THE YOUNG TRAIL HUNTERS;
OR, THE WILD RIDERS OF THE PLAINS.
THE VERITABLE ADVENTURES OF HAL HYDE AND NED BROWN, ON THEIR JOURNEY ACROSS THE GREAT PLAINS OF THE SOUTH-WEST.
SAMUEL WOODWORTH COZZENS
TO THE READER.
From my youth up, no book ever fascinated me like one of travel and adventure in Indian lands, where danger attends every step; and, believing that the hair-breadth escapes of my young friends, Hal and Ned, in crossing with me, the great plains of the South-West, a few years since, will prove entertaining, as well as instructive, I have taken great pleasure in recounting them.
The delineation of the habits, characteristics, and barbarous customs of the savages, who, for centuries, have roamed over those vast plains, is the result of my personal observation among these, now fast vanishing, Indian tribes.
If this narrative proves a sufficient inducement for you to follow "THE TRAIL HUNTERS," to the end, a future volume to be entitled "CROSSING THE QUICKSANDS, OR HAL AND NED ON THE PACIFIC SLOPE," will acquaint you with some of the startling adventures befalling my young friends, after reaching their homes in the far west.
Hoping to merit your hearty commendation, I have the honor to subscribe myself, THE AUTHOR.
The Wild Mustangs.—Hal and Ned.—The Black and the Bay.—Manuel the Herder.—The Mustang-breaker.—Life on a Stock Ranche.—A Sudden Start.— On the Road.—The Lone Mule.—The Stampede.—Attacked by Comanches.
Under the Wagons.—The Lost Stock.—Jerry Vance the Wagon-master.—His Pluck is aroused.—We take the Trail.—The Comanche Camp.—A Surprise.— The Result.—Visitors.—Cuchillo, the Comanche Chief.—The Missourians. —The Arapahoe Guide.—The Farewell.
The Return to Camp.—The Boys Missing.—A Search.—Treed.—The Wild Mexican Hogs.—An Adventure.-The Combat.—The Release.—A Cry of Distress.—An Ugly Customer—The Panther.—A Terrible Struggle.— Victory.—Old Jerry wounded.—Camp at last.
Jerry's Story.—"Byse hain't got no Bizness on the Plains, nohow."—A Hunting Expedition.—Antonio, the "Mustanger" of the Leona.—"Creasing" a Wild Horse.—The Prairie-dog Town.—Wild Turkeys.—The Missing Boys. Prisoners in the Hands of the Comanches.—The "Lingo" of the Plains.—The Ransom and Rescue.—Dog Meat.
Comanches in the Distance.—Attacked.—The Fight.—The Arapahoe Scout to the Rescue.—Wounded.—Comanche Signals.—More Trouble.—The Ambuscade.— A Night Attack.—A Mule killed.—Ned's first Indian.—"A'stonishin' Boy."—Old Jerry's Pride.—Once more on the Road.
The Track in the Sand.—What made it.—A Lesson on Trailing.—What constitutes a good Woodsman.—A Discovery.—Indians.—A Female Captive To the Rescue.—Our Ride.—A Run for Life.—The Fight.—Death.—More Hints about Trailing.—The Mexican.—Old Jerry's Observation.
The San Pedro.—An Antelope Hunt.—We strike a Fresh Trail.—An Attack of "Buck Fever."—Hal a Victim.—I endeavor to comfort him.—A Promise.—The Black-tailed Deer.—The Call and the Snake.—Another Attempt.—Defeated by a Panther.—The Rio Pecos.—The Country through which it runs.—Old Acquaintances in the Distance.—On a Bender.—Ned to the Rescue.—Old Jerry's Bear Story.
The Comanche War Trail.—A Visitor in Camp.—Hal loses his Pony.—An Adventure with a Horse-thief.—Creeping Serpent.—Hints on Horse-stealing. —Dust in the Distance. Hal recognizes his Pony.—A Good Shot.— Its Effect.—The Prairie on Fire.—Imminent Peril.—Hard Work.—Comanche Springs.—Fort Davis.—A Pretty Girl,—Patsey McQuirk.—Ned kills an Antelope.—Don Ramon.—The Camp attacked.
Juanita captured.—A Brutal Murder.—Once more on the Trail.—We lose it.—The Hide for Life.—Return to Camp.—The Messenger to the Fort.— Terrible News.—The Dragoons in the Saddle.—Hal taken Prisoner.—Off for El Paso.—We start for the Silver Mines.—The Cave.—Adventure with a Bear.—The Mine.—What we saw.—We start for Fillmore.—Good News.
Tom Pope the Scout.—His Report.—An Expedition planned.—Tom's Story.— A Comanche Village.—The Prisoner.—A New Way of Cooking Steak.—Big Eagle the Chief.—An Escape, and Pursuit.—Soldiers from the Fort.—Our Expedition starts.—The Organos Mountains,—Ned's Adventure with a Rattlesnake.—We strike the Trail and follow it.—Hard Riding.—A Discovery.—Is it Comanche or Apache?—The Moccasin.
The Tell-tale, and what it said.—Jerry's Decision.—The Ride.—A Reconnoissance.—The Indian Camp.—Military Rule.—A Happy Thought.—The Rifle-shot.—The Rescue.—How Ned obeyed the Lieutenant's Orders.—On the Rampage.—Hal on Hand.—The Spoils.—Rejoicings over Juanita's Return.—What Tom says.—Ned wounded.—A Mountain Carriage.—Arrival at the Fort.—The Little Gold Ring.—Good-bye, Juanita.—"Disrispict."—A Fight.
Once more on the Road.—We cross the Rio Grande.—Mesilla.—Hal's Purchase.—A False Alarm.—A Ludicrous Scene.—An Unexpected Arrival in Camp.—Patsey's Adventure with the "Divil."—"That bar" again.—What Jerry says.—An Unsuccessful Hunt.—A Startling Echo.—Apache Visitors.— El Chico.—The Apache Chief.
Mr. Mastin.—Mangas Colorado.—Cadette.—A Terrible Battle.—Hal begins his Story of Apache Land.—An Interruption.—"The Bear's goned."—The Pursuit.
A Bear Hunt.—Patsey explains.—A Promise.—Continuation of Hal's Story.— Warm Blood.—A Feast of Mule Meat.—The Mountain Cave.—A Punishment.— Despair.—The Crack of a Rifle.—Liberty.—The Smoke Signal.—The Spy.— The Two Eyes.—A Horrible Situation.—Relief at last.—A Dissertation on Apaches.—Their Manners and Customs.—A Surprise.—A Desperate Adventure.—Arrival at Apache Pass.—"Sooap."—An Attack.
The Herd in Danger.—We rally.—The Fight.—Death and Burial.—Patsey in Trouble.—"Shnakes."—A Lively Dance for a "ded Mon."—Rocky Mountain Sheep.—A Description of them.—The Wild Ox.—Not a Success as Lazadors.—An Exciting Chase.—Tit for Tat.—The Boys worsted.— Mountain Dew.—Patsey pronounces.—The Buckskin Suit.—The Old Mission.— Arrival at Tucson.
Hal's Trade.—The New Mule.—A Storm.—Patsey's Ride. A Laughable Adventure.—We start at last.—The Pimo Indians.—Manners and Manufactures.—A Duck Hunt.—"How they hoont Ducks in the ould Counthry."—A Bath.—Arrive at Yuma.—Crossing the Desert.—Terrible Suffering.—Carrizo Creek, and the "Thirst of the Gazelle."—Jerry's Story.—Angels.—Arrival at San Diego.—Good News.—A Stock Ranche.—Mrs. Hyde that is to be.—An Invitation from Old Jerry.
THE YOUNG TRAIL HUNTERS.
"Boys, the mustangs will be up from the range this morning. Which of you want to go down to the corral with me?"
"I do! I do!" exclaimed both in the same breath.
"I spoke first," cried Hal.
"No, you didn't; I spoke first myself," retorted Ned.
"I say you didn't," rejoined Hal.
Seeing that the dispute was likely to become a serious one, I interrupted it by saying,—
"Well, boys, I'll settle the matter at once by taking you both with me. In this way there'll be no chance for a quarrel."
"Hurrah! hurrah!" exclaimed Ned. "We can both go; ain't that nice?"
"But I spoke first, though," declared Hal. "Never mind which spoke first. If either of you want to go with me, you must come now."
We immediately started towards the corral; but, before reaching it, I saw the herd coming over the plain towards us, their heads high in air, as though sniffing the morning breeze, their necks proudly arched, and long manes and tails gracefully flowing to the wind, as they pranced and gambolled along the high swell of land that marked the gentle descent to the valley where we stood.
As soon as the boys discovered them, they went into raptures, exclaiming,—
"Oh, what a big drove of horses! Whose are they? Are they all yours? Can't I have one to ride? What are you going to do with them?" and a hundred other questions, asked more rapidly than I could possibly find opportunity to answer.
As the mustangs came nearer, and the boys began to distinguish more clearly their elegant forms and beautiful color, they became greatly excited, declaring loudly, that, if they could only have one of them to ride, they should be perfectly happy.
I found great difficulty in so far repressing them, that they would not frighten the herd which was now close to the enclosure; but finally succeeded in keeping them quiet, by promising that each should have one for his own.
When the last of the gang had passed into the corral and the gate was shut, the boys mounted the wall, eager to select their ponies. This was soon done: Hal choosing a beautiful black, and Ned deciding upon a spirited blood-bay mare.
Calling Manuel, the Mexican herder, I gave the requisite order, and he entered the corral, lasso in hand. He stood for a moment, waiting his opportunity, and then, swinging the rope gracefully over his head, the noose dropped upon the neck of the black.
The instant she felt it touch, she lowered her head, in an endeavor to throw it off; but Manuel anticipated the movement, and gently tightened it; when, with a snort of defiance, she settled back on her haunches, as though inviting him to a trial of strength.
After many and repeated failures, by the exercise of great patience and skill, Manuel succeeded in separating her from the remainder of the herd, and leading her into another and smaller enclosure.
