A Story of the Sioux Outbreak of '68.
BY GENERAL CHARLES KING, U. S. A.
AUTHOR OF "Fort Frayne," "An Army Wife," "Trumpeter Fred," "Found in the Philippines," "A Wounded Name," "Noble Blood and a West Point Parallel," "A Garrison Tangle," etc., etc.
THE HOBART COMPANY, New York City.
Copyrighted 1898, by F. Tennyson Neely.
Copyrighted, 1901, by The Hobart Company.
Riding at ease in the lazy afternoon sunshine a single troop of cavalry was threading its way in long column of twos through the bold and beautiful foothills of the Big Horn. Behind them, glinting in the slanting rays, Cloud Peak, snow clad still although it was late in May, towered above the pine-crested summits of the range. To the right and left of the winding trail bare shoulders of bluff, covered only by the dense carpet of bunch grass, jutted out into the comparative level of the eastward plain. A clear, cold, sparkling stream, on whose banks the little command had halted for a noontide rest, went rollicking away northeastward, and many a veteran trooper looked longingly, even regretfully, after it, and then cast a gloomy glance over the barren and desolate stretch ahead. Far as the eye could reach in that direction the earth waves heaved and rolled in unrelieved monotony to the very sky line, save where here and there along the slopes black herds or scattered dots of buffalo were grazing unvexed by hunters red or white, for this was thirty years ago, when, in countless thousands, the bison covered the westward prairies, and there were officers who forbade their senseless slaughter to make food only for the worthless, prowling coyotes. No wonder the trooper hated to leave the foothills of the mountains, with the cold, clear trout streams and the bracing air, to take to long days' marching over dull waste and treeless prairie, covered only by sage brush, rent and torn by dry ravines, shadeless, springless, almost waterless, save where in unwholesome hollows dull pools of stagnant water still held out against the sun, or, further still southeast among the "breaks" of the many forks of the South Cheyenne, on the sandy flats men dug for water for their suffering horses, yet shrank from drinking it themselves lest their lips should crack and bleed through the shriveling touch of the alkali.
Barely two years a commissioned officer, the young lieutenant at the head of column rode buoyantly along, caring little for the landscape, since with every traversed mile he found himself just that much nearer home. Twenty-five summers, counting this one coming, had rolled over his curly head, and each one had seemed brighter, happier than the last, all but the one he spent as a hard-worked "plebe" at the military academy. His graduation summer two years previous was a glory to him, as well as to a pretty sister, young and enthusiastic enough to think a brother in the regulars, just out of West Point, something to be made much of, and Jessie Dean had lost no opportunity of spoiling her soldier or of wearying her school friends through telling of his manifold perfections. He was a manly, stalwart, handsome fellow as young graduates go, and old ones wish they might go over again. He was a fond and not too teasing kind of brother. He wasn't the brightest fellow in the class by thirty odd, and had barely scraped through one or two of his examinations, but Jessie proudly pointed to the fact that much more than half the class had "scraped off" entirely, and therefore that those who succeeded in getting through at all were paragons, especially Brother Marshall. But girls at that school had brothers of their own, girls who had never seen West Point or had the cadet fever, and were not impressed with young officers as painted by so indulgent a sister. Most of the girls had tired of Jessie's talks, and some had told her so, but there was one who had been sympathetic from the start—a far Western, friendless sort of girl she was when first she entered school, uncouthly dressed, wretchedly homesick and anything but companionable, and yet Jessie Dean's kind heart had warmed to this friendless waif and she became her champion, her ally, and later, much to her genuine surprise, almost her idol. It presently transpired that "the Pappoose," as the girls nicknamed her because it was learned that she had been rocked in an Indian cradle and had long worn moccasins instead of shoes (which accounted for her feet being so much finer in their shape than those of her fellows), was quick and intelligent beyond her years, that, though apparently hopelessly behind in all their studies at the start, and provoking ridicule and sneers during the many weeks of her loneliness and home-longing, she suddenly began settling to her work with grim determination, surprising her teachers and amazing her mates by the vim and originality of her methods, and, before the end of the year, climbing for the laurels with a mental strength and agility that put other efforts to the blush. Then came weeks of bliss spent with a doting father at Niagara, the seashore and the Point—a dear old dad as ill at ease in Eastern circles as his daughter had been at first at school, until he found himself welcomed with open arms to the officers' mess-rooms at the Point, for John Folsom was as noted a frontiersman as ever trod the plains, a man old officers of the cavalry and infantry knew and honored as "a square trader" in the Indian country—a man whom the Indians themselves loved and trusted far and wide, and when a man has won the trust and faith of an Indian let him grapple it to his breast as a treasure worth the having, great even as "the heart love of a child." Sioux, Shoshone and Cheyenne, they would turn to "Old John" in their councils, their dealings, their treaties, their perplexities, for when he said a thing was right and square their doubts were gone, and there at the Point the now well-to-do old trader met men who had known him in by-gone days at Laramie and Omaha, and there his pretty schoolgirl daughter met her bosom friend's big brother Marshall, a first classman in all his glory, dancing with damsels in society, while she was but a maiden shy in short dresses. Oh, how Jess had longed to be of that party to the Point, but her home was in the far West, her father long dead and buried, her mother an invalid, and the child was needed there. Earnestly had old Folsom written, begging that she who had been so kind to his little girl should be allowed to visit the seashore and the Point with him and "Pappoose," as he laughingly referred to her, adopting the school name given by the girls; but they were proud people, were the Deans, and poor and sensitive. They thanked Mr. Folsom warmly. "Jessie was greatly needed at her home this summer," was the answer; but Folsom somehow felt it was because they dreaded to accept courtesies they could not repay in kind.
