they attempted to approach him to inquire if he had seen any Navajo "signs."
My appearance and warlike demonstrations they could not account for, not knowing there was a camp of soldiers in the valley. When I put the questions, Apache? Ute? Navajo? the chief thought I was asking him if he was in pursuit of a party of one of those tribes. Being in pursuit of Navajos, he answered yes to that name.
A week after my captives had returned to their homes in Santo Domingo, at the close of a long and fruitless search for their lost stock, a gentleman and his servant, mounted on broncos and leading a pack-mule, rode up to my cabin late in the afternoon. He introduced himself as a government Indian agent for the Navajos, and handed me a letter from the department commander. It stated that the bearer was on his way to the Indian pueblo of Jemez, to prevent the massacre of a number of Navajo women, children, and old men who had sought asylum there, and authorized me to furnish him with all the aid in my power.
After dismounting and entering my quarters, the agent stated that, the Navajo country being over-run by national troops, many of the principal men had sent their wives and children, with a few old men, to Jemez for safety; that the party of Dominicans which had been recently captured by us, being bitterly disappointed at their lack of success in retaking their missing cattle, had determined to go to Jemez and wreak vengeance upon the enemy.
The Santo Dominicans had informed the people of Jemez that if they interfered to prevent the slaughter of the Navajos they would be considered by the military authorities as allies of that tribe, and treated accordingly.
Convinced, from what the agent told me, that I should act without unnecessary delay, I proposed that we should start for Jemez at once, but he declared himself too much fatigued by a long journey to undertake a night ride of twenty-six miles. My instructions from the general were to conform my movements to the wishes of the agent, so I very reluctantly and much against my convictions concluded to wait until morning. He strongly insisted there was no reason for haste, as the Dominicans had not planned to leave their pueblo before noon.
We set out, therefore, at four o'clock next morning. Sergeant Cunningham asked permission to accompany the expedition, and I allowed him to do so, leaving Sergeant Mulligan in charge until our return.
We were a party of thirteen, mounted on every available animal in camp. Henry was left behind, but Frank accompanied us, mounted on the recently captured Sancho, proud of his horse and proud to be included in the detachment.
We passed through an interesting country, filled with wind-carven pillars and minarets, eroded shelves and caverns, and lunched at noonday beside a dozen boiling sulphur springs. We also passed Canoncito, the little village which was the home of Jose Cordova.
As we came in sight of the tinned spires of the church at Jemez, we heard a distinct murmur, and halted at once. In a moment the murmur swelled into an unmistakable Indian war-whoop. It was plainly evident the Dominicans had arrived before us.
As soon as I heard the war-whoop I told Sergeant Cunningham to bring up the men as rapidly as possible, sticking to the travelled road, and, accompanied by the agent and Corporal Frank, I put spurs to my horse and dashed towards the town.
Our route was through the cultivated land, while that of the soldiers was on the hard ground along the foot-hills. Ours was in a direct line, over deep, soft earth, frequently crossed by irrigating ditches, while theirs, although nearly treble the distance, was over firm soil without a break. We struck directly for the church spires, which I knew rose from the central plaza.
Often we plunged down the banks of acequias, carrying avalanches of soil with us into two or three feet of water, to make a difficult scramble up the crumbling wall of the opposite side; and as we neared the pueblo, the louder grew the discordant yells of the Dominicans.
As I reached the border of the plantation I found between me and the road, which here entered the town, a cactus hedge about five feet high, with no passage through it except at a considerable distance to the right. The agent veered away to the opening, but Corporal Frank kept Sancho close behind me, and I gave my good thoroughbred his head and rode sharply at the hedge, cleared it at a bound, receiving but a few scratches from the cactus spines. Turning my head as I came into the road, I saw Frank come through like a trooper and join me.