And then commenced the contest with the bay. The herd had by this time become very sensitive, and it was with great difficulty that Manuel managed to cast his noose over the mare's head; and, even when this had been accomplished, she seemed disposed to make him all the trouble possible; but, after a long time, he obtained the mastery, and led her out to share the fate of her black companion.
"Now, boys, you've got the ponies, what are you going to do with them?" asked I.
"Do with 'em? Why, ride 'em, of course," answered Hal.
"I'd like to see some one ride mine, before I back her," remarked Ned.
"And so you shall," said I. "Come, Manuel, let's see you ride the bay."
First obtaining one end of the lasso, which still encircled her neck, he made a turn around a stout post, which enabled him to bring her head so perfectly under his control, that, with comparative ease, he made a loop with his lasso around her lower jaw; then, leading her into the open plain, he vaulted lightly upon her back.
The moment she felt his weight she uttered a scream of rage, and raised herself upright upon her hind legs, standing so admirably poised that Manuel was only able to retain his seat by clinging with both arms around her neck. Unable to rid herself of her burden in this manner, she planted her fore feet firmly on the earth, and elevated her hind legs high in the air with great rapidity and fury, forcing the rider to turn quickly upon her back and clasp his arms tightly around the barrel of her body, bracing his toes against the point of her fore shoulders, and thus rendering futile all her frantic efforts to unseat him.
Apparantly convinced that neither of these methods would relieve her, she stood still for a moment, as if to gather strength for a last, grand, final effort for her freedom; then, bounding like a deer, she dashed furiously over the plain.
Away she sped, Manuel still upon her back, now disappearing for a moment in some ravine, to again come in sight, galloping madly over the swell of the plain, swerving neither to the right nor the left, but once more disappearing, to finally become lost in the distance.
"I'm glad I ain't on her," said Ned. "Will she ever come back? If she does, I don't want to ride her. Didn't she just fly, though? Do you believe I shall ever be able to manage her?"
"I think perhaps after Manuel gets through with her, you'll find it easier than you imagine," was my answer.
"I'd like to ride as well as Manuel," remarked Hal. "I wonder if all Mexicans ride as nicely as he does."
"Many do; and there are thousands of Americans in Texas who ride equally well, if they do not surpass him in horsemanship."
"Then I mean to learn how to do it," rejoined Hal; "and I won't be satisfied until I do."
"You may as well commence now, on your black, Hal. She's waiting and ready for you," remarked Ned.
"Thank you! but I believe I'll wait and see how the bay comes out. Come, let's go and see the beauty," said Hal; and the two started for the corral, to discuss the probable relative speed of the captives.
A couple of hours later, we saw Manuel returning; the mare trotting as quietly as though she had been accustomed to the saddle for years. Riding up to where we stood, he dismounted; and, handing Ned the end of the lasso, said,—
"There, youngster, throw this over her head, and lead her to the corral. She'll fancy you're the one who first gained the mastery over her, and you won't have no trouble in riding her when you want to."
Ned led her to the corral, and then Hal's mare was obliged to submit to a similar experience; and, after that, the boys, with Manuel to instruct, mounted their ponies and took their first lesson in mustang riding.
Hal Hyde and Ned Brown were two boys who had arrived from the East the night previous to the morning on which our story opens.
They were the sons of two old friends of mine, and had been sent to Texas that they might learn something of life upon a stock-ranche.
It is not my intention, however, to relate their experience during the few months they remained on the Ranchee; for they found, after the first novelty had worn off, the life was dull and exceedingly tiresome. So monotonous did it become in fact, that it was with difficulty I persuaded them to remain, even until the fall, when I intended to make a journey overland to California.
As the time drew near for me to start, the boys became so anxious to accompany me, that I finally decided to travel with my own team, instead of taking the stage to San Diego, as I had originally intended. I purchased four stout wagons, and thirty mules with harness and outfit for the road, complete; and engaged the services of an old Texan named Jerry Vance, as wagon-master for the trip. We also bought a small but well-selected lot of goods, suitable for either the Mexican or Indian trade; laid in a large stock of stores for use on the road; and then awaited the departure of some "freighter" for the "Upper Country," that we might take advantage of the better protection afforded by a large party in travelling through a country infested by hostile bands of Indians.
The boys became very impatient to be off; for we had gone into camp near the headwaters of the San Pedro, four miles above the city of San Antonio, and their only amusement consisted in practising with their rifles or revolvers or exercising their ponies.
At last (it was the first day of September) Jerry brought word to camp, that, on the following morning, Magoffin's train, consisting of seventeen wagons, forty men, and two hundred mules, would start for Fort Fillmore, nearly a thousand miles away upon our direct route.
This was indeed agreeable news; and the boys could hardly contain themselves for joy at the thought of so soon being on the road.
Every one about camp went to work with a will; for there were many things yet to be done before we should be ready to leave.
Mules were to be shod, harness examined, wheels greased, nuts tightened, firearms put in order and freshly loaded, wagons repacked, and, in fact, a thousand things that are always postponed until the last minute before starting on a trip like ours.
Shortly after sundown, however, old Jerry announced everything ready, and then we gathered around our camp-fire, and the boys spent the evening in asking him questions about the route, which were easily answered; for he had passed over it seven times, and met with hundreds of adventures on the road, that afforded both instruction and amusement for his listeners.
It is the story of our trip across the plains, from San Antonio, Texas, to San Diego, California, as well as some of the adventures we encountered on the road, that I have to tell you.
Long before daylight the next morning I was awakened by the noise and confusion in camp, incident to a first start. Men were shouting at the mules; mules were braying; whips cracking; wheels creaking; and, far above all, I could hear the loud voices of Hal and Ned, now giving orders and endeavoring to instruct old Jerry how to catch an unruly mule that seemed disposed to make some trouble, and again cautioning every one to make no noise, for fear of disturbing me before my breakfast should be ready.
Springing to my feet, I found that the teams were already harnessed, and only waiting the appearance of our travelling companions to start.
Breakfast was soon dispatched, the camp equipage, blankets, etc., stowed in one of the wagons; and very shortly the still morning air bore to our ears the distant rumble of heavy wagons, the shouts of the teamsters, and the many sounds indicating the approach of a large train. Presently the herd of spare mules was seen, and then the covers of the wagons. We mounted our ponies, old Jerry called out in a cherry tone, "Vamose!" the teamsters cracked their whips, the mules pulled with a will, and we fell in behind the wagons, and were at last fairly on the road, bound for the "Golden State."
As the first rays of the rising sun flashed athwart the beautiful green prairie, the boys gave a yell of delight at the sight, which was indeed a glorious one;—the long line of wagons, each drawn by eight mules, stretching far ahead and following the tortuous windings of the road, their white covers, blue bodies, and bright red wheels presenting a contrast to the sober green of the surrounding country that was at once pleasing and unique.
As we realized the truly formidable appearance of the caravan, Hal, with his usual impetuosity, declared that there wern't Indians enough in the country to whip us; for confirmation of his opinion, appealing to old Jerry, who, however, only shrugged his shoulders after the peculiar manner of frontiersmen, and said, "Quien sabe?" or, who knows?
For five long days we followed the road, without meeting with any incident worthy of note. The settlements had all been passed, Fort Clark left far behind, and not an Indian been seen by any of our party.
On the evening of the eighth day, we encamped upon the banks of the Nucces. It was a beautiful night. The young moon was fast sinking behind the line of the distant mountains, leaving us to enjoy the light of our camp-fire, and admire its ruddy glow, reflected on the snow-white covers of our wagons. These were parked in a semi-circle around us, and forcibly recalled to my mind the stories I had read in my boyhood, of gipsy encampments upon some grand old English barren.
"Now I call this comfort," said Hal, as he lazily stretched himself upon a blanket before the fire. "Eight days on the road, and we haven't seen an Indian. I don't believe there are any. Now what's the use of standing guard and shivering round the camp half the night, watching for Indians that never come?"
"I come on first to-night, and shall stand my watch, at any rate," said Ned. "And before it gets any darker, we'd better drive the mules down to water."
"Do you think," asked Hal, appealing to me, "that there's any need of standing guard to-night?"
"Certainly I do," replied I. "It's always best to be on the safe side. Why not exercise the same precaution to-night that we have since we left San Antonio? It is impossible to tell how near Indians may be, or when they will attack us. Travellers on the plains should be prepared for any emergency."
"True as preachin'," interrupted old Jerry. "They ain't so very fur off, either. I've seen 'em signalin' all the afternoon, and signalin' allers means bizness with them red varmints. If we don't see 'em to-night, we shall afore a great while, and I think—"
"Never mind what you think," interrupted Hal, saucily. "You are always imagining things that never come to pass. I guess you've been pretty badly scared some time by Indians."
"Wal, young man, when you've travelled over these plains as many years as I hev, maybe you'll know more about Injuns than you do now, and maybe you won't," rejoined Jerry, in a tone of contempt, as he slowly moved away in the direction of the herd.
Asking Jerry to make sure that the animals were properly secured, I threw myself down on Hal's blanket, and gazed into the fire.
Jerry and the boys soon returned, saying that the animals were perfectly safe; but somehow I found it impossible to rid myself of the impression made by Jerry's casual remark. Calling him to me, I asked him more particularly about the signals he had seen. His answer did not relieve my uneasiness, for he said,—
"Them varmints don't make smoke for nothing; and, when you see 'em in so many directions, it's a sure sign that they're gatherin' for mischief: at least, that's my 'sperience."
As it was still early in the evening, I determined to walk over to Magoffin's camp, which was about a quarter of a mile above us, and ascertain if his men had seen anything to cause them to apprehend danger. I found that Don Ignacio, the wagon-master, fully corroborated Jerry's statements about the smoke signals, adding that he intended to have a very strict watch kept that night.
With, tins information I returned to camp; and, after telling the boys what I had heard and cautioning them to keep a sharp lookout during their watch, I "turned in," resolved to nap "with one eye open" myself.
I lay for a long time trying in vain to compose myself to sleep; but, finding it impossible to do so, concluded to rise and endeavor to walk my nervousness away.
