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* * * * *
DEFENDING HIS FLAG. Price $1.50.
Mexican War Series
FOR THE LIBERTY OF TEXAS
Author of "With Taylor on the Rio Grande," "Under Scott in Mexico," "Dave Porter Series," "Old Glory Series," "Pan-American Series," "Lakeport Series," etc.
ILLUSTRATED BY LOUIS MEYNELLE
BOSTON LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.
Copyright, 1900, by Dana Estes & Company Copyright, 1909, by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.
All Rights Reserved
For the Liberty of Texas
SET UP AND ELECTROTYPED BY COLONIAL PRESS, BOSTON Printed by BERWICK & SMITH CO., NORWOOD
"For the Liberty of Texas" is a tale complete in itself, but it forms the first of a line of three volumes to be known under the general title of the "Mexican War Series."
Primarily the struggle of the Texans for freedom did not form a part of our war with Mexico, yet this struggle led up directly to the greater war to follow, and it is probably a fact that, had the people of Texas not at first accomplished their freedom, there would have been no war between the two larger republics.
The history of Texas and her struggle for liberty is unlike that of any other State in our Union, and it will be found to read more like a romance than a detail of facts. Here was a territory, immense in size, that was little better than a wilderness, a territory gradually becoming settled by Americans, Mexicans, Spaniards, French, and pioneers of other nations, a territory which was the home of the bloodthirsty Comanche and other Indians, and which was overrun with deer, buffalo, and the wild mustang, and which was, at times, the gathering ground for the most noted desperadoes of the southwest.
This territory formed, with Coahuila, one of the States of Mexico, but the government was a government in name only, and the people of Texas felt that it was absolutely necessary that they withdraw from the Mexican Confederation, in order to protect themselves, their property, and their individual rights, for, with the scheming Mexicans on one side of them, and the murderous Indians on the other, nothing was safe from molestation.
The contest was fought largely by men who knew little or nothing of the art of war, but men whose courage was superb. At first only defeat stared the intrepid band in the face, and hundreds were lost at the Alamo, at the massacre of Goliad, and elsewhere, but then there came upon the scene the figure of the dashing and daring General Sam Houston, and under his magnetic leadership the army of the Mexican general, Santa Anna, was routed utterly, and the liberty of Texas was secured beyond further dispute.
I. THE HOME ON THE FRONTIER 11
II. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE DEER 19
III. A QUARREL AND ITS RESULT 28
IV. SOMETHING ABOUT THE INDIANS IN TEXAS 36
V. THE ATTACK ON THE RANCH 44
VI. POKE STOVER TO THE FRONT 53
VII. IN AND OUT OF THE BURNING CABIN 62
VIII. AN UNSUCCESSFUL PURSUIT 71
IX. BIG FOOT AND THE MISSING PAPERS 81
X. THE SITUATION IN MEXICO 89
XI. THE OPENING OF THE WAR 97
XII. THE MARCH ON SAN ANTONIO 105
XIII. A FIGHT WITH A PUMA 113
XIV. THE BATTLE OF CONCEPCION 121
XV. DAN TURNS THE TABLES 129
XVI. AFTER A MISSING MUSTANG 137
XVII. THE GRASS FIGHT, AND WHAT FOLLOWED 145
XVIII. DAN COMES TO GRIEF 154
XIX. THE CAVE IN THE RAVINE 161
XX. FLIGHT AND PURSUIT 169
XXI. WHAT HAPPENED TO RALPH 177
XXII. THE ATTACK ON SAN ANTONIO 185
XXIII. THE SURRENDER OF THE CITY 194
XXIV. A MIDNIGHT DISCOVERY 204
XXV. MARCH OF SANTA ANNA INTO TEXAS 212
XXVI. WILD TURKEYS AND ANOTHER TRAIL 223
XXVII. THE MEXICAN ARMY AT SAN ANTONIO 233
XXVIII. WITHIN THE WALLS OF THE MISSION 242
XXIX. THE FALL OF THE ALAMO 250
XXX. ESCAPING TO THE RIVER 257
XXXI. SOMETHING ABOUT GENERAL SAM HOUSTON 265
XXXII. IN WHICH THE TEXAN ARMY FALLS BACK 274
XXXIII. THE VICTORY OF SAN JACINTO 283
XXXIV. BACK TO THE RANCH—CONCLUSION 293
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
"'REMEMBER THE ALAMO! DOWN WITH SANTA ANNA!'" FRONTISPIECE
"'YOU SHA'N'T LEAVE THIS SPOT UNTIL YOU GIVE UP THAT DEER, AND THAT'S ALL THERE IS TO IT!'" 27
"FOLLOWING THE TRAIL OF THE COMANCHES" 70
"'HOLD ON,' HE CRIED TO HENRY PARKER. 'SOMETHING IS IN THAT BUSH!'" 98
"'HOLD BACK!' YELLED DAN" 157
"'YOU RASCAL! GET BACK, OR I'LL SHOOT!'" 212
"'THAT'S WHAT I CALL A PRETTY GOOD HAUL,' CRIED DAN, ENTHUSIASTICALLY" 229
"HE BEGAN TO LOWER HIMSELF INTO THE HOLE" 258
FOR THE LIBERTY OF TEXAS.
THE HOME ON THE FRONTIER.
"Dan! Dan! Come quick and see what I brought down with the gun!"
"Why, Ralph, was that you I heard shooting? I thought it was father."
"No; I was out, down by the river bank, and I brought down the finest deer you ever set eyes on. He was under the bunch of pecan-trees, and I let him have it straight in the neck and brought him down the first crack. Now what do you think of that?"
Ralph Radbury's rather delicate face was all aglow with excitement and pardonable pride, as he spoke, leaning on his father's gun, a long, old-fashioned affair that had been in the family's possession for many years. Ralph was but a boy of eight, although years of life in the open air had given him the appearance of being older.
"What do I think?" cried Dan, who was Ralph's senior by six years. "I think you'll become a second Davy Crockett or Dan'l Boone if you keep on. It's a wonder the deer let you come so close. The wind is blowing toward the stream."
"I trailed around to the rocks where we had the tumble last winter, and then I came up as silently as a Comanche after a scalp. I was just about ready to fire when the deer took alarm, but I caught him when he raised his head, and all he gave was one leap and it was all over. Where is father? I must tell him." And Ralph looked around impatiently.
"I don't know where father is, if he isn't down by the river. I thought he went off to look up those hogs that got away last Saturday. In these times, so he says, we can't afford to lose six fat porkers."
"Perhaps those rushers who were on their way to Bexar rounded them up on the sly."
"No; father put the crowd down for honest men, and he rarely makes a mistake in judging a man, Ralph. Either the hogs got away by themselves or else some of those sneaking Comanches have been around again."
"Oh, Dan, that puts me in mind,—when I was up at the rocks I was almost certain I saw one of the Indians farther up the river. As soon as I looked that way he dodged out of sight, so I only caught one glimpse of him—if he really was an Indian."
At his younger brother's words, Dan Radbury's face took on a look of deep concern. "You are not real sure it was an Indian?" he questioned, after a pause.
"No, but I'm pretty sure, too. But even if it was an Indian it might have been Choctaw Tom, you know."
"You're wrong there, Ralph. All the Caddo Indians are friendly to the whites, and if it was Tom he wouldn't hide away after you had spotted him. More than likely it was a dirty Comanche, and if it was—well, we had better tell father about it, that's all."
"Why, you don't think——" Ralph paused, abruptly.
"I know a Comanche isn't to be trusted. Come, let us look at the deer, and let us try to find father at the same time. Is the gun loaded?"
"No." Ralph looked sheepish. "I—I was so pleased to bring down the deer I forgot all about loading again." _ "Then you're not such a famous hunter, after all, Ralph. The wise man, especially in these parts, loads up before his gun-barrel has a chance to cool. Put in your load at once, and I'll bring along that Mexican _escopeta_ father traded in for a mustang last week. I don't believe the old gun is of much account, but it will be better than nothing."
"Father wouldn't take it from the greaser if it wasn't all right. But why must we both be armed? Do you think the Indians are close by?"
"As I said before, I don't believe in trusting these bloodthirsty Comanches. Poke Stover knows them like a book, and he says they are just aching to go on the war-path, now the government is having so much trouble of its own."
"If the Indians are around it won't be safe to leave the cabin alone," was the younger boy's comment.
"I reckon we can leave it for awhile, Ralph. We won't be gone more than an hour, at the most," concluded Dan Radbury, as he disappeared into the cabin for the firearm he had mentioned.
The scene was that of a typical frontier home, in the heart of Texas, close to the Guadalupe River, and about ten miles from what was then the village of Gonzales. It was the year 1835, and the whole of northern and western Texas could truthfully be put down as a "howling wilderness," overrun with deer, bison, bears, and other wild animals, wild horses, and inhabited only by the savage and lawless Comanche, Apache, Cherokee, and numerous other tribes of Indians. As regards the rest of the State, it may briefly be stated that this immense territory of thousands of square miles contained not over twenty-two thousand white and black people combined. How many Indians there were is not definitely known, but they have been estimated at fifteen to eighteen thousand. The main cities were San Antonio de Bexar, San Felipe de Austin, Nacogdoches, San Augustine, Columbia, and the seaport town of Velasco, but not one of these boasted of more than thirty-five hundred inhabitants.