Clear of the hedge, I found myself at the foot of a narrow street which passed between two tall adobe buildings and entered the plaza near the centre of its western side. I took it at a run, and when half-way through saw directly before its inner end, facing the north, a group of old, gray-haired Navajos standing alone with their arms folded, and holding their blankets firmly about their breasts, while in their immediate front were some one hundred mounted Indians, painted and ornamented in true aboriginal warrior style.
On the terraced fronts of the houses and their flat roofs, and along the three sides of the square, seemed to be gathered the entire population of the town, looking passively on.
Before I had more than taken in the situation, a rattling discharge of rifles came from the direction of the Dominicans, and the old men fell in a heap to the ground. Covered with dust and mud, our horses reeking with foam, Corporal Frank and I burst through the crowd of spectators on the west side of the plaza, and gained the open space just as the firing-party was advancing with gleaming knives and wild yells to complete the tragedy by scalping the slain.
Raising my right hand I shouted, in Spanish, "Stop where you are!"
Frank had unslung his carbine and was holding it by the small of the stock in his right hand, the barrel resting in his left, looking calmly and resolutely at the hesitating Indians. The blood of three generations of soldierly ancestors was thrilling his veins with a resolution to act well in any emergency which might arise.
The Pueblos halted, and at the same moment a group of eighteen women and nearly three times as many children, some of them in arms, who had been reserved—as I afterwards learned—for later shooting, ran into the space and clung to my feet, stirrups, and the mane and tail of my horse, entreating with eyes and voices for protection.
The war-cries had ceased and the Dominicans had gathered in an angry and gesticulating group, when Sergeant Cunningham and the rest of the men appeared on foot, running into the plaza from a side street, and formed in line before us.
The massacre ended with the death of the old men. Aided by the agent and the Catholic priest of the pueblo I succeeded in impressing upon the Jemez warriors that they must discountenance any further hostile demonstrations of the Santo Dominicans, and told the latter that unless they promptly withdrew and departed for their own reservation I should punish them for their recent conduct. They at once sullenly departed.
That evening, by the light of a brilliant moon, the dead Navajos were buried upon a hill-top overlooking the town, amid the wailing of their women and much ceremonious demonstration by the Jemez people, and Frank and I retired for the night to the house of the hospitable priest.
Early the following morning I held an inspection of the mules and horses, and finding the wheel and swing spans were much exhausted by the unaccustomed gait they had maintained in the forced march from the valleys, I determined to give them a day's rest before making the return trip. Finding Sergeant Cunningham's, Frank's, and my own horses none the worse for their exertions, I concluded that we three would return at once to camp. I placed Corporal Duffy in charge of the party, and told him after one day had passed to return by way of the hot springs.
Instead of returning by the route we came, the sergeant, Frank, and I were to take a shorter and rougher one pointed out to us by Padre Gutierrez. This trail was almost as straight as an arrow, but led through a section of the country over which we had not scouted. At half-past nine o'clock the three of us started, Vic bounding and barking at my horse's head.
IN A NAVAJO TRAP
Six miles from Jemez our road, which, after leaving the cultivated valley of the Pueblos had narrowed to a path, entered the forest and ran along the side of a small brook, which it continued to follow for several miles, and then rose gradually to the side of a range of hills. We were walking our animals along the side of this acclivity, at a considerable distance above the brook on our left, their hoofs making no noise in the soft, black earth, when I was startled by the braying of an ass somewhere in the ravine.
Sergeant Cunningham and Corporal Frank threw themselves quickly from their saddles and held the horses by the bits to prevent them from responding to the greeting, and I quickly sought a place from which I could make an observation.
We were in a clump of evergreen trees which commanded a view of the ravine and obscured us from sight in all directions. Looking across the ravine, I caught a glimpse of a party of Indians a little beyond the brook. Through my glass I made them out to be a party of twenty-seven Navajos, sitting about a camp-fire eating their dinner.
As many ponies were grazing near, and a mule and burro. From certain peculiar markings I had observed the day Cordova joined me in the valleys, I had no difficulty in recognizing the last two animals to be his property. Packs were lying near the fire, showing that the captured animals were being used as beasts of burden.