Without thinking of my firearms, I sallied forth, and must have travelled nearly a mile, when I came suddenly upon a mule, standing alone, a short distance from the roadside.
Supposing it to be one of our own, which, through carelessness, had been permitted to stray from the herd, I attempted to secure it, with the intention of leading it back; but, to my surprise, it started and dashed furiously away across the prairie, in an opposite direction from camp.
I well knew that a mule, when alone on the plains, is one of the most docile creatures in the world, and will permit any one save an Indian to approach it without making an effort to escape; consequently, the more I thought of the matter the more singular it seemed. Returning to camp, I found old Jerry awake and on the alert, and briefly told him what I had seen, asking him if he did not think it a strange thing for the animal to do.
Without a moment's hesitation he replied,—
"Strange? no! That air lost critter of yourn was a Comanche scout's, you bet; and, bein' a scout, he couldn't have done nothin' else, 'cause it might hev spilt their entire calculation. You'll hev a chance ter see him agin afore mornin', I reckon."
"But there was no Indian with the mule," I insisted.
"Ten to one there was, though," replied Jerry. "You ain't so well 'quainted with them Comanches as I be. They're cunnin' fellers! They never show themselves when they're on a horse, or in a fight. They just stick closer'n a tick to their hoss's side, and do a heap of mighty good shootin' from under his neck, I can tell you. Why, I've seen forty of 'em comin' full tilt right towards me, and narry Injun in sight."
"If you think they are going to attack us, Jerry, hadn't we better rouse the camp at once, and notify Magoffin's people?"
"We'd better just tend to ourselves, and let other folks do the same; and as to rousin' the camp, why them boys is a heap better off asleep than they would be round here. That's a nice sort of a guard, ain't it?" said Jerry, pointing to Hal, who was slumbering soundly near the fire. "That's just what he was doin' when I got up; and on his watch too. We can git along without any such help as thet. Air your shootin'-irons reddy?"
Before I had time to reply to his question, the sharp, shrill war-whoop of the Comanches fell upon our ears, ringing out on the still night air with a yell fiendish enough to paralyze the stoutest heart. For a single instant it lasted, and then the most unearthly din that can possibly be imagined filled the air; while the neighing of horses, the braying of mules, beating of drums, and discordant jangle of bells, accompanied by an occasional discharge of firearms, rendered the scene as near pandemonium as it is possible to conceive.
We saw a dozen or more dusky forms coming towards us, and Jerry and myself raised our rifles and fired.
Hal, Ned, and the teamsters were by this time awake; the latter being obliged to give their whole attention to the animals, which were making frantic exertions to escape.
The boys rushed in the most frightened manner from one place to another, —not knowing what to do or where to go,—only adding to the terrible confusion; until, by Jerry's direction, they ensconced themselves under one of the wagons, with orders not to leave it without express permission.
As the Indians swept by us, like a whirlwind, Jerry exclaimed, "Them ain't nothin' but a pack of thieves, tryin' to stampede our stock. If ther boys tied them mules squar, they hain't made nothin' out 'er us, that's sartain. You youngsters 'd better show yourselves, for there ain't no more danger to-night."
At the sound of Jerry's voice, the boys came out from under the wagon, both looking exceedingly foolish.
"I'll never get under a wagon again, if you do order me to," said Hal, turning towards Jerry. "It was a shame to send me under there when I wasn't scart a particle."
"Oh! you wasn't, hey? Wal, I'm glad to hear you say that, for mebbe you won't object to go down and count ther stock; for I've an idee that we shall find just about ez many mules gone ez you tied up, young man."
"I was scart, and I don't deny it," said Ned; "but I'll go down and see about the mules, Jerry."
"Bless you! don't yer trouble yerself one mite, I'm going myself, now," said Jerry.
An examination of our stock showed that, notwithstanding the care taken in securing them, seven mules were missing; and that, as Jerry surmised, they were the ones that had been tied by the boys.
"I wonder how many Magoffin's folks hev lost," said Jerry.
"I believe I'll walk over to the camp and ascertain."
"I wish you would," said Jerry; "and, judge, ef they've lost any, and will let me hev twenty men, I'll fetch every one o' the critters back afore ter-morrow night at this time, or you may call old Jerry a liar, and that's what no man ever done yet, that's sartin."
"Do you really think it can be done, Jerry?"
"I'm sartin of it," was the confident reply.
"Well, I'll go over and talk with Magoffin; and, if he's lost any stock and will lend us the men, I've no objection to your making the attempt."
"You bet, judge, he'll see for himself, that them cussed varmints won't hev more'n four hours the start; an', ef he'll let us hev the men, we kin ketch 'em, sartin."
I visited Magoffin's camp, and found it, like our own, in some confusion. I ascertained, however, that Magoffin himself was not with the train, which was in charge of his major-domo, or head man, Don Ignacio. Him I sought and learned that between twenty and thirty of their mules were missing. I then briefly stated Jerry's proposition, to which Don Ignacio immediately assented, offering to accompany the expedition himself.
Word was sent to Jerry; and, half an hour afterwards, when I reached camp, I found him ready for a start.
Hal and Ned were both extremely anxious to go; but Jerry would not hear to it for a moment, declaring they must remain and take charge of camp during our absence.
The sun was just peeping above the eastern horizon when the party from Magoffin's appeared. They were all Mexicans, each man provided with three days' rations, which consisted of about a quart of atole [Wheat and brown sugar ground together and dried. A small quantity mixed with cold water makes a very pleasant and nutritious meal.] and a piece of jerked beef, securely fastened behind their saddles with their blankets. Every man was armed with a rifle and two revolvers, and carried, besides, forty rounds of ammunition in his belt.
A delay of a few moments only, and we were off.
We soon struck the Comanches' trail and followed it in a north-easterly direction for three or four hours, when Jerry turned to me and said,—
"I was afraid of this, judge. Them varmints hev struck a 'bee-line' for the Pecos; and if we don't ketch 'em afore they cross it and git into the Llano, [The Llano Estacado, or staked plain; a favorite resort of the Comanches. It is about four thousand feet above the level of the ocean, and entirely destitute of wood and water.] that's the end on 'em, as fur as we're concarned, so I reckon we'd best hurry on."
Uttering the single word, 'Adelante!' or 'Forward!' we started in a brisk canter. It was a beautiful morning and the trail was easily followed.
Our animals were fresh, and everything appeared favorable for the success of our expedition, especially as we realized that the progress of the Indians must necessarily be somewhat impeded by the large number of animals they were driving before them.
The trail followed the course of the river for several miles in the direction of the Concho Springs; but, at last, turned abruptly to the left, and commenced the ascent of the great "divide" which separates the waters of the Pecos from the headwaters of the San Pedro, leading us directly towards the former stream.
For many hours we rode, hoping each moment to obtain a sight of the Indians. No stops were made, except to permit our animals to drink a few swallows from the streams we crossed, or when we removed the saddle and bridle and gave them an opportunity to enjoy a roll in the tall grass through which we passed; and as twilight settled around us, both men and animals began to show unmistakable signs of fatigue, and it became evident that we must halt for rest and supper. While discussing the subject with Jerry, he suddenly grasped my bridle-rein, and pointed out a bright speck on the distant horizon.
"St! there they be!" he exclaimed. "That's them. The fools didn't 'spect ter be follered, and they've lighted some rosin weeds ter cook their supper with. We've got 'em, sartin."
A halt was ordered; and, in an incredibly short time, our animals were picketed, Jerry and Don Ignacio had started out for a reconnoissance of the Comanche camp, and the men were enjoying a hearty supper.
I was greatly amused to see the facility with which they accommodated themselves to the situation. No sooner were their suppers eaten and cigarettes smoked, than, wrapping their blankets around their shoulders, with their saddles for pillows, they one after another dropped off to sleep; and, in a short time, I was the only one of the party awake.
While I listened for the sound of Jerry's return; ascending a slight eminence, I watched the glow of the Comanche camp-fire in the distance, and almost persuaded myself that it was a light in the window of some settler's dwelling, rather than an Indian encampment.
At length the low, delighted neigh of his pony, which, with my own, had been picketed near the spot where I was reclining, warned me that his master was not far away. I soon heard his voice as he spoke to the animal in passing; and, a moment later, the men stood beside me.
Jerry reported that they ventured near enough to the camp to look into it. He had counted eleven Indians. Five of them were guarding the animals. Near the camp was the carcass of a mule, which the savages had undoubtedly killed for food. The remainder of the party were evidently gorged with mule meat, and sleeping soundly.
Both were satisfied that, by the exercise of proper caution, we should have no difficulty in surprising the Indians. It was thought best for our animals to remain where they were, with a few men to guard them, and for the rest of the party to go on foot to the camp, which was about two miles distant.
The men were awakened, arms carefully examined, and five were detailed to remain with the animals. The remainder of the party was then divided into two companies. One was placed under charge of Jerry, the other under Don Ignacio.
Our orders were to move forward as quietly and expeditiously as possible until we came within half a mile of the Indian camp; then to separate. Jerry's party was to attempt the recapture of the stock. The other was to pay its respects to the camp itself.
Nothing was to be done, however, until ample time had passed to enable each man to reach the position assigned him. Then, upon a signal from Jerry, which was to be the bark of a coyote, or prairie wolf, three times repeated, the attack was to be made. After the signal, every man was expected to take care of himself.
The preliminaries arranged, the men one after another disappeared in the darkness as they moved forward to the attack, until finally Don Ignacio and myself were left alone. Motioning me to follow him, he led the way to the top of a slight elevation, where we dropped upon our faces and peered over into the enemy's camp.
With the aid of my glasses, by the uncertain, flickering light of their fire, I could see every object in the camp distinctly.
One Indian was bending over the coals, as though in the act of warming himself; while, about the fire, lay five others, wrapped in their blankets, and evidently fast asleep.
A little distance below them, I could just discern the dark outline of the herd, quietly feeding. It was evident that they neither knew nor dreamed of pursuit.