To this territory had come, three years before, Amos Radbury, the father of the two lads introduced at the beginning of this chapter. The family were from Georgia, where Mr. Radbury had once owned a large interest in a tobacco plantation. But a disastrous flood had robbed him not only of the larger portion of his property, but also of his much beloved wife, and, almost broken-hearted, the planter had sold off his remaining interest in the plantation for five thousand dollars, and emigrated, first to New Orleans, and then to his present home. The trip from New Orleans had been made in a prairie wagon, drawn by a double yoke of oxen, and had consumed many weeks, and that trip over the prairies, through the almost trackless forests, and across numerous dangerous fords, was one which the boys were likely never to forget. On the way they had fallen in with a small band of treacherous Indians, but they had been saved by the timely arrival of some friendly Caddos, under the leadership of Canoma, a chief well known throughout the length and breadth of Texas.
On reaching the Guadalupe River, a stop of two weeks had been made at Gonzales, and then Mr. Radbury had obtained possession of a grant of land embracing over five hundred acres, the tract lying on both sides of the stream. The price paid for the land was ten cents per acre. This is not to be wondered at, since land in other portions of the State was sold as low as two cents per acre!
The three years spent in the wilderness had done wonders for all of the members of the family. The hard work of clearing off the timber, planting, and of building a cabin and a cattle shelter, had done much to make Mr. Radbury forget his grief over the loss of his wife and property, and the rough outdoor life had made Daniel Radbury "as tough as a pine-knot," as he was wont to say himself. It had likewise done much for little Ralph, who had been a thin and delicate lad of five when leaving the old home in the magnolia grove in far-off Georgia. Even yet Ralph was not as strong as Dan, but he was fast becoming so, much to his parent's satisfaction.
Amos Radbury's venture had prospered from the start. The land was rich and his crops were consequently heavy, and no disease reached his cattle, which speedily grew to the number of several hundred heads. In addition to his beeves he had nearly a hundred hogs, and during the last year had taken to raising horses and mustangs, for the market at Bexar, as San Antonio was commonly called.
The raising of mustangs had been a source of much satisfaction to the boys, who speedily learned to ride so well that even the liveliest of the animals failed to shake one or the other off, although, of course, neither could do a thing when the beast got down and began to roll over.
"It's immense, to ride like the wind!" Dan would cry. "There is no better sport in the world! I don't wonder the Indians enjoy it so much."
"Yes, the Indians enjoy it, and they'll enjoy getting our mustangs, too, if we give them the chance," had been Mr. Radbury's reply. But so far only one mustang had been taken, and that by a Comanche half-breed named Hank Stiger. Stiger had been accused of the crime by Mr. Radbury, but had pleaded his innocence, and the pioneer had dropped the matter rather than have more trouble, since it was known that the half-breed and the Comanches in the neighbourhood were closely related in all their underhanded work. In those days it was no uncommon thing to hang a horse thief, but had this happened to Hank Stiger, it is likely that the Comanches under Bison Head, who had their hunting-grounds in the Cross Timbers, so-called, of the upper Colorado River, would have gone on the war-path immediately following.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE DEER.
The cabin was a strongly built affair of rough logs, fifteen feet deep by thirty feet long. It was divided into two apartments on the ground floor, the first used as a general living-room and the second as a bedchamber. From the bedchamber a rude ladder ran to a loft, used as extra sleeping-quarters when the Radburys had company, and also as a storeroom. There were two windows in the sleeping-room below, and a window and a door in the general living-room. Each of the windows were shuttered with slabs of oak, secured, inside, by square bars of ash. All of the furniture excepting one bed, a table, and two chairs was home-made, and consequently rather primitive in style, and built more for use than for ornamentation.
At one side of the living-room was a wide, open fireplace, and here, above the mantel-shelf, hung the old Mexican escopeta, or cavalry musket, which Dan intended to take along on his expedition to the spot where Ralph had brought down the deer. Taking the gun down, the youth saw to it that the weapon was loaded and ready for use, and rejoined his brother.
In those days every Texan trusted his neighbour implicitly, and nobody thought of locking up his home even though he expected to be gone several days, unless it was thought that unfriendly Indians were about. The Radburys had gone away frequently, leaving everything open, and had never suffered, excepting as previously mentioned. Once, on returning, they had found that some other settlers from fifty miles away had stopped there over night, but this was explained in a note stuck to the eating-table, the "neighbour" offering to "square up" on demand. When the two parties met, Mr. Radbury told the other that the only way he could settle up was by calling again,—which was the usual Texan method of rounding out such hospitality.
"I've a good mind to lock up," remarked Dan, as he reached the dooryard. "I don't like this idea of Indians spying about."
"Oh, come on," interrupted Ralph. "We won't be gone long, and no Indian could do much in such a short time."
The elder brother shook his head doubtfully. "I don't know," he mused, but when Ralph took hold of his arm, he suffered himself to be led away; and soon they were hurrying for the river. There was quite a clearing to cross, and as they gained the timber Dan paused to look back and to gaze around them. But neither man nor beast was in sight.
On hurried the two boys, through a tangle of brush and tall pines, the latter of the long straw variety and smelling strongly of turpentine whereever the last storm had broken off a top or a heavy branch. Closer to the stream was a stately row of cottonwoods, with here and there a fragrant magnolia, which reminded the lads of the former homestead left so many miles behind. It was the spring of the year and the magnolias were just putting forth their buds, and Dan paused for a second to gaze at them.
"I'll tell you what, Ralph, it will be a long while before Texas is as civilised as Georgia," he observed.
"Will it ever be as civilised, Dan? I heard father say last week, when he was talking to Brossom, that he never thought it would be,—so long as Texas was joined to Coahuila and belonged to the Mexican Confederation. He said Texas ought to be free."
"He is right, too,—we ought either to be free, or else belong to the United States. It's all well enough for the Mexicans living in Coahuila to belong to the Confederation if they want to, but they don't care for us Americans, and they are going to grind us under if they can."
"But they were glad enough to have us come in, weren't they?—I mean at first."
"Yes, when Stephen Austin came in with his first batch of emigrants they welcomed the newcomers with open arms, and gave each man a large tract of land for himself, one for his wife, and more land for each child or servant, and they were mighty glad to have other empresarios bring in emigrants, too, so I've read in the papers. But now they are getting afraid that the Americans will overrule them, and there is bound to be a lot of trouble sooner or later."
Ralph was anxious to show his brother his prize, and as they neared the spot where the big deer had been brought down he ran on ahead, and so the talk on State affairs came to an end. But Dan was right, there was much trouble ahead, as we shall see as our story progresses.
The cottonwoods passed, the boys faced another small clearing, where a forest fire years before had lain many a towering pine low. Beyond this burnt and barren spot were the pecan-trees overhanging the river, where the deer had come to slake his thirst when Ralph had trailed him and brought him low.
"Oh, Dan! The deer's gone!"
The cry came straight from Ralph's heart, as with staring eyes he ran in under the pecan-trees and gazed at the spot where the game had rested less than an hour before.
"Gone?" repeated the brother. "Then you didn't kill him?"
"Yes, I did,—I am sure of it, for I turned him over after he was shot. Could some wild animal have carried him off?"
"More than likely, although it would take a pretty fair sized animal to tote a deer, especially if he was as big as you say. Let us see if we can find any tracks."
They began to search around the bank of the stream, and soon discovered a number of footprints.
"Indian moccasins!" exclaimed Dan. "Ralph, you were right about that Indian. He was watching you, and after you left the deer he came in and took possession."
"But he hadn't any right to do that," burst out the smaller boy, angrily. It cut him to the heart to have his first big game taken from him. "It's downright robbery."
"It certainly wasn't fair, but about its being robbery, that's questionable. You shouldn't have left your game without leaving something on top of it, a knife or anything, just to show that you were coming back for it."
"But this is father's land."
"It isn't fenced yet, and the Indians don't recognise such ownership, anyway."
"But they must have known I was coming back. No one would throw away such choice venison as that was." Ralph heaved a sigh. "I wish I was a man,—I'd go after that redskin in short order, and make him either give up the game or bring him down with my gun."
"If you shot him you'd bring on a regular war, more than likely. But if you wish, we can follow this track for a stretch, and look for father at the same time."
Ralph was more than willing to do this—anything to learn what had really become of his game, and so they continued up the river bank for the best part of half a mile. Here they came to a creek, leading directly west, and saw that the footprints followed this new water-course. Along the creek the way was rocky and uneven, and it was plain to see where the deer had been dragged along.
Ralph was going on, with his eyes bent to the trail, when suddenly his brother caught him by the arm, bringing him to a halt. In silence Dan pointed to the opposite side of the creek, at a distance a hundred feet farther up the water-course.