All this time I had entirely overlooked the presence of my dog Vic. Had I thought of her in season, it would have been easy to have kept her close at my heels; but I had left her free to wander, not thinking of any threatening danger.
Suddenly I heard a chorus of grunts from the Indians, and looking in their direction I saw Vic stand for an instant with her forefeet on a prostrate log, look questioningly at the savages, and then drop down into the furze and disappear.
The sight of a white man's dog, wearing a brilliant metallic collar, produced an electrical effect. Instantly the redmen sprang to their feet, seized their arms, and began saddling and bridling their ponies.
"Vic has betrayed us, sergeant," I said. "We must get out of here as quickly as possible."
As we sprang into our saddles and regained the trail Vic came with a bound before us, and I immediately gave her positive orders to keep close at our heels. We rode as fast as it was possible to do without making a noise, hoping that we might get a considerable distance away before we were discovered. We had not proceeded far, however, when a yell announced that we were seen.
As we galloped on we saw that it was impossible for the Indians to cross to our side of the ravine. Every mile we passed the path rose higher and the sides of the stream grew more precipitous. The Indians were pursuing a path parallel to ours and about half a mile in our rear. What was the nature of the country ahead we did not know. The fact that they were pursuing, and with such eagerness, seemed to indicate they knew of some advantage to be gained farther on.
On and on we rode, I in advance, the sergeant next, and Frank behind. The trail wound through the trees and clumps of underbrush, with occasional openings through which we could catch glimpses of our eager pursuers. The prospect appeared exceedingly gloomy.
As we galloped on I noticed at last, through a rift in the wood a considerable distance in advance, an eminence or butte which lifted its summit nearly three hundred feet skyward, and which presented on the side towards us an almost perpendicular wall. When we approached it we saw a neat log-cabin nestling under its overarching brow. We dismounted, led our panting and utterly exhausted animals into the cabin, closed the doors, and went to the windows with our rifles.
The cabin was about thirty by twenty feet in area, and stood with its northern end close against the perpendicular wall of the butte, with an overhanging cliff a hundred feet above it. If a stone had been dropped from the sheltering cliff it would have fallen several feet away from the cabin's southern wall.
At the end of the cabin farthest from the butte the ground upon which it stood broke off perpendicularly twenty feet downward, to a spring—the source of the brook we had been following since we left Jemez. The only way to cross from one trail to the other, except by going several miles down the brook or to the north end of the butte, was, therefore, through the cabin, and for this purpose a door had been placed in each side. The cabin could be approached only on the east and west sides, and was unassailable at its north and south ends.
Each wall contained a small window, except the one which rested against the butte, and there a wide, stone fireplace had been built. Three men with plenty of rations and ammunition could make a good defence. Water could be had by lowering a bucket or canteen from the southern window to the spring, twenty-four feet below its sill.
The Indians had discovered that we had found shelter from their pursuit and for the present were safe, and all but five, who soon afterwards appeared in the edge of the forest to the east, had joined the main party to the west of us. They showed great respect for our place of refuge and rifles, and kept well out of range. The sergeant's and my Springfield rifle could throw a bullet farther and could be loaded more rapidly than any rifles in their possession, and Frank with his Spencer could fire about twenty balls to our one.
We removed the saddles and bridles from our animals, and, hitching them in the corners each side of the fireplace, began a discussion of our prospects.
"If we could keep a couple of fires going before the doors during the night, sir," said the sergeant, "we might keep them away."
"I am afraid a fire would be of greater advantage to them than to us," I replied; "we should have to expose ourselves every time we replenished it. I wonder if the roof is covered with earth? It is flat."
"I'll tell you in half a minute, sir," said Frank, and entering the fireplace he proceeded to ascend the wide-mouthed chimney by stepping on projecting stones of which it was built. In a moment he called down to me, "Yes, sir; it is covered with about two feet of earth."