It was a splendid night: not a cloud was to be seen; and, although there was no moon, the heavens were thickly studded with stars. No sound disturbed the profound silence that reigned about us, as we waited and listened for the signal that was to decide our fate. How many voices, before another hour, might be hushed in death? I asked myself the question, but there came no answer.
Suddenly, the stillness was disturbed by the quick, snarling yelp of a coyote, so natural, that, for an instant, I persuaded myself it was the creature itself and not old Jerry. Again I heard it, seemingly more distinct and nearer than before. Would it be repeated?
My heart almost ceased to beat as I asked the question, and I held my breath in my anxiety to hear. Will it ever come?
Ah, yes! there it is: quick, sharp, and unmistakable, followed by the report of a single rifle.
The next instant, the sound of a dozen shots burst upon the air, mingled with the terrible, unearthly yell of the Comanche war-whoop, and we all rushed forward pell-mell for the camp, through the whizzing of arrows, the ping of bullets, the shouts of Mexicans, and the yells of Indians.
It was such a scene of excitement that I hardly knew what I was doing, although I fully realized we were in the Indian camp: before I had time to do more than this, I saw Jerry coming towards me. As he came up, he said, in tones that carried cheer with them,—
"Well, Judge, we're in luck; fifty mules and two varmints is a pretty good night's work. How many hev you got up here?"
An examination revealed three dead bodies in camp, making in all, five Indians killed. The remainder had managed to escape in the darkness. We quickly despoiled the camp; giving the plunder to the men, and leaving the dead bodies behind us.
But two of our party were injured—and they slightly—by arrows. Upon reaching camp their wounds were carefully dressed; after which we partook of a slight lunch, and were ready to start for our camp on the banks of the Nucces, when Don Ignacio came to me, saying, that, as his presence was really very necessary in camp, with my permission, he would take his men—leaving enough behind to assist in driving the stock—and hurry on.
This would not inconvenience us, and enable him to arrive in camp several hours earlier than ourselves.
Jerry at once acquiesced in the arrangement, saying that three men, besides ourselves, would be all we should require.
Don Ignacio detailed that number to remain with us; and, with the balance of the party, left us.
We made very fair progress during the night; and, when morning dawned, were a long distance on our road.
An hour or two after daylight, old Jerry's keen eye detected, upon an elevation in the distance, a party of three Comanches. We were in hope that they would not discover us at first; but it soon became evident that they had seen us, for one of their number turned and rode towards us, waving a blanket in the air. This, Jerry said, was indicative of a desire for a parley.
After a short conference together, Jerry decided it was better for us to ride out and meet the party, rather than permit them to join us.
We accordingly prepared for the expedition, giving the Mexicans instructions to proceed quietly with the stock.
As we approached the Indians, their leader, an old man apparantly about sixty years of age, with a singularly cunning and wicked looking countenance, came towards us and extended his hand for a shake; while, with much solemnity, he announced himself as Cuchillo, a Comanche chief, and a great friend of the whites.
While Jerry was conversing with the old fellow in Spanish, I made myself familiar with the general appearance of the party. They were dressed each with a buffalo rug thrown over his left shoulder in such a manner as to allow it to sweep the ground behind him. They wore moccasins on their feet, made of buckskin, with a heavy fringe or tassels pendant from the seam behind, long enough to permit it to drag upon the ground. These, with leggins made from a piece of blanket, which was wrapped about the leg below the knee and fastened with a thong of buckskin, heavily fringed, and the breechcloth, completed the dress.
Each was painted in a most hideous manner, in ochre and vermilion mixed with a whitish clay.
Cuchillo shortly produced a well-worn greasy paper from a small bag he wore around his neck, which he handed me, making a sign that I was to read it.
It was as follows:—
"The Bearer, Cuchillo, is a Comanche Chief, who says he is a friend of the White's. My advice is not to Trust him, or any other sneakin' varmint like him. BILL POPE."
I handed the paper to Jerry; who, after reading it, gave it back to its owner with the remark, it was muncho bueno, or very good.
The chief received it with a smile; and, as he returned it to the little bag, remarked,—
"Very good, me bueno amigo" (good friend).
"P'raps yer be," remarked Jerry, in English, "but yer ain't ther sort I hanker arter. I reckon we may as well shake hands, old feller, 'cause we must be a-goin', an' you an' me hain't got no use for one another, no how."
But our Comanche friends were not to be shaken off, so easily; for, even after bidding them good by, Cuchillo insisted upon accompanying us; and, rather than betray any fear, or show that we distrusted him, Jerry was obliged to make a virtue of necessity, and assent to the proposition with as good a grace as possible.
It was evident that curiosity at least was one of the motives that actuated the Indians; for, upon overtaking our herd, they looked about them, evidently expecting to see a larger party with us, and expressing surprise at the quantity of stock we were driving.
Jerry informed them that we had a large company a few hours' ride to the north; and had been out purchasing some stock from another party, who were encamped to the south of us a few miles.
This information seemed to cause them some surprise; for they asked many questions concerning the strength of this last party, its destination, etc., all of which Jerry answered in a straightforward manner, to their evident satisfaction.
Cuchillo was very curious in regard to our revolvers,—of which each man in our party had two, in addition to his rifle,—and at last we determined to show them that we were well armed, and ready for any emergency. I set up a small mark at the distance of sixty or seventy feet; and Jerry immediately emptied, in rapid succession, the contents of both revolvers, without stopping to reload. This caused the greatest astonishment; and, in a short time, they began to manifest a disposition to leave. With many professions of friendship, Jerry endeavored to persuade them to accompany us to our camp; but they declined, promising to visit us on the morrow; and, after a most affectionate farewell, Cuchillo and his braves left us, riding towards the south-west.
"There," exclaimed Jerry, as soon as they were fairly off, "ef there don't go as sneakin' a varmint as there is in the whole Comanche nation, I'll lose my guess. They'll go for that air camp to the southward, expectin' to find some greenhorns; and I only hope they may find 'em. The thing for us to do is to git our cattle into camp ez soon as possible. We kin hurry 'em some, and I reckon we'd better do it."
We made good progress for a couple of hours; and, on reaching the top of a "divide," saw a large emigrant wagon drawn by three yoke of oxen, slowly making its way through the tall bottom grass of the valley beneath us, surrounded by quite a number of men on horseback.
"Hurrah!" cried Jerry, "there's friends. This is the fust party we've seen out on the plains since we left San Antonio. We mustn't let 'em go by without overhaulin' 'em."
We soon came up with them; and they proved to be Capt. Blodget and four companions from Missouri, on the way to Fort Davis, accompanied by an Arapahoe Indian as guide.
We were, of course, delighted to meet with Americans, and eagerly questioned them as to their adventures on the road; but they had seen no Indians; having, by the advice of their guide, kept a few miles away from the main travelled route, on account of there being less liability of meeting the prowling bands, who generally followed the course of the road, in expectation of more successfully conducting their thieving operations.
We soon parted with our new friends, and set out once more on our way to the Nueces.
Our arrival in camp, during the afternoon, was the signal for a general rejoicing among the men, who loudly applauded the determination and pluck shown by Jerry in pursuing and overtaking the thieves.
My first inquiry was for Hal and Ned, and was told that they had gone out after a flock of wild turkeys that had been heard clucking in the pecan trees, not far from camp. They had taken their guns with them, and expected to be back by noon.
Thinking they would soon return, I went over to consult with Don Ignacio about resuming our journey; but, as the water and grass were much better where we then were than at the next stopping-place, the California Springs, it was decided to remain encamped until morning.
Accepting an invitation to dine with Don Ignacio. I did not return to my own camp until about five o'clock, when I learned, to my surprise, that the boys had not put in an appearance.
Calling Jerry, I asked if he supposed any accident could have befallen them.
His reply was, "No: they had their rifles and revolvers with 'em, and they ain't likely to meet with nothin' bigger 'n an antelope. They ought to be able to take keer of themselves, specially as the biggest one ain't afraid of Injuns, no how."
"That may be true," replied I; "but they are boys, Jerry, and I think we ought to start at once in search of them. I feel confident, if nothing had happened, they would have returned before this."
"Boys ain't nothin' but a nuisance, no how, and hain't no business travlin' on the plains. Howsoever, I'll hev a couple of critters ketched up and saddled, and we'll see if we kin strike their trail," said Jerry.
The mules were immediately brought up, and Jerry and myself mounted, and set out in pursuit of the wanderers. In a short time we struck their trail, which led through the underbrush and bottom grass, along the banks of the river for a mile or more, and then turned in the direction of a large post-oak opening, three or four miles away.
The trail led us directly into the grove, where we were obliged to dismount, as the low, scraggy branches would not permit our riding beneath them. Securing our animals, we followed the trail on foot for some distance, when Jerry called my attention to a number of fresh tracks in the earth.
"Antelope tracks," said I.
"No they ain't neither; you must guess again. Them's havilina tracks."
"What are they?" inquired I.
"Them's hogs," replied Jerry; "wild Mexican hogs, and the darndest, ugliest critters on the plains, ef you git 'em riled. I'd rather meet a dozen Comanches, as far as comfort's concarned, any time, than a drove of them critters. Yer see this's their feedin' ground, and I 'spect I know where ter find them boys."
"Where?" inquired I.
"Up a tree," replied Jerry. I reckon they're treed this time, sartin; an' good enough for 'em. Boys hain't got no bizness on the plains, no how."
"Well, Jerry, I brought the boys with me, and I calculate to take care of them, if possible," was my reply.
"All right, judge; you'll hev your hands full, I reckon. I'll help you so fur's I'm able; but don't depend too much on me, fur boys hain't got no bizness on the plains, no how."
We continued our search for some time, when Jerry's acute ear detected a sound in the distance which he declared was made by the "squealin' critters;" and we hastened in the direction of the noise, which each moment grew more distinct. At length we came in sight of a large drove of the animals, gathered beneath the branches of a small, scraggy oak.
As soon as Jerry saw them, he burst into a loud laugh, exclaiming, "Jest as I 'spected, they're treed, for sartin."
"How do you know?" inquired I.
"Know! don't yer see 'em squattin' in that tree, thar?" said he, pointing to a dark object in the branches of the oak; "that's them, for sartin."