"It's Hank Stiger, the half-breed!" burst in a low tone from Ralph's lips. "And see, he is tying my deer fast to his pony."
"You are right, Ralph."
"I'm not going to let him get away in this fashion!" went on the younger lad, excitedly.
"He's got to give up that meat, or I'm going to know the reason why."
"Don't be rash. Hank Stiger is a bad man to deal with."
"Are you going to let him go without doing anything?" demanded Ralph. "I'm sure you wouldn't if it was your deer!" he added, bitterly.
"No, we'll talk to him and put our claim as strongly as we can. But be careful, that's all."
With this caution Dan ran along the bank of the creek until he reached the ford where the half-breed had crossed. He went over, with Ralph at his heels and both boys were within easy speaking distance of Hank Stiger before the latter discovered them.
"Hi there, Stiger! what are you doing with that deer?" demanded Dan, as he came closer, with his gun in both hands across his breast.
At the sound of the boy's voice the half-breed turned quickly and his repulsive reddish-brown face fell sullenly. He was a short, stocky fellow, with a tangled head of hair and wolfish eyes which betrayed the Comanche blood that flowed in his veins from his mother's side.
"Who are you?" demanded the man, hardly knowing what to say, so completely had he been taken by surprise.
"I am Dan Radbury, as you know very well. This is my brother Ralph, and he shot the deer you are carrying off."
"Not much!" ejaculated the half-breed. "I brung that deer down myself—shot him through the neck."
"It's not so!" burst out Ralph. "The deer is mine, I brought him down over in the pecan grove on the river."
"Why, youngster, you're dead wrong, I tell you. I shot this deer right down thar on this creek, two hours ago. He limped off after I hit him, but I followed the trail easily and found him in the pecan grove, dead from whar I had struck him in the neck."
This cool answer almost took Ralph's breath away from him. "It was I struck him in the neck, Hank Stiger, and the deer belongs to me, and you sha'n't bluff me out of my meat, either."
"Hush, Ralph, don't be so headstrong," remonstrated Dan, in low tones. "You'll gain a good bit more by keeping cool."
At Ralph's words the half-breed let out a rough, unnatural laugh.
"Boy, you must be daft, to tell me I don't know when I bring down a deer. The deer is mine, and if you shot at him you wasted your powder, that's all."
So speaking, Hank Stiger swung himself on the back of his mustang, which little beast looked all out of proportion to the deer and man mounted on him. His gun was slung over his shoulder, and there he allowed it to remain while he gathered up the reins and urged his pony forward.
Ralph was white. As told before, he was but a boy of eight, yet his life on the frontier had given him the appearance of being ten or more. Rushing in front of the mustang, he raised his gun and pointed the muzzle at Stiger's head.
"Stop where you are!" he cried, commandingly. "You sha'n't leave this spot until you give up that deer, and that's all there is to it!"
A QUARREL AND ITS RESULT.
It must be confessed that Hank Stiger was badly frightened when Ralph confronted him with the loaded gun. He was naturally not an overly brave fellow, and while the boy before him was young, yet he realised that Ralph could shoot as well as many a man. Besides this, Dan was there, and he was also armed, and now had his finger on the trigger of the ancient cavalry musket.
"Don't shoot!" The words came from Dan. He could not help but admire his brother's pluck, yet he was sorry that the affair had taken such an acute turn. His caution was unnecessary, for Ralph had no intention of firing, excepting Stiger should attempt to rush by him or use the gun slung on his shoulder.
The mustang took several steps, and then the half-breed brought him to an abrupt halt. "You're carrying matters with a putty high hand, to my notion," he remarked, sarcastically.
An awkward pause followed, Ralph knowing not what to say, and glancing at Dan, half afraid that his brother would be tremendously angry with him over the hasty threat he had made. Yet he felt that he was in the right, and he kept his gun-barrel on a line with the half-breed's head.
"Stiger, you might as well give up the deer," said Dan, as quietly as he could. "It's Ralph's first big game, and of course he feels mighty proud of it. A good shot like you ought to be able to bring down lots of game of your own."
Dan imagined that this tempered speech and side praise would put the half-breed in good humour, but he was mistaken. Stiger glanced from one lad to the other, his face growing more sullen each instant.
"This deer is mine, and you can't force me to give it up," he muttered. "Put down that gun, or we'll have trouble."
"You put down the deer, first," said Ralph, sturdily.
"It's my deer, not yours, and I won't put it down. I'm not afraid of two youngsters like you."
Again Ralph's temper got the better of him. "You shall put it down, Hank Stiger. You are nothing but a horse-thief, and I——"
"Ha! call me a hoss-thief!" ejaculated the half-breed, in a rage. "I won't stand that, boy. You shall suffer for it."
"You are a horse-thief, and stole one of my father's animals last year. Now you want to steal my deer, but you shall not do it. Dan, he's got to give it up, hasn't he?"
"Yes, he has got to give it up," answered the older brother, seeing that matters had gone too far for either of them to back down. Dan was slow to make up his mind, but, once it was made up, he was uncompromising to the last degree.
"Supposing I refuse to give up the deer?" came from the half-breed. He spoke in a brusque manner, but there was a shade of anxiety in his tone.
"You had better not refuse."
"You wouldn't dare to shoot at me."
"Don't you be too sure of that," put in Ralph. "You must remember that father could have had you shot down for a horse-thief, had he wanted to do so. I don't want any trouble with you, but I am bound to have my game."
"All right, then, you keep the game!" ejaculated Hank Stiger, in deep rage, and, turning on his mustang, he picked up the deer and flung it to the earth. "But remember, I say I shot that deer and that he is mine. Some day you'll rue your work here, mark my words!" And with an angry shake of his dirty fist at them he kicked his mustang in the sides and was soon lost to view in the forest to the north of the creek.
The two boys watched him carefully, and they did not lower their guns until they were certain that he had gone too far to turn and fire at them. Then Ralph knelt over the deer and examined the torn open neck.
"There, I was sure of it!" he cried, triumphantly. "There is my bullet, and that's the only shot he received."
"Let me see." Dan took the bullet. "You are right, Ralph. But, even so, we have made an enemy of Stiger for life. He will never forgive you for calling him a horse-thief."
"I don't care,—I got the deer. Do you believe he'll come back to make more trouble?"
"There is no telling. I think we had better be getting back to the house,—father doesn't seem to be anywhere about. There is a tree branch. You can tie the game to that, and we can both pull it down the creek to the river and then over to the burn. It won't be worth while bringing a pony out to do it."
Both set to work, and in a few minutes the deer was fastened to the branch and slid into the creek. The bottom was sandy, and the water made the load slip along readily. The lads had just crossed the burn with their drag when a gunshot rang out, coming from the direction of the ranch home.
"Listen!" ejaculated Dan. "A shot from the house! What can that mean?"
He dropped his hold on the branch and leaped forward, unslinging the escopeta as he did so. For a moment Ralph hesitated, not wishing to leave his game again, but then, as his brother disappeared into the belt of timber hiding the cabin from their view, he also dropped his hold, feeling that, even though a boy, his presence might be needed elsewhere.
When Dan reached the clearing about the ranch home he found his father in the doorway, rifle in hand, gazing anxiously in one direction and another. Mr. Radbury was tall and thin, and constant exposure to the sun had browned him considerably. A glance sufficed to show what he really was, a Southern gentleman of the old school, despite the rough life he was at present leading.
"Dan!" cried the parent, gladly. "I am happy to see you are safe. Where is Ralph?"
"He is just behind me, father. But what's the trouble? Has anything happened here while we have been away?"
"I hardly think so, but the Indians are around,—I saw two of them directly across the river, and half a dozen at the big tree ford, all Comanches, and several of them in their war-paint. I was afraid you had had trouble with them."
"No, we've had trouble with somebody else," answered Dan, but before he could go any further Ralph appeared. The tale about the deer and Hank Stiger was soon told, Mr. Radbury listening with close attention.
"And do you think I did wrong, father?" questioned the youngest Radbury, as he concluded his narrative.
"No, I can't say that, Ralph," was the grave answer. "But I am afraid it will make us more trouble all around. Stiger and Bison Head are intimate friends, and if the Indians are going on the war-path again, the half-breed may direct an attack upon us. It was a great mistake to speak about that stolen horse. We can't prove that Stiger took it, although I am morally sure he was the guilty party."
After a short talk, it was decided that Mr. Radbury should go into the timber for the deer alone, leaving Ralph and Dan to watch around the cabin and the cattle shelter. At the shelter were several cows, used for milking, and a number of pigs. The other stock was off on the range between the ranch and Gonzales, grazing.
"I'd like to know if the cattle are safe," remarked Dan, after his father had left. "If those Indians should take it into their heads to round them up and drive them off it would be a big loss."
"Perhaps Hank Stiger will put them up to it," returned his brother. "I suppose he is mad enough to do most anything."
Leaving Ralph to see to the defences of the ranch home, Dan hurried down to the cattle shelter. This was in plain view of the cabin and could readily be covered from two firing-holes left in the shutter which covered one of the windows of the sleeping apartment.