"As if I could ever repay Jess for all the loving kindness to my little girl in her loneliness," said he. No, there was no delicious visiting with Pappoose that summer, but with what eager interest had she not devoured the letters telling of the wonderful sights the little far Westerner saw—the ocean, the great Niagara, the beautiful Point in the heart of the Highlands, but, above all, that crowned monarch, that plumed knight, that incomparable big brother, Cadet Captain Marshall Dean. Yes, he had come to call the very evening of their arrival. He had escorted them out, Papa and Pappoose, to hear the band playing on the Plain. He had made her take his arm, "a schoolgirl in short dresses," and promenaded with her up and down the beautiful, shaded walks, thronged with ladies, officers and cadets, while some old cronies took father away to the mess for a julep, and Mr. Dean had introduced some young girls, professors' daughters, and they had come and taken her driving and to tea, and she had seen him every day, many times a day, at guard mounting, drill, pontooning or parade, or on the hotel piazzas, but only to look at or speak to for a minute, for of course she was "only a child," and there were dozens of society girls, young ladies, to whom he had to be attentive, especially a very stylish Miss Brockway, from New York, with whom he walked and danced a great deal, and whom the other girls tried to tease about him. Pappoose didn't write it in so many words, but Jessie, reading those letters between the lines and every which way, could easily divine that Pappoose didn't fancy Miss Brockway at all. And then had come a wonderful day, a wonderful thing, into the schoolgirl's life. No less than twelve pages did sixteen-year-old Pappoose take to tell it, and when a girl finds time to write a twelve-page letter from the Point she has more to tell than she can possibly contain. Mr. Dean had actually invited her—her, Elinor Merchant Folsom—Winona, as they called her when she was a toddler among the tepees of the Sioux—Pappoose as the girls had named her at school—"Nell," as Jessie called her—sweetest name of all despite the ring of sadness that ever hangs about it—and Daddy had actually smiled and approved her going to the midweek hop on a cadet captain's broad chevroned arm, and she had worn her prettiest white gown, and the girls had brought her roses, and Mr. Dean had called for her before all the big girls, and she had gone off with him, radiant, and he had actually made out her card for her, and taken three dances himself, and had presented such pleasant fellows—first classmen and "yearlings." There was Mr. Billings, the cadet adjutant, and Mr. Ray, who was a cadet sergeant "out on furlough" and kept back, but such a beautiful dancer, and there was the first captain, such a witty, brilliant fellow, who only danced square dances, and several cadet corporals, all hop managers, in their red sashes. Why, she was just the proudest girl in the room! And when the drum beat and the hop broke up she couldn't believe she'd been there an hour and three-quarters, and then Mr. Dean escorted her back to the hotel, and Daddy had smiled and looked on and told him he must come into the cavalry when he graduated next June, and he'd show him the Sioux country and Pappoose would teach him the Indian dances. It was all simply lovely. Of course she knew it was all due to Jessie that her splendid big brother should give up a whole evening from his lady friends. (Miss Brockway spoke so patronizingly to her in the hall when the girls were all talking together after the cadets had scurried away to answer tattoo roll-call.) Of course she understood that if it hadn't been for Jessie none of the cadets would have taken the slightest notice of her, a mere chit, with three years of school still ahead of her. But all the same it was something to live over and over again, and dream of over and over again, and the seashore seemed very stupid after the Point. Next year—next June—when Marshall graduated Jessie was to go and see that wonderful spot, and go she did with Pappoose, too, and though it was all as beautiful as Pappoose had described, and the scene and the music and the parades and all were splendid, there was no deliriously lovely hop, for in those days there could be no dancing in the midst of examinations. There was only the one great ball given by the second to the graduating class, and Marshall had so many, many other and older girls to dance with and say good-by to he had only time for a few words with his sister and her shy, silent little friend with the big brown eyes to whom he had been so kind the previous summer, when there were three hops a week and not so many hoppers in long dresses. Still, Marshall had one dance with each and introduced nice boys from the lower classes, and it was all very well, only not what Pappoose had painted, and Jessie couldn't help thinking and saying it might all have been so much sweeter if it hadn't been for that odious Miss Brockway, about whom Marshall hovered altogether too much, but, like the little Indian the girls sometimes said she was, Pappoose looked on and said nothing.