As we approached I halloed loudly, in the hope of diverting the attention of the hogs, if I did not succeed in letting the boys know' we were near them; for the animals kept up such a squealing, that it was almost impossible to hear the sound of our own voices.
My efforts certainly were successful, so far as attracting the attention of the hogs; for a number started towards us, at a speed that was quite as wonderful as it was alarming; for I had no idea before, that hogs could be as active or as ferocious as these appeared to be.
As they came towards us, Jerry exclaimed,—
"Take keer! take keer! we'd better look out;" and, without further explanation, he began to climb a tree.
I followed suit, and we were soon safely perched among the thick branches of a post-oak.
We had hardly reached a secure position when they were upon us. I must say that I never was more thankful for a place of refuge than when I saw the ferocious aspect of the gaunt, savage creatures. They crowded beneath the trees, with erect bristles, small, bloodshot eyes, gleaming white tusks, and frothing mouths, filling the air with their shrill cries, and striking the trunks such sturdy blows with their long, sharp tusks, that the trees fairly shook at each fresh assault.
They seemed as agile as cats, and occasionally one more ferocious than the others would bound up, until I began to think I should be obliged to leave the limb on which I was sitting.
As soon as we were fairly fixed on our perches, and had time to take a survey of the situation, we opened fire upon them to such good purpose that we killed nine with our revolvers. This wholesale slaughter seemed only to excite the fury of the others, for they commenced gnawing the trees so fiercely that Jerry became alarmed, and urged me to use all possible dispatch in reloading my pistol.
Fortunately there were only ten of the animals left, and these we finally managed to silence. After descending from the tree, I found Jerry in anything but an amiable mood, at "the idee of an old hunter like he was, bein' treed by a lot of hogs;" and, as usual, he declared that "them cussid boys" was to blame, "for boys hadn't no bizness on the plains, no how."
By the exercise of considerable caution in approaching the herd, we managed to get quite near without attracting their attention; and I asked Jerry if it wasn't strange that the boys gave no sign of being aware of our presence.
"Sign!" said Jerry; "how could they give any sign when I couldn't hear my own shots? Why, the only way I knowed if thet pistol went off or not was by watchin' fur the smoke: the critters kep' up such a squealin' that I couldn't hear you speak a word. I'll bet my hoss agin a chaw of terbacker that them boys hain't heerd a shot we've fired, an' dunno we're within five miles on 'em."
Taking advantage of our former experience, we approached as near and as quietly as possible, obtaining position beneath a tree,—in the branches of which we could place ourselves if necessary,—and then opened fire upon them with our revolvers, with such good effect, that the remainder of the herd took to their long legs and were soon out of sight.
When the last of them disappeared, the boys dropped to the ground; but so cramped were their limbs from their long confinement, that it was some time before they could stand. While they were getting "the kinks out of their legs," as Jerry termed it, we counted our game and found twenty-two of the creatures dead, and the ground strewn with portions of flesh, bristles and bones, all bearing evidence of a fearful fray.
As the boys claimed to have killed but one of the creatures, we called upon them for an explanation; and, from their story, it appeared, that, shortly after leaving camp, Ned, who was in advance, had come upon a large flock of turkeys, and discharged one of the barrels of his gun at them without effect.
Soon afterwards they discovered the tracks of the havilinas. Supposing they were either antelope or deer tracks, they followed them into the grove, where they discovered the herd of hogs, quietly feeding upon the mast with which the ground was thickly strewn.
Without a moment's hesitation Ned discharged the contents of his other barrel at the animals, thinking they were hogs that had escaped from some herd that had been driven across the country.
The shot did not penetrate their thick hides far enough to do anything but irritate and madden them, and the whole herd rushed towards the boys, who, frightened at their formidable appearance, jumped into the nearest tree, where they had been obliged to remain until released by us.
Once fairly out of reach of the infuriated creatures, they rather enjoyed the situation for a time; Hal feeling confident that he could, at any moment, frighten them away by the discharge of his rifle.
Finally, becoming tired of the fun, he discharged his rifle and killed his hog; but this only seemed to make the creatures more ferocious, and then, for the first time, the boys became really alarmed.
As hour after hour passed, and the hogs showed no disposition to depart, Hal began to despond, declaring that no help would reach them before they should starve. Ned, however, kept up heart, until the infuriated creatures began to devour the dead body of their comrade.
The smell of the blood and taste of the flesh maddened them to such a degree that they began a warfare among themselves, furiously striking at and cutting one another with their long, sharp tusks, killing and trampling under their feet the weaker, and then greedily devouring the dead; all the while filling the air with their sharp, shrill cries.
The boys, who had, up to this time, been hoping that assistance would come from some source, were about giving up in despair, when they witnessed the slaughter made by our revolvers and knew that succor had at last arrived.
As soon as they were able to walk, we guided them to the spot where we had left our mules, and placed them in the saddles, directing them to camp; Jerry and myself resolving to walk.
Shouldering our rifles, we started towards the bank of the river, believing it to be a shorter route than the way we had come. Although it was fast growing dark, we had no fear but that by this route we should reach camp quite as soon as the boys.
While passing through a grove of pecan trees, about a couple of miles from camp, my attention was suddenly arrested by the cry of some person, apparantly in distress.
"Hark, Jerry," said I; "did you hear that? Some one's in trouble—wait a minute."
"Thunder! judge, hain't you been in Texas long enough to know a painter's yell when you hear it? That was a reg'lar out-and-out painter you heard. I've—"
Just at this moment, a prolonged, heart-rending wail trembled upon the stillness of the evening air: so piercing, yet so plaintive, was it, that it sent a shudder through my frame I have not forgotton to this day.
"That critter ain't very far off," exclaimed Jerry. "Mebbe we'll git a shot at him; though they're nasty things to hunt at night, fer yer can't see 'em, they lay so clus onto the limbs."
"Did you ever kill one?" asked I.
"Yes, four on 'em; the last one was down on the Sabinal, just about a year this time. I was—"
At this point, he was again interrupted by the animal's cry; this time so near, that we both stopped short and cocked our rifles, for it seemed as though he could be but a few feet from us.
"I tell you one thing, Jerry, I don't much like walking through this grove, with one of those creatures so near; I'd rather take to the open prairie. Besides, it's getting so dark I can't see anything."
"Pshaw! yer ain't afraid o' one of them critters, be yer? You jest foller me; they never trouble any one unless they're hungry."
"But this one may be hungry," suggested I.
"Well, never you fear, you jest foller me," said Jerry, starting on.
I followed as quickly as possible; but had hardly taken a dozen steps, ere I heard a quick exclamation, as of pain or surprise from Jerry's lips, accompanied by a low, snarling growl, followed by a sound like that produced by two persons rolling on the ground together. There was violent breathing, angry ejaculations, the crashing of underbrush, and, before I had time to think what it meant, I caught sight of a dark mass, evidently rolling over and over upon the ground, a few feet in advance of me. I could not distinguish what it was in the darkness, but suddenly caught sight of two balls of living fire.
Bringing my rifle to my shoulder, and scarcely pausing to take aim or to reflect upon the consequences of the shot, I fired.
The next moment Jerry sprang to his feet with a—
"Thunder! that was a tight squeak, and no mistake. Ef you hadn't fired when you did, it'd been all up with me afore this time. The critter didn't give me no fair show; he lit right onter my shoulder here, and's tared it some I reckon, by the feel; howsoever, we kin git at it easy anyway, but if it hadn't a bin for them boys—well, boys haint got no bizness on the plains, no how."
I made an examination of the wounded shoulder, as well as I could in the darkness, and found that the creature's claws had entirely stripped it of clothing, besides badly lacerating the flesh.
Jerry declared, 'twasn't much, no how; and he could walk to camp as well as not. As soon as we arrived there, I made a more thorough examination, dressed the arm carefully, and was soon utterly oblivious of the fatigues of the previous forty-eight hours.
The sound of Jerry's voice, as he related the story of his adventures the night previous, awoke me in the early morning.
I, dreamingly, heard him say,—
"I didn't see the critter when he jumped; not till he lit right onto my shoulder, and the heft of him hed knocked me down and he was atop o' me. Yer see that gin him a heap the start.
"I seed his big mouth right clus to my face, an' his jaws wide open; so I rammed my left arm right in a 'tween 'em, so that he couldn't git no purchase onto me to chaw, and he hadn't really hed no chance ter bite, when the judge fired. He didn't do it a mite too soon, though, you bet. Ef it hadn't a bin for you boys—well, boys hain't got no bizness on the plains, no how. I'm all right now, and good for a dozen painters yet; but this is the biggest one I ever seed. Thunder! but I must hev thet skin; ain't it putty?"
I laid and listened for a short time to the exclamations of wonder and admiration uttered by the boys while examining the carcass, with no little amusement.
"I tell you, I should like to have been there," said Hal. "I could have shot him with my rifle as easily as any one."
"Yes, but you wouldn't have dared to," replied Ned.
"Wouldn't I?" rejoined Hal. "You just wait and see. I wasn't frightened a bit the night the Indians got into camp; and if it hadn't been for old Jerry, I'd a shown 'em—"
"Pshaw! Why didn't you show me, instead of crying, when we were up that tree, yesterday? You wasn't very brave then," said Ned.
"Umph! I didn't know anything about hogs," explained Hal.
"And I reckon you don't know much 'bout painters, either, youngster. Brag's a good dog, but Holdfast's a better one," broke in old Jerry.
"Isn't it time for a start, Jerry?" called I; "and how's your shoulder this morning?"
"It's past time fur a start, and nigh upon noon. My shoulder's putty sore, but I kin git along all right with it."
I sprang to my seat, and found it nearly noon; indeed, so late that Jerry advised remaining encamped until the following morning, although Magoffin's train had been gone some hours.
After dinner, Hal, Ned, and myself saddled up for a ride over the plain in search of antelope, and had gone some three or four miles from camp, when Ned called my attention to a horseman in the distance, leisurely riding along, almost diagonally to our own course.