"All right then. If we can get pine enough to keep a blaze going then we will have one. A fire on the roof will illuminate everything about us and leave our windows and doorways in darkness. It will aid our aim and confuse the Indians."
We set to work at once and pulled down all the bunks, and with large stones from the fireplace succeeded in breaking into fragments the pine puncheons and posts of which they were made. Then Sergeant Cunningham ascended the chimney and tore away one side of the part which projected above the roof—the side looking in the direction opposite the precipice. This would enable one of us to stand in the top and replenish the fire, and at the same time remain concealed from the enemy. As we could be fired upon from only two directions, the fire tender would be safe.
Fortunately, Padre Gutierrez's housekeeper had put up a lunch sufficient to last us, including Vic, for three days, and water could be drawn easily through the southern window with a canteen and lariat.
"I'm afraid those chaps 'll get us in the end, sir," observed the sergeant. "Of course we can eat horse-meat for a while after our victuals are gone, but we are three and they are twenty-seven—we are prisoners and they are free."
"Very true, sergeant," I replied, "but something may turn up in our favor. The Jemez party will reach camp day after to-morrow, and when it learns we are not there we shall be looked up."
"If another party of Navajos don't jump them, sir."
"Of course, the chances are against us, sergeant, but let us keep up our spirits and make a good fight."
"I'll do my best, sir, as I always have done, but this is a beastly hole to be caught in."
"But why don't you send Vic for help, Mr. Duncan?" asked Frank.
"Laddie, I believe you have saved us! Thank you for the suggestion. We'll put the little girl's education to a practical test."
"What! Going to send her to Jemez for the men?" asked Sergeant Cunningham.
"No; I hardly think I could make her understand our wishes in that direction, but there is no doubt she can be sent to camp. She has done that many times."
"Yes, sir, she'll go to the valley," said Frank. "You know I sent her with a message to you from San Antonio Valley, six miles. I wonder how far camp is from here?"
"'Bout nine miles," replied the sergeant; "but she'll do it, I think. Look at her!"
Vic had come forward, and sat looking intelligently from one to the other of us while this discussion ran on.
"All right, little girl," I said, patting and smoothing her silky coat, "you shall have a chance to help us after dusk. Go and lie down now."
The dog went to a corner and, lying down on Frank's saddle-blanket, appeared to sleep; and while Corporal Frank took my place at a window I wrote a message to Sergeant Mulligan at the camp, describing our desperate situation and requesting him to send a detachment to our rescue. I also prepared a flat, pine stick, and wrote upon it, in plain letters, "Examine her collar." I intended she should carry the stick in her mouth, as she had hitherto carried articles and messages, fearing she would not understand she was to go on an errand unless all the conditions of her education were observed.
During that day the Navajos simply showed their presence occasionally among the trees, far away on either flank. We once heard the rapid strokes of an axe, as of chopping, and wondered what it could mean. Nothing further happened till dusk. Then I called Vic and attached the note to her collar, wrapped in a piece of my handkerchief.
"I think, sergeant," I said, "we had better send our message before it gets darker and the Navajos close up nearer or the corporal lights his fire."
"Yes, she can't leave any too soon, sir, I think. It's going to be pokerish work for us before morning, and I shall be mighty glad to see a few of old Company F appear round that rock."
After fastening the note securely in the dog's collar, I placed the stick in her mouth and, opening the eastern door, said, "Now, little Vic, take that stick to the sergeant—go!"
She turned from the doorway, crossed the room, and dropped the stick at Sergeant Cunningham's feet. The sergeant stooped, and placing his hand under her chin raised her head upward and laid his bronze cheek affectionately upon it. "Well, Vicky," he said, "there is but one sergeant in the world to you, and he is here, isn't he?"
"That's so, sir," exclaimed Corporal Frank, addressing me. "We never sent her to anybody but you, the sergeant, and the cook."