All the same, Mr. Dean had had a glorious graduation summer of it, though Jessie saw too little of him, and Pappoose nothing at all after the breakup of the class. In September the girls returned to school, friends as close as ever, even though a little cloud overshadowed the hitherto unbroken confidences, and Marshall joined the cavalry, as old Folsom had suggested, and took to the saddle, the prairie, the bivouac, and buffalo hunt as though native and to the manner born. They were building the Union Pacific then, and he and his troop, with dozens of others scattered along the line, were busy scouting the neighborhood, guarding the surveyors, the engineers, and finally the track-layers, for the jealous red men swarmed in myriads all along the way, lacking only unanimity, organization, and leadership to enable them to defeat the enterprise. And then when the whistling engines passed the forks of the Platte and began to climb up the long slope of the Rockies to Cheyenne and Sherman Pass, the trouble and disaffection spread to tribes far more numerous and powerful further to the north and northwest; and there rose above the hordes of warriors a chief whose name became the synonym for deep rooted and determined hostility to the whites—Machpealota (Red Cloud)—and old John Folsom, he whom the Indians loved and trusted, grew anxious and troubled, and went from post to post with words of warning on his tongue.
"Gentlemen," he said to the commissioners who came to treat with the Sioux whose hunting grounds adjoined the line of the railway, "it's all very well to have peace with these people here. It is wise to cultivate the friendship of such chiefs as Spotted Tail and Old-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses but there are irreconcilables beyond them, far more numerous and powerful, who are planning, preaching war this minute. Watch Red Cloud, Red Dog, Little Big Man. Double, treble your garrisons at the posts along the Big Horn; get your women and children out of them, or else abandon the forts entirely. I know those warriors well. They outnumber you twenty to one. Reinforce your garrisons without delay or get out of that country, one of the two. Draw everything south of the Platte while yet there is time."
But wiseacres at Washington said the Indians were peaceable, and all that was needed was a new post and another little garrison at Warrior Gap, in the eastward foothills of the range. Eight hundred thousand dollars would build it, "provided the labor of the troops was utilized," and leave a good margin for the contractors and "the Bureau." And it was to escort the quartermaster and engineer officer and an aide-de-camp on preliminary survey that "C" Troop of the cavalry, Captain Brooks commanding, had been sent on the march from the North Platte at Frayne to the headwaters of the Powder River in the Hills, and with it went its new first lieutenant, Marshall Dean.
Promotion was rapid in the cavalry in those days, so soon after the war. Indians contributed largely to the general move, but there were other causes, too. Dean had served little over a year as second lieutenant in a troop doing duty along the lower Platte, when vacancies occurring gave him speedy and unlooked-for lift. He had met Mr. Folsom only once. The veteran trader had embarked much of his capital in business at Gate City beyond the Rockies, but officers from Fort Emory, close to the new frontier town, occasionally told him he had won a stanch friend in that solid citizen.
"You ought to get transferred to Emory," they said. "Here's the band, half a dozen pretty girls, hops twice a week, hunts and picnics all through the spring and summer in the mountains, fishing ad libitum, and lots of fun all the year around." But Dean's ears were oddly deaf. A classmate let fall the observation that it was because of a New York girl who had jilted him that Dean had forsworn society and stuck to a troop in the field: but men who knew and served with the young fellow found him an enthusiast in his profession, passionately fond of cavalry life in the open, a bold rider, a keen shot and a born hunter. Up with the dawn day after day, in saddle long hours, scouting the divides and ridges, stalking antelope and black-tail deer, chasing buffalo, he lived a life that hardened every muscle, bronzed the skin, cleared the eye and brain, and gave to even monotonous existence a "verve" and zest the dawdlers in those old-time garrisons never knew.