We hastened forward so as to intercept him; but, seeing us approach, he turned and rode towards us.
He was a Mexican, tall and gaunt, mounted upon a superb black mustang stallion. His dress consisted of a short spencer jacket of dark blue cloth, with loose sleeves; gaudily embroidered and laced along the seams; pants, confined by a scarlet silk sash at the waist, and open at the sides, through which the wide Mexican drawers were plainly visible; a broad, brimmed, low-crowned hat, of Spanish manufacture, with a band of silver bullion, covered his head, and boots of alligator hide, heavily spurred, were upon his feet.
He rode a deep-treed Mexican saddle, with housings of leather, grotesquely stamped: upon the pommel hung, neatly coiled, a lasso of beautifully braided rawhide.
He also carried a long rifle. His powder-horn and bullet-pouch, being suspended from his left shoulder.
As he approached he bid us a courteous good-day in English, and inquired if we had chanced to see a "gang" of wild mustangs during the day; saying that he was known as Antonio, the "mustanger" of the Leona, and that his occupation was catching and taming wild mustangs.
We assured him we had seen nothing of the herd, which he appeared to think must be in our immediate vicinity, from the character of the tracks he had been following.
The boys were eager to learn the modus operandi of catching wild mustangs; and at once began to ask so many questions, that Antonio was obliged to tell them he could not explain very well; but, if they would ride with him for a couple of hours, he thought he could show them how it was done.
Of course they became eager to accompany him; and, nothing loth myself to see the sport, I assented to their request; and, joining the "mustanger," rode towards the south-west, and in less than an hour he pointed out a small "gang" quietly feeding some three or four miles away.
As we drew near, Antonio declared that he knew the "gang," which was too wild to approach with the lasso, but he might possibly get one by "creasing."
"How do you do that?" inquired Ned.
"With my rifle," answered Antonio.
"What! shoot one of those horses?" exclaimed Hal.
"If you'll wait awhile, youngster, mebbe you'll better understand it," said Antonio. "Now you watch me; and, when you meet a 'gang' of mustangs again, you'll know just what to do."
It became evident that the herd was aware of our approach, for they started; and, in an incredibly short time, had approached so near, that we could plainly see their elegant forms and color, as they proudly curvetted and gamboled over the plain fully five hundred yards away. Suddenly Antonio halted and raised his rifle to his shoulder.
"Oh! don't shoot, please," cried Hal.
Before the words were well out of his mouth, the man fired, and one of the herd dropped to the ground. The next instant he was by the mustang's side, securing him with ropes.
In a little while the animal so far recovered from the effect of the shot, as to make the most violent attempts to get upon his feet; but the Mexican had so effectually secured him, he soon ceased his efforts, and lay perfectly still. Antonio then cautiously loosed the rope in such a manner that he finally struggled to his feet, all the time, making the most determined efforts, to escape.
They were of no avail, however; and, when the mustang fully realized this, he stood perfectly still, permitting Antonio to approach and gently caress him. He was a noble old fellow,—a snow-white stallion with brown mane and tail, and trim, clean limbs that gave promise of great speed.
As no wound was visible upon the animal, I became quite as anxious to ascertain the philosophy of "creasing" as the boys themselves; nor was it until Antonio explained the point aimed at, that I understood it.
The ball had passed close to the upper crease of the neck, just above the cervical vertebrae; and, for the moment, completely paralyzed the large nerve of the spine, causing the creature to drop as quickly as though shot through the brain.
We stopped some time to admire the splendid fellow, who had Apparantly entirely recovered from the effect of the shot. We all congratulated Antonio upon his skill as a marksman, and then turned in the direction of camp without starting any game, however, until we reached the river bottom, when Hal was fortunate enough to secure a wild-turkey; and, with this trophy of his skill, we were obliged to be content.
The following morning found us on the road right early. Our route lay over a high, arid plain covered, as far as the eye could see, with a prairie-dog town, and for hours my ears were greeted with—
"Did you see that one?"—"Ain't they funny little things? so cunning!"— "How can we catch one?"—"Just look at that owl!" and a hundred similar exclamations.
The boys were vastly amused by the curious antics of these little fellows, who, although not human, possess many of the most distinguishing characteristics of humanity, in their actions. They have often been classed with the marmot by prairie Travellers; but, to my own mind, partake more of the nature of the squirrel or rabbit. In frisking, flirting, sitting erect, or barking, they resemble the former; while, in feeding and burrowing, they may be classed with the latter.
They are exclusively herbivorous, and live upon the fine, short grass that is generally found growing in abundance in the vicinity of their towns, which are always located upon arid, elevated plains, at a great distance from water.
During the two days that our route lay through this town, we made many attempts to capture one of the little fellows; but they cleverly evaded all the snares set for them, invariably dodged at the flash of our pistols, chattering away as lively as ever, while the little brown owls and rattlesnakes that shared their houses with them fell frequent victims to the boys' rifles.
After leaving their town, Hal declared, that, if he and Ned could remain behind the train for a few hours, he knew they could capture one; becoming so urgent in his appeal, that I finally yielded a reluctant consent to the project, cautioning them under no circumstances, to remain away from the train more than two or three hours. This they faithfully promised not to do, and departed; notwithstanding Jerry pronounced it as downright foolish a proceedin' as he ever seed.
Four or five hours later, when we reached our camping ground for the night, neither of them had overtaken us, and I began to feel alarmed at their prolonged absence. My apprehensions were somewhat relieved for the moment by one of the men, who informed me he had seen their animals coming over the "divide" some three or four miles in our rear.
A few minutes later, however, when the riderless animals came galloping furiously in, with their long lassos dragging in the dust behind them, the camp became a scene of confusion indescribable.
Labor of all kinds was suspended, and everyone anxious to hear what everyone else thought.
Jerry gave it as his opinion, that the animals had escaped from the place where Hal and Ned had left them; still, he reckoned some one ought to go back and search for them, "Cause the plains warn't no place for boys, no how."
Saddling our horses and taking three of the men with us, Jerry and myself rode back towards the dog-town, discharging our pistols and making all the noise possible, in order to attract the attention of the youngsters in the darkness. Occasionally we listened for a reply; but not a sound could we hear, save the snarling yelp of some prairie-dog, disturbed by the unusual noises, or the sharp, shrill cry of the night-hawk, that rapidly swooped over our heads.
In a state of great anxiety, we passed a wretched night; and, at daylight, commenced a thorough search for traces of the missing boys. Finally Jerry discovered their tracks in the road leading towards camp; and it seemed possible that we might have missed them in the darkness, and, if we at once returned, should find them with the train.
We had proceeded scarcely more than a mile on the way back to camp, when I noticed that Jerry, who was a short distance in advance, suddenly stopped, as though waiting for me to overtake him. As I rode up, he pointed to a fresh Indian trail, crossing our road almost at right angles, and said in a low tone,—
"Ez sartin ez you're livin', the Comanches hev got 'em! That trail ain't twelve hours old, and there's a dozen of the varmints ef there's one."
"Then let us instantly follow and retake them," was my reply.
"That's a heap easier said than done," replied the old man. "We won't stan' much show, chasin' a dozen or twenty Comanches, and they ez likely ez not, forty miles ahead of us. Still, we've got ter git them boys somehow; and the fust thing towards it is ter go ter camp and git some grub, 'cause a man can't fite wuth a cent on a empty stomach."
There was truth in Jerry's observation. We therefore urged our animals into a brisk canter; but, when within about two miles of our camp, his keen eyes detected, upon a rise of the ground some distance to our right, a solitary figure, motionless upon a horse.
At the sight we halted; for the figure commenced waving a large blanket in the air, then urged his animal forward, and came toward us at full run.
"He shook that air blanket ter let us know that he's friendly and wants ter speak to us; but I reckon I'd better find out who he is, afore he comes any nearer" said Jerry, as he spurred his horse forward to meet him.
Upon reaching a small knoll a few hundred yards in advance of us, Jerry suddenly stopped and held up his right hand, with the palm outward. Then he slowly moved it backward and forward a few times; when, to my great surprise, the Indian checked his horse, and sat as though awaiting further orders. Again Jerry raised his hand; this time moving it before and across his face three or four times.
The Indian, who appeared to comprehend these signs perfectly, answered by making a graceful, undulating motion with his right hand, not unlike the wriggling movement made by a snake in crawling. Then he elevated both hands high above his head, clasped closely together; then, apparantly satisfied with this pantomime, he started at a rapid pace toward us. Jerry turned; and, seeing my looks of astonishment, hurriedly said,—
"That ere's the lingo of the plains. Every Injun understands that. I told the feller to stop and explain who he was. He answered that he was a Comanche, and friendly. Mebbe we can git some news of the boys from him, though we shan't ef he ain't a mind to tell, for Injuns is mighty clus-mouthed critters."
At this moment the Comanche rode up. Bringing his horse abruptly to a stand-still, he extended a very dirty hand, ornamented with finger-nails that closely resembled the talons of an eagle.
"Me Senaco, good Injun," he exclaimed, in pretty fair Spanish.
"Of course you be," replied Jerry, in English. "Whoever seed a bad Injun, ef you let him tell his story?
"We've got to pretend to believe the lyin' varmint or we shan't find out nothin' from him, that's sartin."
As this was the first opportunity I ever had of examining a live Comanche, I regarded this specimen with some curiosity; for a friendly Comanche in those days was indeed an anomaly.
The Indian's body was entirely naked, with the exception of a breech-cloth and pair of leggins. The leggins extended from the knee, down; and, with his moccasins, were made of buckskin, heavily fringed and ornamented.
A large red blanket covered his left shoulder, fastened beneath his right arm in such a manner as to leave the arm free and unobstructed, and then hung loosely behind him, almost touching the ground as he sat upon his horse. The animal was a rough looking little pony, that bore evidence of being both tough and fleet.
The fellow's face was deeply marked by the small-pox, and hideously painted with vermilion and ochre; while, from his ears, were suspended, heavy rings of brass wire. These, with the paint, gave him a most diabolical expression, that was in no manner relieved by the shaggy locks of unkempt black hair that hung around his head.