"True enough. I'll have to send her to the cook—the only one now in camp to whom she has borne messages. As he is the dispenser of fine bones and dainties, and she has had nothing to eat since morning, perhaps it is as well he is to receive this message. Here, Vic," placing the chip once more in her mouth, "take this stick to the cook—go!"
The setter looked at me an instant, then at the sergeant and corporal, walked to the door, looked out, and then glanced questioningly at me.
"Yes, little one; the cook—go!"
She bounded through the doorway and turned the corner of the butte at a run, bearing our summons to our comrades at Los Valles Grandes.
For some time after the departure of Vic the sergeant and I stood at our windows and gloomily watched the darkness deepen in the woods. Frank looked out of the window above the spring and was also silent. I was disposed to put off the lighting of our fire upon the roof as long as it appeared safe to do so, in order to husband our fuel. The animals, disappointed of the forage usually furnished them at this hour, stamped impatiently and nosed disdainfully the stale straw and pine plumes which we had emptied from the bunks and which were now scattered over the floor.
It was during a momentary lull of this continuous noise that I heard a crushing sound as of a heavy wheel rolling over twigs and gravel, but was unable to guess its meaning.
Fearing that further delay to light our fire might bring disaster upon us, I told Corporal Frank to kindle it. He ascended the chimney, lighted a few splinters of pitch-pine and placed them upon the roof, and as soon as they were well lighted added to them half a dozen billets of wood which Sergeant Cunningham passed up to him. Soon a brilliant blaze was leaping upward, and, being reflected strongly by the white sandstone of the overhanging cliff, lighted the whole space about the cabin.
As soon as Frank descended to the floor we gazed long and anxiously out of the windows. Everything about us was now plainly visible to our eyes, and we felt sure our movements could not be seen by the Navajos. To the east all was silent, and for a long while we saw nothing in that direction to suggest a lurking foe. To the west we could see no enemy, but the same mysterious sound of crushing and grinding came to our ears. What could it be, and what did it threaten? Adjusting my field-glass I looked from my window in the direction of the puzzling sound, and on the farther edge of the opening, near the wood, saw a log about three feet in diameter and twenty-five or more in length slowly rolling towards us, propelled by some unseen force.
Passing the glass to the sergeant, I said: "The Indians seem to be rolling a log in our direction. What do you think of it?"
"I think it's easy to understand, sir," replied the sergeant, after a long look. "That log is a movable breastwork, which can be rolled to our door."
"True, sergeant. Probably a dozen or more warriors are lying behind it and rolling it forward. Rather a black prospect for us if we cannot stop it!"
We all three gathered at the western window, and for some moments watched the slow approach of the moving breastwork.
A SIEGE AND AN AMBUSCADE
We continued to watch long and anxiously the slowly rolling log. Not a glimpse of the motive power could be obtained, but it ground and crushed its way along with ominous certainty, straight in our direction.
Just as I had come to the conclusion that assistance could not arrive in time, the log stopped. I looked through my glass and saw the cause.
"Sergeant," I exclaimed, "the log has struck a rock! Open the door and draw a bead on it! Don't let a man leap over it to remove the stone! Corporal, guard the east window!"
The sergeant stood ready at the open door. All the efforts of the prostrate men behind the log had no effect, except to swing the end farthest from the obstacle slightly ahead.
"There seems to be nothing for them to do but to remove the stone. Keep a sharp eye on the log, sergeant!"
I had hardly spoken when a sudden discharge of rifles ran irregularly along the length of the log, and under cover of the fire and smoke a stalwart warrior leaped over, raised the stone, and had borne it nearly to the top, when Sergeant Cunningham's rifle spoke sharply.
The stone dropped on our side; the Indian fell forward, with his arms extended towards his friends, who pulled him over the log, and he was screened from our sight. The volley of the Navajos did us no harm.
Corporal Frank replenished the fire on our roof from time to time, and our vigilant watch went on. At last the sergeant, who still stood at the open door, exclaimed, "Lieutenant, the stone is moving! It's dropping into the ground!"