Everything was as the youth had left it that morning, and there were no indications that any marauders had been around during the absence of Ralph and himself. The gate to the cattle enclosure was open, and some of the cows were outside. These he drove in and then barred up the gate.
Back of the cattle shed, at a distance of several hundred feet, was a slight hollow, where there was a pool of water surrounded by mesquite-trees and bushes. This pool could be seen only from the back of the shed, and as Dan walked in that direction, something caught his eye which instantly arrested his attention.
It was a plume of feathers waving above the bushes close to the pool. There was a similar plume a short distance away.
"Turkey feathers," he muttered to himself. "But there are no wild turkeys down there, and I know it. Father was right, the Comanches are watching our home and surrounding it."
As soon as he had made his discovery, Dan felt inclined to run back to the cabin with all speed. But this would let the Indians know that they were discovered and probably make them hasten their plans. So instead of running he took his time, walked completely around the shed, stopped to pat a favourite cow on the nose, and then sauntered slowly to the cabin.
Once inside, however, his manner changed. "Ralph, father was right, the Comanches are on the war-path!" he exclaimed. "Bar up the windows, and I'll look to it that every gun and pistol in the house is ready for use."
"Then you saw more of them?"
"Yes, two down by the hollow."
"Do they know that you saw them?"
"I hardly think so." Dan began to look over the stock of pistols, several in number, including a "hoss" nearly two feet long. "I wish father was back," he added, anxiously.
"Shall I fire a signal?"
"Not yet, for it may only make the Comanches hurry up. But you can watch for father from the doorway, and if you see him, beckon him to run for it," concluded the elder brother.
SOMETHING ABOUT THE INDIANS IN TEXAS.
While the two boys are waiting for their father's return, and wondering what will be the next movement of the Comanches surrounding the ranch home, let us turn aside for a moment to consider the state of affairs in Texas in this momentous year of 1835.
As said before, Texas and the territory known as Coahuila, lying on the southern bank of the Rio Grande River, formed one of the states of the Mexican Confederation. At the time Texas became bound to Coahuila there was a clause in the constitution which allowed her to become a separate state whenever she acquired the requisite size, although what the requisite size must be was not specified.
The Texans were satisfied, at that time, to belong to the Mexican Confederation, but they soon discovered that to be tied fast to Coahuila was going to become very burdensome. The latter-named territory was inhabited almost entirely by Mexicans who had nothing in common with the Americans, and these Mexicans kept the capital city of the state at Monclova or Saltillo, so that the settlers in Texas had to journey five hundred miles or more by wagon roads for every legal purpose. Besides this, the judiciary was entirely in the hands of the inhabitants of Coahuila, and they passed laws very largely to suit themselves.
The first troubles came over the land grants. A number of men, headed by Stephen Austin, had come into Texas, bringing with them hundreds of settlers to occupy grants given to these leaders, who were known as empresarios, or contractors. Each settler's grant had to be recorded, and the settlers grumbled at journeying so far to get clear deeds to their possessions. At the same time, Mexico herself was in a state of revolution, and often one so-called government would not recognise the grant made by the government just overthrown.
The next trouble was with the Indians. The Comanches, Apaches, Shawnees, Wacos, Lipans, and separated tribes of Cherokees, Delawares, and Choctaws, some driven from the United States by the pioneers there, overran the northern and central portions of Texas, and those on the frontier, like Mr. Amos Radbury, were never safe from molestation. The Mexican government had promised the settlers protection, but the protection amounted to but little, and at one time only ninety soldiers were out to guard a frontier extending hundreds of miles, and where the different tribes of the enemy numbered ten to twenty thousand. The only thing which saved the settlers from total annihilation at this time was the friendliness of some of the Indians and the fact that the red men carried on a continual warfare among themselves.
Some of the Indian fights had been notable. One of the worst of them was an encounter between a band of over a hundred and about a dozen whites under the leadership of James Bowie, better known as Jim Bowie, of bowie-knife fame,—this knife having become famous in border warfare. In this struggle the whites were surrounded, and kept the Indians at bay for eight days, killing twenty odd of the enemy, including a notable chief. The loss to the whites was one killed and two wounded.
This fight had occurred some years before the opening of this tale, but, only a month previous to the events now being related, another encounter had come off, on Sandy Creek, but a few miles from the Radbury home. A party of French and Mexican traders, thirteen in number, had gone up to the house of one John Castleman, and during the night the Indians came up, murdered nearly all of the number, and made off with the traders' packs. Castleman hastened to Gonzales with the news, and a posse was organised to follow the red men. This resulted in another battle, in the cedar brakes along the San Marcos, and some of the Indians were killed. But the majority got away, taking most of the stolen goods with them.
The mentioning of these two encounters will show with what the early settlers of Texas had to contend while trying to raise their crops and attend to their cattle. Often a bold settler would go forth into the wilderness, erect his rude hut, and then never be heard from again, his habitation being found, later on, either deserted or burnt to the ground. And men were not the only sufferers, for women and children were often either killed or carried off into captivity. Once two well-known ladies were spirited away in the most mysterious fashion, and they were not returned to their homes until both had spent several years among the red people.
Dan and Ralph thought over many of these affairs as they set about preparing the ranch home against any attack which might be made upon it. Ralph especially was much agitated, for, some six months before, several Indians had stopped at the ranch for the purpose of trading ponies, and one of them had eyed the soft-haired boy's scalp in a manner which had given the youth a shiver from head to foot.
"They sha'n't have my scalp," he murmured to himself. "I'll die first!" And, young as he was, it may be believed that he meant what he said.
"Do you see anything of father?" called out Dan, as he finished inspecting the last of the pistols.
"He ought to be coming up by this time."
"I really think we ought to fire a shot for a signal."
"We'll wait a few minutes longer."
They waited—every minute seeming like ten. It was a clear, sunshiny day, and outside only a faint breeze stirred the trees, otherwise all was silent. At the end of five minutes Dan stepped to the doorway.
"Father!" he called, at the top of his voice.
No answer came back, and then Ralph joined in the cry, which was repeated several times.
"He ought to hear that," said Ralph, as the silence continued. Then his face grew pale. "Perhaps they have killed him, Dan!"
"I heard no shot; did you?"
"No, but some of the Indians may have bows with them. I heard one of those Indians who was here last say he didn't like the white man's fire-bow because it made so much noise it scared all the game. If they've got bows and arrows they could easily crawl up behind father, and——" Ralph did not finish in words, but his brother understood what he meant only too well. Reaching for one of the pistols, Dan ran outside of the door, and fired it off.
Mr. Radbury had gone for the deer with his gun slung over his back, so he could easily fire a return signal if he wished. Eagerly the brothers listened, but the exasperating silence continued.
Then, as Dan reloaded, Ralph fired a second shot.
"Something is wrong," said the older brother, after several more minutes had gone by. "If father was coming with the deer he would be in sight sure. Either the Indians have surrounded him or killed him, or else they have got between him and the house so that he can't get in. I'm going up to the loft with the spy-glass and take a squint around."
Glass in hand, Dan ran up the rude ladder to the loft, which was some six feet high at the ridge-pole and two feet high at the edge of the sloping sides. There were windows on all four sides, but those at the slopes were small and only intended for observation holes.
Ralph had closed all of the shutters, so the loft was almost dark. With caution Dan opened one shutter after another and swept the woods and country around with the glass.
He could not see the hollow, but at the crest of the hill by the cattle shed he made out the heads of several Indians gathered back of some bushes and talking earnestly. Presently the Indians, separated, and two of the number walked off in the direction of the river, on the opposite side of the ranch home.
"They are up to something," reasoned the boy, and took up a position on the other side of the loft. From this point he could see a small portion of the river as it wound in and out among the trees and brush. He waited impatiently for the Indians to reappear, and at last saw them cross a glade close to where he and his brother had met the half-breed. As the Indians came out into the open, Hank Stiger met them.
"He will join them now if he wasn't with them before," thought Dan, and in this he was right. The Indians and Stiger held a short talk, and then all three disappeared in the belt of timber surrounding the burn.
"Can you see anything?" called up Ralph.
"Yes, several Indians, and Stiger has joined them."
"Stiger! And what of father?"
"I see nothing of him. Ralph, I am afraid we are in for it this time, and no mistake."
"You think the Indians really intend to attack us?"
"No, they will probably wait until it grows dark, especially now, after they have seen us barring the windows."
"Then I had better be ready to bar up the door, too."
"Yes, but keep a lookout for father. He may come in on the run, you know."
Dan continued to use the glass, stepping from one window to another. But the Indians had disappeared from view, and not another glimpse of a feather or a painted face was to be seen.
Presently he found himself looking toward the burn. Back, in the timber bordering the river, was a tall tree which reared its head a score of feet above its fellow trees. As he turned his glass in that direction, something unusual in the top of the tree attracted his attention.
He gazed long and earnestly at the object, and at last made out the form of a man, who was waving some dark thing, probably his coat, to and fro.