His only weapon was a long, murderous-looking, iron-headed spear, which, with his lariat, he held in his right hand.
We made several efforts to find out what the fellow's object in hailing us was, before he condescended to give it. Then he said that he had that mornin met with a party of Comanches, who had with them two prisoners,— mere boys. He was angry that braves should capture such children, for only squaws, not warriors, made prisoners of boys.
After much talk, he had made the Indians ashamed of the act, and they were willing to release the captives for a small ransom. He was a friend, and begged us to remember, was acting as an embassador, in search of the party to which the children belonged.
"The cussed, lyin' old heathen," exclaimed Jerry. "I wonder does he 'spose I'm green enuff to swaller that story o' his'n. It's true enuff though, that they've got the youngsters, and it's likely we kin git 'em agin, though I've always telled you, boys hain't no bizness on the plains, no how."
After long haggling and bargaining between Jerry and the Indian, the amount of ransom was agreed upon, and the brave rode off to bring the boys, while Jerry and I started for the train to procure the blankets, powder, brass wire, beads and tobacco, we were to give in exchange for them.
An hour or two later, two Indians appeared upon the summit of the high ground with the boys; then Jerry and I, with the goods, rode forward to make the exchange. This was soon effected, and they left us with profuse expressions of regard; although, from the haste displayed in removing their ill-gotten wealth, it was evident that they placed as little confidence in our honesty, as we did in theirs.
We were overjoyed to get the boys back safe and sound; and, though Jerry was disposed to grumble at the idea of having them along, in a trip across the plains, he was glad to listen to Ned's explanation of the manner of their capture.
While they were watching the dogs, their ponies got frightened and ran away; when they discovered this, they also started for camp.
After it grew dark, they saw at a long distance from the road the light of a camp-fire. Thinking it ours, they started for it, and walked directly into the midst of a party of fifteen Comanches, who were as much surprised at seeing two youngsters armed with rifles coming into their midst, as they were frightened at finding themselves surrounded by naked, painted savages.
The Comanches immediately took possession of their fire-arms, and stripped them of nearly all their clothing. Then they tried to ascertain where they came from, and how they had become separated from their party.
The boys told them, as well as they were able by signs, that they were lost, and that their friends would give a great many goods if they would show them the way back to our camp.
This seemed to please the Indians, who soon after, took a large kettle from off the fire and set it before them, motioning them to eat. The kettle held a stew of what they thought was antelope meat, so they ate heartily of it, for they were very hungry. When they had nearly satisfied their appetites, Hal fished up from the depths of the mess the fore-leg and foot of a dog. This was decidedly an unpleasant revelation, and both became very sick and vomited freely, to the great amusement of the Indians.
They were then placed under guard, and soon after fell asleep. In the morning they were rudely awakened and told to mount a pony, to which they were securely tied, so as to prevent any attempt to escape.
Many miles were travelled in this manner. The boys became anxious, and were endeavoring to prepare themselves for the worst, when, from the top of a high bluff, they saw us awaiting their arrival.
The sudden transition from despondency to joy, quite overpowered them; and, for the first time, they gave way to their feelings.
"Both of us tried as hard as we could," said Ned, "to make 'em think we didn't care a snap about it. But we did, though, I can tell you. We were mighty glad when we saw you, wasn't we, Hal?"
This question was too much for Hal. The boys looked into each others faces for a moment, then burst into tears.
Everybody about camp was delighted with their safe return, and they were obliged many times to repeat their story, not forgetting a description of their supper on dog meat, in the Comanches' camp.
On the following morning the camp was astir and we were under way at a very early hour,—long before sunrise, in fact,—but we had hardly proceeded a mile from our halting-place, before one of the Mexicans, who was riding ahead of the wagons, came rushing back with the information that there was a large body of Indians a short distance in advance of us.
"It's the balance of them cusses that had the boys, as true as preachin," exclaimed Jerry. "The sneaks! I s'pose they found out all they wanted to from 'em, and then let 'em go. Ther best thing we kin do is ter camp right here whar we've got water and grass, and git ready for a brush; 'cause they'll fight us, if ther's any show for 'em, you bet."
"We'll jist camp right on this knoll, and then we shall have a fair chance all round; get your animals corralled with the wagons, and then we'll ride out and meet 'em, that is, we must keep 'em as far away from the wagons as possible."
Everything was soon arranged; but, to our surprise, the Indians made no attack.
Jerry, myself and Hal rode out towards the spot where we had seen them, and a very few moments served to convince us that they meant business; for they were scattered, with the evident intention of surrounding us.
"That won't work," said Jerry. "We'll just go back to the wagons and stay there and fight it out on our own dung-hill. There ain't more'n a dozen of 'em, and, ef we can't lick that number of thievin' Comanches, we don't desarve to git to California, no how."
We had hardly returned to the wagons before the Indians began to show their tactics by riding around us in a circle, each time coming nearer and nearer, until finally, when within easy range, they threw themselves over upon the sides of their horses and let fly a shower of arrows, that fell among us without doing any harm, other than frightening the stock.
"Don't a man of yer fire till I giv the order, and when they come abreast of us agin give it to 'em with your rifles; but don't one of yer waste a shot."
Once more we saw them coming—saw them preparing to throw themselves over to shoot from under their horses' necks, and—
"Now for it," cried Jerry, "give it to 'em!" and we forthwith gave them a volley that caused two of their number to fall headlong to the ground. This brought the party to a halt, and they retreated out of the range of our rifles, for the purpose of holding a consultation.
While they were thus engaged, one of the Mexicans called Jerry's attention to a solitary Indian who was approaching our wagons from the rear. Jerry immediately pronounced him to be the Arapahoe, whom we had seen with the party of Missourians.
He soon came up with us, and brought the intelligence that his party was only a short distance behind and would soon be in to help us.
This was indeed good news; but, before they could possibly reach us, the Comanches, who had evidently made up their minds to once more attack, began their old plan of riding around us in a circle, discharging their arrows with such good effect that one of the Mexicans was shot in the thigh.
Jerry, and the Indian guide, both advised us to reserve our fire until the enemy should come within range of our revolvers; but their arrows came so thick and fast we decided to give them one more volley from our rifles; this we did, having the good fortune to see two more of the party suddenly tumble from their horses' backs. This put an end for the time being to their attack, for they soon disappeared over the bluff.
"We was too much for 'em that time, old pard," said Jerry, familiarly slapping the Arapahoe upon his naked shoulder. Then, turning to me,—
"I was s'prised, though' to see how them youngsters stood up ter the rack. Boys as a gineral thing hain't got no bizness on the plains, no how; but these are a-goin' to larn Injin fightin', sartin."
"Umph! putty muche boy no good," responded the Arapahoe, in deep guttural tones.
"Where's your folks, old pard?" inquired Jerry. "Better be hurryin' up; we've got ter be a-goin', as soon as I put this chaw er terbacy on that Mexican feller's leg; nothin' like it to take the sore out, you know."
The mules were now harnessed to the wagons, and everything ready for a start, when the Missourians put in an appearance. We received them right gladly, and joyfully welcomed them to our party. We started in company; but soon ascertained it would be impossible for them to keep up with us on the road, their oxen travelled so much slower than our own teams. We parted from them with reluctance; for all the indications thus far seemed to convince old Jerry that the Indians would without doubt prove very troublesome on the trip, and the larger the party the more safety, always.
We saw no further signs of their presence until quite late in the afternoon, when Jerry called my attention to a small, oblong pile of stones, that stood in a conspicuous place a short distance from the trail we were following.
"That's a Comanche sign," said Jerry.
"Pooh! it's nothing but a pile of stones," said Hal.
"That's true enuff," said Jerry; "but who put 'em there? Somebody did, for sartin."
"Probably some Traveller like ourselves," replied Hal.
"Likely ez not!" grinned Jerry. "Travellers don't ginerally have nothin' ter do but pick up stones and pile 'em up in thet shape, do they? No, sir! them Comanches know what thet means better'n you nor me; and, ten ter one, that's bin put there within twenty-four hours, too."
An examination revealed the fact that the pile had indeed been recently collected and put together with great care, evidently for the purpose of giving information to some party who were expected over the route within a short time. I have since found, that, in the absence of stones, these Indians frequently set the bleached head of a buffalo or deer in some conspicuous place, with so much significance that the whole tribe understand its meaning perfectly.
Just before dark, we found good water and grass about fifty yards away from the road in a little ravine, and here I determined to encamp for the night, notwithstanding Jerry advised our moving to the top of a knoll, half a mile away.
Our wagons were drawn up between the camp and the ravine, so as to serve as a protection to our animals as well as ourselves in case of an attack. We also adopted the further precaution of securely fastening our mules to the wagon wheels and putting out an extra guard, that was to be relieved every two hours during the night, which proved to be cloudy and dark.
We all retired early, neither of us really apprehending any trouble; but, about two hours before daybreak, we were awaked by the guard, who reported that he heard noises in and about the ravine.
"If that's the case, we may ez well git up and be ready for 'em," said Jerry, "Rout 'em all out; it's most daylight, anyway;" but, before the guard had time to obey this order, the war-whoop burst upon our ears, accompanied by a flight of arrows that went whizzing far over our heads into the darkness beyond.
In an instant every man was on his feet, rifle in hand. It soon became evident that the Comanches had taken possession of the ravine, its banks serving as a breastwork, behind which they were effectually sheltered in the darkness, from our bullets.
"Wal, there's one good thing," remarked old Jerry; "ez long ez they shoot from behind them banks there ain't no danger of their hitting us; for they'll allus aim too high."
"I'm not so sure of that," replied I, as an arrow struck me in the thigh.
"Nor I, either," exclaimed Ned, as one of the mules dropped to the ground, with the shaft of an arrow sticking in his side.
"We can't stan' this a great while, no how; we must drive 'em out," said Jerry. "Who'll go with me round to the mouth of that cussed ravine? We must git inter their rear, somehow."
"But we don't know their exact position, nor how many there are of them," replied I; "and it seems to me that the best thing we can do, is to remain where we are."