"It's gone, and here comes our fate," I said. "They must have dug under the log with their knives and sunk the stone."
"Yes, sir, and they're safe to reach the cabin door and roast us out."
"If there were two or three more stones in the way, sergeant, the delay they would cause might serve us until help comes."
"I'll run out there with one, Mr. Duncan," said Frank.
"No, laddie," replied the sergeant, "that's a duty for me. I'll drop a couple there in a minute."
"And when you return, sergeant, I will drop two more," said I.
We went quickly to work to carry out our plan. The corporal once more mended the fire, and then we selected from the loose rubbish which had been torn from the top of the chimney several large-sized stones.
Removing his shoes, the sergeant, with my assistance, raised two big stones to his breast, and stood in the doorway with them clasped firmly in his arms. I took the revolvers in my hands, whispered the word, and he started out at a rapid walk, setting his feet down carefully and without noise. He dropped the stones, one before the other, without attracting attention, and regained the cabin without a shot being fired on either side.
Now it was my turn, and I went beyond the place where he had dropped his last stone.
At that instant an alarm was shouted from the distant wood, and an Indian raised his head above the log and fired. The bullet struck the falling rock, and sent a shower of stinging splinters into my face. I turned and fled.
With the discharge of the Indian's rifle Sergeant Cunningham and Corporal Frank opened a rapid fusillade with the revolvers, which successfully covered my retreat to the cabin; but we knew that our last chance at stone-dropping was past.
Several terribly long hours had crept past since we saw Vic turn the butte on her errand to the valleys. Judging by the time it had taken the Navajos to bore a tunnel under their log and undermine the first trigging-stone, we estimated that two more hours must pass before the four obstructions we had placed in their way could be removed, unless they took some more speedy method.
It was quite nine miles to camp, and the dog could easily reach it in about an hour. If she had arrived, help should by this time be fairly on the way; but if she had been killed by the besiegers before she reached the north end of the butte, or had been torn in pieces by the wolves!
Should the log once reach our door, we could not hope to do more than make the price of our lives dear to the enemy.
While the sergeant and I stood at the door and window, speculating in no very hopeful vein over these probabilities, there came a scratch at the eastern door. Frank was at the window on that side, and, startled by the sound, he called to us, "I'm afraid an Indian has sneaked up on us, sir."
Again the scratching was heard, this time accompanied by a familiar whine, which presently swelled into a low bark.
"Oh, Mr. Duncan, it's Vic! It's Vic!" shouted the boy, and, springing to the door, he flung it wide open.
In trotted Vic, and, coming up to me, she dropped a stick at my feet bearing the words: "In the collar, as before."
It took some little time for Corporal Frank to secure the messenger. She capered about the room, licked our hands and faces, jumped up to the noses of the ponies, and behaved as if she was conscious of having performed a great feat and was overjoyed to have returned safely.
But Vic surrendered to the boy at last, and, submitting her neck for inspection, he found attached to her collar a letter which read as follows:
"CAMP AT LOS VALLES GRANDES.
"November 20, 1863.
"Lieutenant,—Message received, and the messenger fed. Corporal Coffey and eight men leave here at 10.15 P.M.
"JAMES MULLIGAN, Sergeant."
"Come here, little doggie," said Sergeant Cunningham. "If we get out of this, the company shall pay for a silver collar and a medal of honor for the finest dog in the army."
"If that detail marches at the regulation gait of three miles an hour," I said, "it should be here by a quarter-past one, and it is now a quarter to twelve."
My anxiety over our prospects was so great I neglected to show proper gratitude to our devoted messenger.
"The men will do better than that, sir, if they keep on the road. The trouble will be in finding this trail. They have never been this way."
"I think the junction of this and the hot-springs trail cannot be far from here. Let's take a shot at that log every three minutes from now on, and the noise may attract our friends."
We began firing at once, aiming at the under side of the log where it touched the earth. I am confident this must have sent some sand and gravel into the eyes of the rollers, if it did no other damage.