"It must be father!" he thought. "I'll signal in return and make sure," and catching up a bed sheet he stuck it out of the window for a minute and swung it vigorously. As he did this, the party in the tree flung up the coat and caught it, then disappeared from view. At once Dan drew in the sheet, closed all the shutters of the loft, and went below.
THE ATTACK ON THE RANCH.
"Well, I've just seen father and signalled to him."
"Where was he, Dan?"
"In the top of the king pine by the river. He was waving his coat to attract my attention. I waved a bed sheet at him and then he threw his coat up in the air and caught it, and got out of sight as soon as he could."
"Then he was going off."
"Yes," answered Dan. For among these pioneers to throw an object from one and then catch it meant to go away and return. "Probably he is going away for assistance."
"I shouldn't think he would leave us alone," mused Ralph, his face falling perceptibly.
"That makes me feel certain that the Indians don't intend to attack us until dark. Perhaps father heard some of their powwowing, or some talk between them and Stiger. Anyway, I am sure he is going away."
"Then we may as well close up tight."
"All but the door. But bring in all the buckets full of water first. We may be in for a regular siege of it."
Dan's suggestion was carried out, and the older boy also made a raid on the cattle yard and brought in one of the cows, tying her close to the door. "Now we'll have milk and meat too, if the worst comes to the worst," he observed. No matter what else happened he did not intend to be starved out.
Their regular chores done, the two boys locked up below, but left the door unbarred, and then went to the loft, taking with them their guns and the spy-glass.
"I suppose we can count this something of a fort," remarked Ralph. "But I don't care to play soldier—I'd rather have the Indians leave us alone."
"So would I. But I guess I can play soldier if I have to," added Dan, with quiet emphasis. Secretly he loved soldiering much better than life on the ranch, but in those days he never dreamed of the adventures on the battle-field which were still in store for him.
The afternoon wore away slowly until the sun began to set behind the timber west of the ranch. In the meantime, the boys, having had no dinner, grew hungry, and Ralph spent some time below in boiling a pot of coffee and stirring and baking some ash-cakes, serving both with a bit of broiled steak.
"It's too bad we can't have some venison," he sighed to his brother. "But I reckon my first big game is going to get us into a whole lot of trouble."
"I reckon the Indians were getting ready to come down on us, anyhow," answered Dan. "It seems they can stay quiet just so long, and then their animal nature breaks loose for a shindy."
Dan had just returned to the loft after his repast, when he uttered a shout.
"An Indian is coming toward the cabin, Ralph!"
"Do you know him?"
"No, but he is a Comanche."
"I don't know if it's war-paint or not, but he is daubed full of all the colours of the rainbow."
"It must be war-paint. Is he alone?"
"Yes, and riding a white pony. His gun is on his back, and he doesn't look as if he was up to mischief."
"Oh, I wouldn't trust him!" cried the younger lad. "He may be up to some of their treachery."
"But I can't stop him from coming to the cabin. I'll be on my guard, and you must be, too," concluded Dan, and went below. With quickness he hid away all the weapons but two pistols, one of which he stuck in his shirt bosom and gave the other to Ralph.
"We must keep apart," said Ralph. "Then if he attacks one or the other the free one can fire on him."
"That's good generalship," returned Dan, with a grim smile.
By this time the Indian rider was close to the dooryard, and Dan walked outside to meet him. As soon as the youth appeared, the savage halted his steed.
"How! How!" he said, in guttural tones, meaning "How do you do?"
"How are you?" returned Dan.
"Wolf Ear is sick—got pain here," and the red man pointed to his stomach.
"Sick, eh? What have you been doing,—eating and drinking too much?"
"No, Wolf Ear big sick two moons past,—sick come back,—can't ride and must lay down," groaned the savage, grating his teeth as if in intense pain. "White boy help Wolf Ear, me lof him."
Under ordinary circumstances Dan would have been touched by this appeal, for he knew that the Indians suffered just as many aches and pains as did the white folks.
"I am no good at doctoring sick men," he answered. "Wolf Ear had better go back to his own medicine man."
At this the Indian stared at the boy stolidly for fully half a minute. He understood that he was not wanted, and that he would not be allowed into the cabin.
"White boy have no medicine for Wolf Ear?" he said, slowly.
"I don't know what would be good for you."
"Where white boy's fadder?"
"He has gone away." A sudden idea came to Dan's mind. "I think he has gone to Gonzales to bring along some of the lumbermen to look over the plans for a sawmill. There are about a dozen men thinking of setting up a sawmill around here."
The Indian pursed up his mouth, trying to conceal his chagrin. "He come back soon?"
"I expect him every minute. But you had better not wait for him. Perhaps you'll feel better if you wash off that war-paint on your face."
At this Wolf Ear scowled viciously. "White boy big fool!" he cried, and reached around for his gun. But before he could raise the weapon both Dan and Ralph had him covered with the pistols. Not having seen the weapons while speaking, the Indian was taken aback.
"Put that gun down," said Dan, sternly. "I am not such a fool as you think."
"Wolf Ear only make fun," grinned the savage, feebly. "No mean to shoot."
"I don't like your fun, and I want you to leave this place."
At once the red man straightened up like an arrow on his pony. "Wolf Ear will go," he said, loftily. "But Wolf Ear shall not forget you!" And he turned his steed to ride away. Evidently he had forgotten all about his alleged pain.
"Dan, make him give up his gun," cried Ralph, in a low voice. "If you don't he'll try to shoot us as soon as he reaches cover."
"Halt!" exclaimed the older brother. "Wolf Ear, you must leave your gun with us. You can come back for it when my father is here."
At first the Indian pretended not to hear, then he turned back to look at them, but without stopping his pony.
"My firearm is mine," he said. "The white boy shall not rob the poor Indian," and digging his heels into his pony's sides he set off at a breakneck pace for the nearest patch of timber. Ralph was about to fire on him, but Dan stopped the proceedings.
"No, let him go," he said. "Whatever happens, don't give them the chance to say that we opened the fight. If we start the affair we'll get into all sorts of trouble with the agency."
Before they could argue the matter Wolf Ear had gained the timber. Both of the boys were now in the doorway of the cabin. Bang! went the redskin's gun, and the bullet embedded itself in the door-post close to their heads. Like lightning the boys leaped into the living-room and barred the oaken barrier behind them.
"He has opened the attack!" gasped Ralph, the shot, coming so close, temporarily unnerving him. "I told you he'd do it."
Dan did not answer, but, running to the closet, brought out the best of the guns belonging to his father. Leaping up to the loft, he opened the firing-hole fronting the direction Wolf Ear had taken, and squinted through. But the Indian horseman was long since out of sight.
"Can you catch him?" asked Ralph, from the foot of the ladder.
"No, he's gone."
"Do you think he'll bring the others down on us now?"
"No. They know we are armed, and they couldn't rush across the clearing and break in without one or more of them being shot, and they are too afraid of their hides to undertake the job. But they'll close in as soon as it's dark, beyond a doubt."
"I hope father comes back by that time."
"So do I. Do you suppose they are driving off the cattle on the range?"
"There is no telling. For all we know they may be up back of the cattle shed, too."
It was now so dark that but little could be seen beyond the clearing immediately surrounding the cabin. Each of the boys stationed himself in the loft, Dan watching to the north and the east, and Ralph to the south and west.
With the coming of night the silence seemed more oppressive than ever, and only the occasional mooing of the cow tied near the door broke the stillness around the cabin. From the woods came now and then the cry of a night bird, but that was all. The breeze had died out utterly.
But presently came a cry that caused the hearts of both lads to thump vigorously within their breasts. It was the note of a night-owl, repeated six times.
"That's a Comanche signal," said Dan, in almost a whisper. "Ralph, they must be coming now, and if they are, God help us to do our best in repelling their attack!"
"Amen!" came almost solemnly from the younger Radbury. "Can you make out anything yet?"
"No—yes! Somebody is sneaking through the timber toward the river. It's an Indian with a gun! He's turning toward the house, and two other Indians are behind him!"
Several minutes more passed—minutes that seemed like hours to the boys, whose hearts thumped as never before. Both felt that a crisis in their lives had arrived.
"They are coming, five strong," whispered Dan, at last. "Perhaps I had better fire a pistol to warn them off."
"Do it," answered his brother, and soon the report broke the stillness. At the sound the Comanches came to a halt in the clearing, midway between the cabin and the timber. The halt, however, was only temporary, for an instant later a wild war-whoop rang out, and they charged swiftly on the ranch home!
POKE STOVER TO THE FRONT.
"Here they come, Dan!"
"Yes, Ralph. Watch your chance, and fire at the fellow on the left. I'll take the one on the right."
There was no time to say more, for now the Comanches were close to the cabin. Both youths were tremendously excited, but they felt that it was a case of life or death, and did their best to nerve themselves accordingly. Each picked his man, and both guns rang out at the same time. The reports had not yet died away when the redskin aimed at by Dan flung up one arm and sank back, badly wounded in the side. Ralph had missed his mark by a few inches.
The sudden attack brought the remaining Indians to a halt, and for a second they appeared not to know what to do next. Then the wounded man staggered back toward the timber, and with another war-whoop the others continued toward the cabin.