"And be shot like dogs?" queried Jerry. "No, sir; it won't do ter fire from this pint, 'cause ther flash from our guns will give 'em light enuff ter find out our position; but we kin git round in behind 'em, and a few shots will settle the matter. It's mighty lucky for us, that they hain't got nothin' but arrers; for if they hed firearms, 'twould hurt."
Jerry and one of the Mexicans started for the purpose of getting in the rear of the enemy, if possible, while I remained in charge of the camp. Suddenly, Ned, whose eyes were keen, declared that he saw something crawling in the tall grass behind the wagons. He was so positive of this, that after vainly endeavoring to get sight at the object myself, I told him to take good aim and fire. This he did, bringing out a lusty yell from his mark, and a fresh shower of arrows from our assailants.
In a short time we heard the sound of Jerry's revolvers from some distance down the ravine, and then all was quiet. It was fast becoming light; but we did not dare to move from our position until assured beyond doubt that the Indians had left. We soon heard old Jerry's cheery voice announcing that everything was right; and then we ventured out upon an exploring tour.
The first thing we discovered was a dead Indian, within thirty feet of the wagons. Ned's first Indian! The boy looked frightened as he realized the fact that he had really killed a Comanche; and, for some time thereafter, hardly appeared like himself; but the congratulations he received upon all sides, soon served to reassure him again, and in a little while he felt as proud of his exploit as old Jerry did for him.
We lost one mule, and I was slightly wounded by an arrow, during the fight; while the enemy lost one killed, and, we had good reason to believe, had several wounded.
The wagons bore the marks of many arrows; and, had it not been for the protection afforded by them, our entire party would have been massacred without doubt.
Old Jerry attributed the failure of the attack in a great measure, to the fact that they were deprived of the use of their horses; for they rarely go into a fight, except when on horseback. We were glad enough to see daylight, as well as rejoiced to be able to once more resume our trip.
We had been on the road several hours, when Hal came riding up, very much excited, declaring that he had found a bear's track.
Jerry, Ned, and myself at once went to the spot, and saw what I immediately admitted to be the clear, well-defined track of a grizzly in the sand.
Turning to Jerry, I said, "Why, Jerry! I didn't know that grizzlies were found on these plains."
"No more they ain't," was the reply.
"But how could that track be there, if there was no bear to make it?" inquired Ned.
"But it ain't a bear's track," said Jerry, attentively regarding it without dismounting from his horse.
"But it certainly is some creature's track," said I. "You'll admit that, won't you?"
"Admit it? No; sartin not: that ain't no critter's track," declared Jerry.
"It's a bear's track," rejoined I. "You certainly are mistaken, Jerry. Look! here is the imprint of the heel, and there the toes, as plain as the nose on your face, and as clear as though made not an hour ago."
"Well, it may look like a bar's track, but 'tain't one. What you call the heel and toes, is made by them spires of grass which the wind bends, makin' 'em scoop out the sand, as you see thar. You ought to hev seen that yourself; but you see you 'States' men never stop to think. If a hundred was ter travel over them plains once a year for fifty years, not more than one out er the hull lot would make a respectable woodsman."
"Why not?" interrupted both Hal and Ned, in a breath.
"Why not, youngsters? I'll tell you why: 'cause 'Mericans allus travel with their mouths open and their eyes shet tight. A Mexican or Injun will go all day without speakin', onless he's spoke to; but he'll see everything there is ter be seen on the route: a 'Merican'll talk continually, and see nothin' but a blasted dried-up country, that ain't fit for nothin'."
"I wish I knew something about trailing," remarked Ned. "Can't you give us a few general rules, Jerry?"
"Rules!" repeated Jerry, contemptuously, "what good d'yer s'pose rules 'ed do you? Yer wouldn't foller 'em. P'r'aps ter-night, after we git inter camp, if these cussed varmints'll let us alone long enuff, I'll give yer a lectur' on trailin', ter pay fer yer killin' that Comanche last night;— there they be agin, surer'n shootin'," exclaimed he, suddenly pausing, and pointing to a dark spot far away on the prairie.
We had just reached the top of a long ridge that gave us an extensive view of the country around; and far, very far in the distance, Jerry's keen eyes had detected this moving object.
I brought my glasses to bear upon it, and could distinctly see a party of three or four Indians, and some one who was dressed in skirts, like a woman.
I remarked that I believed there was a woman with them, and Jerry, who had been looking long and earnestly at the party, said,—
"Yes, there's six on 'em, and one hez got on a white woman's dress, ez near ez I kin make out. We've hed 'bout 'nuff Comanche fightin', so far ez I'm consarned; but ef them devils hev got a woman pris'ner, why we'd be less than men not ter go arter her whatever happened. We kin head 'em off easy enuff by riding along on this side the ridge; but we must stop the wagons down in the holler there, so they won't see 'em."
After some little hesitation, caused by a reluctance to leave the wagons in the unprotected situation that we should if we attempted to overtake the Indians, we finally decided that common humanity required we should rescue the woman, if it could be done; and, procuring a good supply of ammunition, Jerry, myself, Hal, and one of the Mexicans started, leaving Ned in charge of the wagons, with directions relative to camping for the night in case we did not return before dark.
It was an oppressively warm day, and we had a ride of many miles before us, ere we could hope to reach the point where we expected to intercept the savages. We rode swiftly along over the beautiful green rolling prairie, pausing for nothing, until Jerry proposed a halt for a few moments, while he made a reconnoissance.
Approaching the top of a slight eminence, he dismounted, and carefully picketing his horse, dropped upon his hands and knees, and stealthily crept to the top. A single glance sufficed to show him the situation; and he returned to us, vainly endeavoring to repress the excitement that was plainly visible in every movement, as he said, in a low voice,—
"We kin ketch 'em, boys, sartin. It's a woman, for sure, riding on a pony, with one of the varmints on each side of her; but we've got to hurry some."
Then striking his spurs deep into his horse's flanks, he was soon far in advance of us. An hour's ride, and we came to a halt; our horses reeking with sweat, and panting like frightened deer.
Once more Jerry crept cautiously to the top of the bluff. Again we saw his head appear for an moment above the level of the waving grass that grew on the summit; then he carefully arose upon his feet, and, standing erect, gazed about him for an instant, to again drop to the earth, and quickly make his way towards us.
I had watched his movements with a nervous curiosity that I could not repress; and now, as he came towards us, saw that the time for action had come. Hurriedly he told us that the party were not a mile away; but he had failed to discover the two braves with the prisoner, who were evidently lingering behind for some purpose. His idea was to dash in between the separated party, and thus prevent them from uniting and rendering each other assistance.
Jerry took the lead; whispering to Hal to be sure and keep by my side, whatever might happen; we spurred our horses up the steep acclivity; our rifles cocked, and ready at the word to pour a volley into the savages.
We were discovered before we reached the top; for, with a yell, the three Indians who were in advance, turned their horses and galloped furiously back in the direction of the remainder of their party, who were not yet in sight.
It was a run for life. Our horses fairly flew over the prairie, as we rapidly approached each other, almost at right angles. I saw Jerry bring his rifle to his shoulder. I noticed the long, bright barrel glisten in the sunlight, and then the little puff of white smoke curl gracefully up from the end, and knew that the foremost Indian had fallen, without looking towards him.
His two companions, with a yell of rage, hastily threw themselves over upon the sides of their horses as though to protect them from our expected volley. But not a shot was fired. We could neither of us shoot a rifle with accuracy while our horses were in motion. What should we do?
Jerry made no sign. We must either halt or use our revolvers. We still followed Jerry, whose horse was travelling at a marvelous pace. Hal kept close to my side, as we swiftly sped over the beautiful green turf. I watched every movement of the savages. Were they gaining on us? No: we seem to have headed them off. Yes: now they turn. They are going to escape us, surely.
Jerry says, "Now's your time, boys! give 'em one!"
And "give 'em one" we did.
One reels in his saddle, but clutches his horse's mane and saves himself; then, a moment after, falls, and his horse dashes off over the plain, while his comrade turns and rides madly away.
"Now, boys, easy. We've got 'em," says Jerry. "Let's give our horses a chance to breathe. Thar ain't no hurry, now; we'll have the varmints in a few minutes. Here's their trail, now."
Slowly we follow it, away from the flying fugitive towards the prisoner and her captors;—carefully we examine every foot of ground. Old Jerry says, "We must be near to 'em; but where are they? We must soon meet them;"—but meet them we never did.
In a little swale, a short distance from the trail, where the grass was fresh and green, we came upon the body of a Mexican woman—dead.
She had been scalped; and a single spear thrust, through her body, told us all that could be told of her sad story.
She had Apparantly been very feeble, and unable to keep up with the savages; for her worn and bloody feet bore evidence that she had walked many weary miles, while about her waist was a portion of the lariat that had been used in leading her.
Finding that she could no longer walk, her captors placed her on the horse; but this had greatly delayed them, and they had disposed of her in the manner above narrated. The bloody deed accomplished, the murderers were hurrying on to join their comrades, when the sound of Jerry's rifle warned them of danger; and they had made a long detour from the trail, and thus escaped us.
It was growing too late to think of pursuing them farther; and we reluctantly turned our horses' heads towards camp, which we reached just after nightfall, very weary from our long afternoon's ride and quite ready for bed; nor was our sleep any the less sweet for the attempt to perform a kind action.
Ned made an effort to have Jerry deliver his lecture upon the art of trailing, but the old man appeared to think it would receive more attention another time; and so it was postponed till the following evening, when, true to his promise, he entertained us for a long hour; giving us much useful information upon the subject, which I will endeavor to repeat for the benefit of my young readers, some of whom may one day be placed like Hal and Ned in a position where they will find it, not merely a matter of entertainment, but exceedingly useful; for trailing is as much an art as is painting or sculpture, and requires the most constant practice to become a proficient in it.
Having filled and lighted his pipe, old Jerry began as follows:—
"There ain't no rules, boys, that anybody kin give yer. You must have a sharp eye, a fine ear, and a still tongue;—these make your principal stock in trade."