Two of the trigging-stones we had dropped were soon undermined and sunk, and the log had stopped at the third, less than a hundred yards away. As it came on, the sergeant climbed to the top of the chimney, and shortly afterwards returned with the report that he had seen the prostrate body of a warrior revealed beyond—good evidence that his first shot had been fatal. If the next two stones should be as rapidly removed as the others, we feared the Indians would reach us, unless the rescuing party prevented, at about half-past twelve.
Marked by our periodical shots at the log, the time hurried all too rapidly on, the Indians slowly and surely approaching the cabin.
The third stone disappeared, and the log moved with a louder grating over the gravelly soil to the fourth and last obstacle, about thirty yards away, and paused.
"I believe, lieutenant," said Cunningham, "I could hit those fellows' legs now from the chimney."
"All right, sergeant. Close your door and go up and try it," I replied. "A redskin with a broken leg can do us as little injury as one with a broken head."
The words were hardly spoken and the sergeant had barely reached the fireplace, when, as if in anticipation of this movement, two figures leaped over the end of the log nearest the perpendicular rock, ran to the corner formed by the cabin and the wall, and by the aid of the dovetailed ends of the logs clambered quickly to the roof. I sent a shot at them, but it had no effect.
No sooner had they reached the roof than they threw the flaming brands and coal of our bonfire down the chimney, where they broke into fragments and rolled over the floor, setting fire to the scattered straw and plumes.
Busy putting stops into the windows, and fastening them and the doors, we could do nothing to extinguish the fire before it got well under way.
A blanket was thrown over the top of the chimney to prevent a draught, and soon the whole interior was thick with stifling smoke.
The horses plunged frantically, sending the fire in every direction. Our eyes began to smart painfully, and we felt ourselves suffocating and choking in the thick and poisonous atmosphere.
To remain in the house was to be burned alive; to leave it was to perish, perhaps, in a still more horrible way. Just as I was on the brink of despair, the sergeant gasped rather than spoke:
"They are here, lieutenant. Hark! Hark!"
Ping! Ping! We heard the sound of rifle-shots, accompanied by a good, honest, Anglo-Saxon cheer. Was there ever sweeter music?
The war-whoops ceased, the blanket was quickly withdrawn from the chimney-top, and two thuds on the east side of the cabin showed the Indians had left the roof. A general scurrying of feet and other thuds down the perpendicular wall back of the spring were evidence that the besiegers were in full and demoralized flight.
We threw the doors open, and our friends rushed in, and before a greeting was uttered feet and butts of rifles were sweeping brands and straw into the fireplace, and the roaring draught was fast clearing the air.
Before I had fairly recovered my sight, and while still engaged in wiping away the tears the smoke had excited to copious flow, I heard a sobbing voice near me say:
"Oh, Franky, brother, if it had not been for dear little Vicky what would have happened to you?"
Blinking my eyes open, I saw the boy corporals with their right arms about each other's neck, holding their Spencers by the muzzles in their left hands.
"Why, Henry," I said, "you did not make that march with the men?"
"Couldn't keep him back, sir," answered Corporal Coffey. "Said his place was with his brother. Made the march like a man, and fired the first shot when we turned the bluff."
We shook hands all round, and then went out to see whether the volleys of the rescuing party had inflicted any punishment upon the Navajos. Two dead Indians lay near the cabin, and farther away the one that had fallen when attempting to remove the obstacle before the log. There were traces of others having been wounded.
A fire was promptly kindled outside the cabin, and we sat about it for a time to rest and enjoy a lunch. The horses had been somewhat singed about the legs, but were not disabled. An hour afterwards Sergeant Cunningham placed Corporal Henry on his pony, Chiquita, and we started for the valleys.
At daybreak the day after we left Jemez we reached camp, and on the evening of the same day the detachment we had left behind for a rest also arrived, without adventure on the march. Cordova and his son at once set out on the trail of the Navajos, whom we reported to be in possession of their animals, to ascertain why they were in our vicinity.