The boys had no time left to reload, and caught up the pistols and let drive again. This time it was Ralph who hit his man, a slight wound in the leg. Hardly had the pistols belched forth than the Indians opened fire, and four bullets buried themselves close to the firing-holes in the loft openings.
"They mean to overpower us if they can," cried Dan. "We must load up as fast as we can!"
The Indians, or at least the three that were not wounded, had now gained the door, and were trying to force it open. But their hatchets and the axe they had brought along failed to make much of an impression on it, and all they could do was to shout in their rage and demand that the boys open the door at once.
"Open! Open!" came in Wolf Ear's voice. "Open, or we will scalp you!"
"Go away, or we'll shoot you all down!" answered Dan, who had now reloaded his gun.
"We will not go away. What is in the house belongs to the red man, and he must have it."
"It belongs to our father, and you shall not have one thing," retorted Dan.
He had unbarred the shutter of one of the upper windows, and now, leaning out swiftly, he took aim at the forms grouped below, and fired.
A howl went up, for the bullet had nipped one red man in the ear and glanced along the shoulder of a second. Then came a quick fire in return, and Dan gave a scream that caused Ralph's heart to almost stop beating.
"You are struck?" queried the younger brother.
"It's not much," came from Dan, and, breathing heavily, he flung to the window-shutter and bolted it again. Then he came down the ladder, the blood flowing from a wound in his neck. Had the bullet come two inches closer, Dan would have been killed on the spot.
The Indians were now trying to batter the door down with a log of wood picked up close at hand. The cow bothered them in their efforts, and one of the red men had to take time to cut her loose, at which the cow ran off to the cattle shed once more.
Thus far three of the attackers had been wounded, one quite seriously. The other two continued to hammer away at the door, which presently showed signs of giving way.
"Let us try to fire through the door," whispered Ralph, when he saw that his brother was still able to continue the struggle. "We may hit them, and, anyway, we'll give them a scare."
Dan nodded, and both drew closer to the barrier with their guns. But before they could level their firearms, there came a report from the edge of the timber next to the burn, and one of the Indians was heard to yell in mortal agony and fall on the doorstep.
"Somebody is coming!" cried Dan, joyfully. "It must be father!" Then a second report rang out, and another red man was struck, in the arm. This was the savage who had previously been nipped in the ear, and, without waiting for another shot, he sped away in the darkness, and his two companions after him, leaving the dead Indian where he had fallen.
There was now no use of trying to fire through the door, and Dan motioned Ralph to run up to the loft.
"See if you can make out who it was that fired," he said, "and if it is father, and he wants to come in, call for me to open the door."
The boys had lit a single lantern, but now this was put out, since they were afraid some treacherous red man might still be lurking at hand, to fire at them through a crack in the cabin walls. While Ralph made his survey from above, Dan stood at the door, his hand on the bar, ready to throw it back on an instant's notice.
"A man is coming on the run!" announced Ralph, presently. "He is waving for us to open the door. I can't make out who it is."
"Is it father?"
"No, I can't make out—— It's Poke Stover! Let him in, quick!"
Back shot the bolt and up went the heavy bar, and as the door was opened to the width of a foot, the figure of a tall, heavily bearded frontiersman slipped into the cabin. He helped hold the door while Dan secured it again.
"Poke Stover!" cried the youth. "I'm mighty glad you've come!"
"Are you and Ralph safe?" was the question, as soon as the man could catch his breath, for he had been running with all the swiftness at his command.
"Yes, although I've got a scratch on the throat. But father—do you know anything of him?"
"Yes, he has gone to Gonzales to bring help. He says he signalled to you from the tall pine."
"So he did. Did he have a fight with any of the Indians?"
"Yes, he was attacked by Bison Head and Hank Stiger, the half-breed. He put a bullet through Stiger's left calf, and knocked the Injun down with the butt of his gun. That's the reason the two were not with the party that attacked the cabin."
"How many are there, all told?" asked Ralph, who had come down the ladder again.
"Not more than ten, and one of 'em's dead outside."
"And two or three of them are wounded," added Dan.
"The wust on it is, they'll be gittin' thicker and thicker," resumed the old frontiersman, who had drifted into Texas from Missouri several years ago, and who had spent all of his life on the plains. "I've half a notion as how Bison Head is tryin' to git the whole Comanche nation on the war-path."
"If that's the case, they may organise around here," said Ralph. "How long do you suppose it will be before father gets back?"
"He said he would try to make it by daybreak," answered Poke Stover. "It's accordin' as how he finds his men."
The talking now dropped off, as the frontiersman said it would be best to remain silent and keep on guard at the various port-holes in the shutters.
Slowly the night wore away, until it was three o'clock in the morning. Only one alarm had come, but this had amounted to nothing.
"I see a light," announced Dan. "Can it be a camp-fire?"
"Not likely, lad," answered Stover. "Comanches on the war-path don't light 'em. It's a signal."
"Another signal to attack?" queried Ralph.
"More'n likely. We must keep our eyes peeled for 'em."
Another half-hour dragged by, and the only sound that broke the stillness was the morning breeze, as it began to stir through the timber surrounding the clearing. Outside not a soul was to be seen.
"Perhaps that was a signal to withdraw," suggested Dan. "I hope it was." But Poke Stover shook his head, for he had seen much of the Comanches and understood them thoroughly.
"They won't go until they've had another round at ye," he said. "I'm expectin' 'em every minit now."
Scarcely had he finished, when something attracted Dan's attention back of the cattle shed. An object was moving around. Presently it started straight for the cabin.
"It looks like one of the cows—and it is," he announced. "I wonder what started her up?"
"Let me take a squint," said the frontiersman, and covered the port-hole searchingly for half a minute. Then he raised his rifle, took careful aim, and blazed away. There was a grunt of dismay, and an Indian, who had been driving the cow and dodging directly behind, ran back, while the cow kicked up her heels and flew in the opposite direction.
"Thar, I reckon he'll know enough to keep back after this," growled Poke Stover, with much self-satisfaction. "He thought he was goin' to sneak up unbeknown to us, but I crossed his trail fer him that trip."
"What do you suppose he was going to do, if he had gotten close to the cabin?" asked Ralph.
"He had a bunch of brush in his hand, lad, and probably a bit o' fire about him, too, although I allow as how I didn't see no light."
"Then he wanted to burn us out!" ejaculated the youngest Radbury.
"That was his game."
Ralph shivered at the thought. It was bad enough to be shot at, but to be burned out! He wished daylight would come and his father would return with the much-needed aid.
With the coming of daylight those in the cabin could see with greater clearness under the tall timber, and soon Poke Stover announced that several Indians were in sight.
"They are making something," he announced. "Looks like a stone-boat," meaning thereby a sort of flat drag-sled often used for removing stones from a field.
"I know what it is!" exclaimed Dan. "It's a shield! One or two of them will come up behind it. See if I am not right."
The three waited anxiously, Ralph fairly holding his breath in expectancy. At last the shield, for such it was, was done, and slowly two Comanches came forward, holding it in front of them, and taking care that neither should expose so much as a hand or foot.
"Hang 'em!" muttered the tall frontiersman, and, taking deliberate aim at a slight crack in the wooden shield, he fired. But the barrier was thick and tough, and the bullet failed to penetrate to the opposite side.
One of the Indians behind the shield carried a bunch of dry grass and some brush, and as they came closer this was lighted. Then the burning stuff was hurled forward. It was tied into a bundle with some strong vines, and had a stone attached to give it weight. It landed on the roof of the cabin, blazing brightly, then rolled off to a spot directly below one of the windows.
IN AND OUT OF THE BURNING CABIN.
"The roof is on fire!"
"The wall is on fire under one of the sleeping-room windows!"
The first cry came from Ralph, who was in the loft, the second from his brother, who saw the flames and smoke coming through the cracks where the wall and the flooring of the cabin joined. The breeze was increasing, and soon both fires were burning merrily, as if such flames were not tending toward a tragedy.
"Some water—we must put it out!" came from Poke Stover, and, catching up one of the buckets the boys had thoughtfully provided, he ran to the window beneath which the conflagration was spreading. "Unbar it, Dan, and I'll souse it out. Look out that you don't expose yourself."
The shutter was unbarred and opened for the space of several inches. At once the smoke began to pour into the cabin, setting them all to coughing. Then the breeze carried the smoke in the opposite direction.
Suddenly Poke Stover set down the bucket of water and grabbed Dan's gun. A quick aim and a flash, and one of the Comanches let go of the shield and danced around with a broken elbow. Then both of the enemy retreated far more rapidly than they had come.
"Got him that trip," was the frontiersman's satisfactory comment. "But be careful, Dan, there are others watching us from the timber."
The shutter was pushed open a little more, and with much skill Poke Stover dashed the water on the blaze and put the most of it out. Then he wet an old coat and beat out what remained.
"It's a pity we didn't have no dirt handy to shovel on," he said, pausing to catch his breath, while Dan locked the shutter again. "We may need this water afore we git through. How is it up thar, Ralph?" he called.
"It's burning pretty lively," was the reply. "But perhaps we can beat it out with the coat."
"The Indians can spot you on the roof," said Dan.
"Go down and unbar the door and swing it partly open," said Poke Stover. "That will attract the attention of the Injuns, and they won't be a-lookin' at the roof. But wait a minit, till I'm ready fer ye!" he added, as he laboured up the ladder with a second bucket of the precious water. The old coat was soused thoroughly, and Stover opened the shutter nearest to the fire.
"Now go ahead!" he called out, and Dan opened the door, and swung it back and forth several times. He also showed his hat on a stick, and in a trice came several shots, one going through the head-covering and entering the closet in the corner. Then he swung the hat out again, and another shot followed.
During this time the old frontiersman had reached out of the upper window and beat out part of the fire and hurled the remainder to the ground, far enough away from the cabin to keep it from doing further harm. One shot was aimed at him, as the breeze exposed him through the smoke to the Comanches, but this luckily flew wide of its mark.
"By gosh, but that was a close shave!" ejaculated Stover, as he dropped back into the loft, while Ralph closed the shutter. His beard was singed in two places and his face was red and hot. "It's a good thing that fire wasn't allow to gain no more headway."
He bathed his face and took a drink of water, and then all three began to speculate upon the next probable movement of the Comanches. By the clock on the living-room mantel it was now half-past four.
"Father ought to be coming now," said Ralph. "But perhaps he has been unable to get anybody to come back with him."
"Don't worry about that," returned Poke Stover. "They'll all come if only they git the word. The buck ague don't go around here." By buck ague the frontiersman meant the fright which occasionally takes possession of a pioneer or soldier when facing Indians who are on the war-path.
It was not long after this that the Indians began to show their activity once more. Others of the tribe had arrived, until they numbered eighteen or twenty, the majority of whom were armed with guns, only one or two of the older warriors sticking to their bows and arrows.
"I reckon they suspect we are waiting for help, and they mean to do something before it gits too late," observed Poke Stover. "Perhaps they'll give us another rush before they withdraw fer good. We had better inspect all of our shootin'-irons, fer we may want 'em badly."
The frontiersman was right, the Comanches were organising an attack, to be divided into three parts,—one party to come from the timber skirting the burn, the second to come up behind the cabin, and the third to make a dash from behind the cattle shed. The first division carried a heavy log, with which they hoped to batter down the door in short order.
"They are coming!" The cry came from Dan, who was watching the timber in front of the burn. "There are six of them!"
"Here comes another crowd from the shed!" ejaculated Ralph.
"They have divided up," said the frontiersman. "Boys, I'm afraid we now have a stiff piece of work cut out for ourselves. A third party is coming from the rear, and there is no telling but what there may be still more. We must do our best and fight to a finish, for they are on the war-path for fair, and they'll show us no mercy if once they git at us. Load up and fire jest as quick as ye can! Give it to 'em hot!"
As Poke Stover finished, he leaped to the window nearest to him, shoved the muzzle of his weapon through the port-hole, and pulled the trigger. A yell went up as one of the redskins threw up his arms and fell. But then the others came on faster than ever, yelling and shouting in a manner to cause the stoutest heart to falter. Surely, as Stover had said, it would be a fight to the finish, and they were but three to seventeen.
Dan was at one port-hole and Ralph at another, and now both fired simultaneously. Whether the shots were effective they could not tell. Certainly none of the Indians dropped.
In two minutes more the Comanches were running around the house in every direction, trying to batter down the door with the log, and likewise trying to pry open several of the shutters with their hatchets.
At such close quarters it was next to impossible to fire on them, although several gun and pistol shots were exchanged. Once an Indian fired through a port-hole into the bedchamber, and the burning gun-wad landed on one of the straw bedticks.
"Put it out!" roared Poke Stover, and while Dan trampled on the fire to extinguish it, the frontiersman let the Indian have a shot in return.
Crash! crash! The heavy bombardment on the door was beginning to tell, and already there was a long crack in the oaken slab, and the splinters were flying in all directions.
"We'll take our stand here!" cried Poke Stover, motioning to a spot facing the door. "Give it to 'em the minit daylight shines through!" And they did, with such serious results that the party with the ram dropped that instrument and ran to the opposite side of the house. But their places were quickly taken by others, and now it looked as if the door must give way at any instant.
Suddenly, just when it looked as if the next shock to the door must smash it into a hundred pieces, there came a scattering volley of rifle-shots from the timber near the river, answered almost instantly by a second volley from the forest opposite. Then came a yell from the Comanches, and a cheer in English.
"Hold the cabin! We are coming!" came in Mr. Radbury's well-known voice, and never had it sounded more comforting to the two boys than at that moment. Then followed more shots, some striking the cabin and others hitting the Indians, who were so demoralised that for the moment they knew not what to do.
"Down with the redskins!" came in the tones of a settler named Whippler, who had lost his wife in a raid about a year previous. "Kill every one of 'em! Don't let them escape!"
In his eagerness to annihilate those he so hated, he rode to the front of the others, discharging his gun and his pistol as he came, and then leaping upon the nearest redskin with his long hunting-knife. He brought the red man down with a stroke in the breast, and was then laid low himself by Red Pony, an under chief, who was in charge during the absence of Wolf Ear and Bison Head. Red Pony then ran off for his very life, followed by fourteen others, the remainder being either killed or wounded.
"Boys! Are either of you wounded?" asked Mr. Radbury, as he leaped from the mustang he was riding, and rushed into the cabin.
"We are all right, father," answered both lads.
"Thank God for that!" murmured the parent, reverently. "But, see, your neck is bleeding," he added, to Dan.
"It's only a scratch."
"Good. Poke, I see you managed to get to them. You are a brave fellow, if ever there was one."
"We've had a hot time of it, father," put in Ralph. "If it hadn't been for Mr. Stover, I don't know what we would have done."
"Ralph is right," assented Dan. "If he hadn't put out the fire we would have been burnt out, and the cabin would have gone up in smoke in the bargain."
"I shall not forget your kindness, Poke," said Mr. Radbury, taking the frontiersman's horny hand. "But, as you are all right, I fancy I had better join the others, and follow the miscreants."
"And I'll go with ye," said Poke Stover, who disliked too much praise, although not averse to some laudatory speech. "We ought to round up every mother's son of 'em while we are about it."
"Shall we go too?" asked Dan. "I'd rather do that than remain behind," he continued.
"You may come, if you'll promise to keep to the rear," answered the father. "Remember, the Indians are wily, and may set a trap for us."
All went outside, crawling through the battered doorway, and were soon mounted on several extra mustangs Mr. Radbury had brought along. The planter informed them that he had brought with him twenty-four men, including Jim Bowie, who had happened to be in Gonzales at the time. Soon the party of four were riding hard to catch up with the other whites, who were following the trail of the Comanches along the bank of the upper Guadalupe River.
AN UNSUCCESSFUL PURSUIT.
After leaving the vicinity of the cabin, the Comanches struck a trail leading through a cedar brake over the hill back of the cattle shed. Here they came together, and without halting swept straight along the Guadalupe River, as previously mentioned. They felt that the whites would follow them, and their one hope of safety lay in gaining the wilderness about San Saba Hill, sixty to seventy miles north of San Antonio.
The leadership of the whites naturally fell to Colonel Jim Bowie, for he had been in numerous Indian quarrels, and was a good man on the trail. It may be here mentioned that Bowie, who was afterward to become so well known in Texas, was one of two brothers who came to that territory from Louisiana, after having been engaged for years in the slave-trade. The man was as bold as he was daring, and it was said that he knew not the meaning of the word fear.
The Indians were all on horseback, and as their steeds had had a long rest they were fresh, and made rapid progress. On the other hand, the mustangs of the whites were tired from the hard night's ride from Gonzales and vicinity, and they could not keep up the pace, although urged to do their best by their riders. All of the whites bewailed the fate of Whippler, and swore to be revenged if given "the ghost of a chance."
When Amos Radbury, Stover, and the two boys gained the other whites, they found Bowie's party fording one of the creeks running into the Guadalupe. The Indians had passed there about ten minutes before, and it was to be seen that they had not even stopped to water their horses. All of the settlers' horses were thirsty, and some refused to budge from the stream until they had slaked their thirst.
"Do you think they will be caught?" asked Dan, as he swept along beside his father.
"They will not be caught if they can help it," replied Mr. Radbury, with a faint smile. "They know it will go hard with them if we do come up with them."
"What of the wounded?" asked Ralph. But his father merely shrugged his shoulders.
"They'll crawl off in the bushes, and either git away, or die," answered Poke Stover, philosophically. To him the life of an Indian was of no account. He had never considered that an Indian might be educated into becoming a useful member of the great human family.
On and on swept the little body of determined whites, each with his gun in his hands, and his eyes on the alert for the first sign of danger. The trail was still along the river, but presently it branched off, and entered an arrayo, or gully, thick with thorny plants and entangling vines. At the end of the arrayo was a rocky plateau, and here for the time being the trail was lost.