After four days' scouting the Mexicans returned with the information that they found the Indians had left their camp on the Jemez road after their defeat. They had struck straight through the hills for the Rio Grande, where they joined the main body, the same which had attacked us the day after our arrival in the valleys, and which had recently made several successful raids on the flocks and herds near Pena Blanca and Galisteo.
It was the guide's opinion that the party which had besieged me in the cabin had been to the valleys to see what chance there was of running captured stock through there. Their report must have been favorable, for Cordova said a detachment of forty-seven Navajos was now encamped in Los Vallecitos, apparently intending to pass us the following night with a large number of cattle, horses, mules, and sheep.
I began at once to make preparations to retake the stolen stock and to capture the Navajos.
That the Navajos, if they were watching our movements, might not surmise we knew of their presence near us, I ordered the scouting party and huntsmen not to go out next morning, and all the men to keep within the limits of the parade.
The next evening I marched all the company, except the guard, including the boy corporals, by way of the reserved trail into the valley of St. Anthony, and entered La Puerta from the western end. This was done for fear some advance-guard of the redmen might witness our movement if we went by the usual way, and because so large a party might leave a trail visible to the keenly observant enemy even by starlight, and there would be moonlight before we could cross the valley.
It was my intention to make an ambush in La Puerta. In the narrowest part of that canon, where it was barely fifty yards wide, the walls rose perpendicularly on each side. A hundred yards east and west of this narrowest portion of the pass were good places of concealment. I placed Sergeant Cunningham and thirteen men at the western end, and took as many and the boys with me to the eastern.
The sergeant was instructed to keep his men perfectly quiet until the head of the herd had passed their place of concealment, and then, under cover of the noise made by the moving animals, to slip down into the canon, and when the rear of the herd came up make a dash across the front of the Indians and begin firing, taking care not to hit us.
For myself, I intended to drop into the pass with my detachment when the Navajo rear had passed, deploy, and bag the whole party and the booty.
It was a long and tiresome wait before the raiders appeared. The men had been told that they might sleep, and many of them had availed themselves of the permission.
The moon rose soon after ten o'clock, and made our surroundings plainly visible in the rarefied atmosphere peculiar to the arid region of the plains and Rockies. I sat on a bowlder and watched through the tedious hours until three o'clock, when Corporal Frank approached from the direction of the place where his brother was sleeping.
"What sound is that, Mr. Duncan?" he whispered.
I listened intently, and presently heard the distant bleating of sheep, and soon after the deeper low of an ox.
"The Indians must be approaching," I replied. "You may stir up the men. Be careful that no noise is made."
I continued to listen, and after a long time noticed a sound like the rushing of wind in a pine forest. It was the myriad feet of the coming flocks and herds, hurrying along the grassy valley. The men began to assemble about me, all preserving perfect silence, listening for the approaching Indians.
Another half-hour passed, and over a roll in the surface of the valley, revealed against the sky, looking many times their actual size in the uncertain perspective, appeared two tall figures, whose nearer approach showed to be mounted Indians piloting the captured stock, which followed close behind.
"Corporal Henry," I said, "drop carefully down into the trail and skirt closely along the wall until you come to Sergeant Cunningham's position, and tell him the Indians are close by. Tell him also to allow the two Indians in advance to pass unmolested."
I sent this order by the younger boy because I suspected he was feeling that Corporal Frank's expedition to Jemez, with the adventures of the return trip, had given him a certain prominence to be envied. I meant Henry should divide honors with his brother hereafter.
The little corporal silently disappeared beneath the wall, and a few minutes afterwards the two Indians entered the defile, and the goats and sheep, which had been spread widely over the open valley, scampered, crowded, and overleaped one another as they closed into the narrow way. There seemed to be fully two thousand of them, intermingled with a motley herd of horses, mules, asses, and kine of all sizes and descriptions, numbering three hundred or more, all driven by a party of seventy-three Indians.