"The Indian that's leading them knows his business," remarked Colonel Bowie, as he brought his command to a halt.
"That's right, but we'll soon be on his tail ag'in," returned Poke Stover, who had come to his side. "Let's spread out in a fan, colonel;" and this was done, each man examining his part of the great semicircle with extreme care. A short while after, the trail was again struck, and they swept on. But at both this place and at the ford valuable time had been lost.
Noon found the Comanches still out of sight and hearing. But the trail was fresh and easily seen, and it seemed only a question of endurance upon one side or the other.
"If it wasn't for the jaded hosses," sighed Poke Stover. His own steed was fairly fresh, but it would have been foolhardy for him to have gone on ahead of the main body, with perhaps only one or two others being able to do likewise. The Comanches would have liked nothing better than to have gotten at the whites one at a time.
As the afternoon came and went, the party in pursuit began to grow hungry. A few of the horsemen had brought rations with them, and these were divided, each man and boy eating as he rode on. Some of the men likewise carried liquor, and this was also divided, although Ralph and Dan procured drinks of water at a spring instead. In those days it was share and share alike with all of the settlers, and one man was considered as good as another so long as he was honest and willing to work. For dandies, from Philadelphia, New York, or other large cities, the Texans had no use, nor did they love those who tried to show off their learning. They were whole-souled, as it is called, to the core, and they wanted everybody else to be so, too.
It was growing dark when Bowie called a halt on the edge of a small clearing leading up to a hill thickly overgrown with scrub pines.
"We must be careful here, men," he said. "They may be scattered along yonder timber belt, watching for us to uncover ourselves. We had better move to the right and the left, and give the old signal if any of the redskins appear in sight."
The split was made, but the Radburys and Poke Stover kept together. One Indian was discovered, and the settler who saw him at once shouted, as prearranged. Then the Indians, seeing that the attempt to draw the whites into the open had failed, dashed along up the hillside, as rapidly as the tangle of growth permitted. A number of shots were exchanged, but nobody was hit.
During the afternoon one of the men had brought down a wild turkey, and another several hares, for game of all kinds was still thick.
"That will do for supper," said Mr. Radbury. "But we will have to be careful how we build a fire."
At seven o'clock the chase came to an end for the day, the jaded ponies refusing to climb the hill that loomed up before them. One of the ponies was a bucker, and threw his rider over his head into a mesquite-bush.
"Thet settles Bill Darson," drawled the Texan, as he extricated himself from his difficulty. "When the pony kicks, I kick, too. We don't go no further jest now, hyer me!"
But Bowie, Mr. Radbury, and several others insisted upon gaining the brow of the hill, as a point of vantage, and all plodded to the top, where they went into camp in the midst of the trees, half a dozen men being sent out to do picket duty, so that Bison Head's band might not crawl up during the night and surprise them.
"I'd like to know what became of Wolf Ear and Hank Stiger," remarked Dan, as he flung himself on the ground, glad enough to get out of his high and uncomfortable Mexican saddle.
"They know enough to git out o' sight when thar's a fight on," answered Poke Stover, with a broad laugh. "Them kind o' varmin always does." Usually the frontiersman spoke fair English, but at times he dropped into the vernacular of the plains.
"I hope he doesn't go back to the cabin, now it's deserted," put in Ralph.
"He may do that!" burst out Dan. "I never thought of it before." And he mentioned the matter to his father.
"He will hardly dare to go back, for other settlers will be coming up from time to time," said Mr. Radbury. "He knows only too well that he is already in bad favour with all straight-forward men."
"He's a sneak," said Ralph. "But by the way, father, you haven't told us your story yet, although we have told ours."
"There is not much to tell, Ralph. I went for the deer, as you know. I was dragging it back to the cabin, when I caught sight of several Indians, and, by their movements, I saw that they wanted to cut me off and, more than likely, slay me. I at once abandoned the deer and ran deeper than ever into the woods."
"Of course they followed you?" came from Dan.
"Yes, they followed me, but only one or two shots were exchanged, and I was not hit. I think I wounded one Indian, but I am not certain. Then I gave them the slip and climbed into the king pine, as you boys named the tree. You remember the signal I gave you?"
"To be sure."
"I meant I would try to get help near by, if possible. I had seen several lumbermen around, and I fancied they might be down the river a mile or so. I ran along the river with all my might, and there met Poke Stover and told him what was happening. He at once agreed to go to your aid, and urged me to arouse the settlers around Gonzales. He promised to hold the cabin and stand by you as long as he could draw his breath."
"And he did it!" cried Ralph. "He's a noble man."
"At first I could find nobody at home," went on Mr. Radbury. "Joel Nalitt was away, and at the Runyons' only the women folks were in. But over to the Powers's ranch I met Powers, Anderson, Striker, and a German, who was a stranger, and they said they would all come along. Anderson rode over to Whippler's, and those two brought along the other men. It's too bad that Whippler was killed."
All in the party agreed with Mr. Radbury in this, although some said that it was better Whippler should be killed than some man with a wife and children. Whippler and his late wife had never had any offspring.
The night was raw and cold, and toward morning a fine rain set in, adding greatly to the discomforts of the whites. The game brought down proved but a scanty meal all around, and for breakfast there remained absolutely nothing.
"This is too bad," said Dan, referring to the rain. He was soaked to the skin, and so was everybody else in the party.
The trail was taken up as soon as it was light enough to see, and the Indians were followed fully fifteen miles, over a winding way leading over hills and rocks, and through immense belts of timber land. They had to ford several streams, and at one of these points they stopped for an hour to catch and cook some black bass, which were plentiful. Toward nightfall the chase came to an end.
"It's no use," said one of the oldest of the settlers. "They've got too good a start of us, and it will be foolishness for a mere handful of whites to ride right into the Indian country. They'll lay a trap and massacre every one of us."
All of the others agreed with the spokesman, and it was not long before the party was riding back toward Gonzales. At first they followed the winding trail, but, coming to one of the numerous creeks of the vicinity, they branched off and took almost a direct route to the town.
"Will you go back with us?" asked Mr. Radbury of Poke Stover, when it came time for the Radburys to separate from the others. The ranch home could be seen from the top of a neighbouring hill, and all seemed to be as they had left it two days before.
"Yes, I reckon I will," answered the frontiersman. "I ain't got nothin' else to do, and ye may want an extra man about fer a day or two, jest for to keep his eye open."
The storm had cleared away, and the sun was shining brightly as the party of four rode up to the battered door of the deserted cabin. Down around the cattle shed the cows were browsing away as usual, and several of the pigs gave Ralph a grunt of recognition as he passed them.
"Home again!" cried Dan, and hopping to the ground he crawled through the doorway into the living-room of the cabin. As he went in he noticed that the body of the dead red man had been removed from the doorstep.
"Is it all right?" asked Ralph, when a cry from his brother aroused him.
"An Indian!" came from Dan. He had discovered a wounded red man lying on the floor in the corner. Then he gazed around the room and glanced into the sleeping apartment.
"Father, come in, quick!" he went on. "Somebody has been here, and has carried off a dozen or more things. And your desk is broken open, too, and all your papers are scattered about. Did you have any money in the desk?"
BIG FOOT AND THE MISSING PAPERS.
Dan's cry brought Mr. Radbury into the cabin without further delay, followed by Ralph and Poke Stover.
"What has been stolen?" queried Amos Radbury. "I see that old Revolutionary sword of your grandfather is gone."
"So are two of the pistols, and that half dozen solid silver spoons mother got from Aunt Elizabeth," answered Dan. "But what of money in the desk?"
"I had but little—not over twenty dollars all told, Dan." Mr. Radbury walked over to the little desk, which was a rude affair made by himself during his leisure hours. "Yes, it's been ransacked pretty thoroughly."
"Is anything missing?" asked Ralph.
"I can't say." Amos Radbury looked over a number of the papers. "I guess they are all right. No, there is my discharge from the army, after the war of 1812. The rascal who broke open the desk took the pleasure of tearing that in half." He rummaged about a bit more. "Hullo, it's gone!" he cried.
"What's gone?" came from both boys.
"The papers relating to this grant of land."
"Are you sure?" asked Dan.
"Yes, it isn't anywhere about."
Mr. Radbury was more worried about the papers pertaining to the land grant than over anything else, and at once a search was instituted, outside of the ranch home as well as indoors. It proved of no avail,—the papers were gone.
"Will it do much harm?" asked Ralph, who knew very little as yet about real estate matters.
"It may and it may not," answered the father. "Of course the grant is recorded, but with matters in such a revolutionary state the records may at some time be destroyed, and then somebody else might come forward and claim this grant."
"Well, I reckon you won't give it up, partner," put in Poke Stover, suggestively.
"Not without a fight, Stover," was Mr. Radbury's firm answer. "The land is mine, paid for, and I'll hold it, papers or no papers, and no matter how the affairs of the government turn."
"I wonder who was the thief," mused Dan. "I don't believe it was an Indian. He might take the other things, but he wouldn't know anything about the papers, nor care for them."