All the long summer of the year after his graduation, from mid-April until November, he never once slept beneath a wooden roof, and more often than not the sky was his only canopy. That summer, too, Jessie spent at home, Pappoose with her most of the time, and one year more would finish them at the reliable old Ohio school. By that time Folsom's handsome new home would be in readiness to receive his daughter at Gate City. By that time, too, Marshall might hope to have a leave and come in to Illinois to welcome his sister and gladden his mother's eyes. But until then, the boy had said to himself, he'd stick to the field, and the troop that had the roughest work to do was the one that best suited him, and so it had happened that by the second spring of his service in the regiment no subaltern was held in higher esteem by senior officers or regarded with more envy by the lazy ones among the juniors than the young graduate, for those, too, were days in which graduates were few and far between, except in higher grades. Twice had he ridden in the dead of winter the devious trail through the Medicine Bow range to Frayne. Once already had he been sent the long march to and from the Big Horn, and when certain officers were ordered to the mountains early in the spring to locate the site of the new post at Warrior Gap, Brooks's troop, as has been said, went along as escort and Brooks caught mountain fever in the Hills, or some such ailment, and made the home trip in the ambulance, leaving the active command of "C" Troop to his subaltern.
With the selection of the site Dean had nothing to do. Silently he looked on as the quartermaster, the engineer, and a staff officer from Omaha paced off certain lines, took shots with their instruments at neighboring heights, and sampled the sparkling waters of the Fork. Two companies of infantry, sent down from further posts along the northern slopes of the range, had stacked their arms and pitched their "dog tents," and vigilant vedettes and sentries peered over every commanding height and ridge to secure the invaders against surprise. Invaders they certainly were from the Indian point of view, for this was Indian Story Land, the most prized, the most beautiful, the most prolific in fish and game in all the continent. Never had the red man clung with such tenacity to any section of his hunting grounds as did the Northern Sioux to this, the north and northeast watershed of the Big Horn Range. Old Indian fighters among the men shook their heads when the quartermaster selected a level bench as the site on which to begin the stockade that was to enclose the officers' quarters and the barracks, storehouse and magazine, and ominously they glanced at one another and then at the pine-skirted ridge that rose, sharp and sudden, against the sky, not four hundred yards away, dominating the site entirely.
"I shouldn't like the job of clearing away the gang of Indians that might seize that ridge," said Dean, when later asked by the engineer what he thought of it, and Dean had twice by that time been called upon to help "hustle" Indians out of threatening positions, and knew whereof he spoke.
"I shouldn't worry over things you're never likely to have to do," said the quartermaster, with sarcastic emphasis, and he was a man who never yet had had to face a foeman in the field, and Dean said nothing more, but felt right well he had no friend in Major Burleigh.
They left the infantry there to guard the site and protect the gang of woodchoppers set to work at once, then turned their faces homeward. They had spent four days and nights at the Gap, and the more the youngster saw of the rotund quartermaster the less he cared to cultivate him. A portly, heavily built man was he, some forty years of age, a widower, whose children were at their mother's old home in the far East, a business man with a keen eye for opportunities and investments, a fellow who was reputed to have stock in a dozen mines and kindred enterprises, a knowing hand who drove fast horses and owned quite a stable, a sharp hand who played a thriving game of poker, and had no compunctions as to winning. Officers at Emory were fighting shy of him. He played too big a game for their small pay and pockets, and the men with whom he took his pleasure were big contractors or well-known "sports" and gamblers, who in those days thronged the frontier towns and most men did them homage. But on this trip Burleigh had no big gamblers along and missed his evening game, and, once arrived at camp along the Fork, he had "roped in" some of the infantry officers, but Brooks and the engineer declined to play, and so had Dean from the very start.
"All true cavalrymen ought to be able to take a hand at poker," sneered Burleigh, at the first night's camp, for here was a pigeon really worth the plucking, thought he. Dean's life in the field had been so simple and inexpensive that he had saved much of his slender pay; but, what Burleigh did not know, he had sent much of it home to mother and Jess.
"I know several men who would have been the better for leaving it alone," responded Dean very quietly. They rubbed each other the wrong way from the very start, and this was bad for the boy, for in those days, when army morals were less looked after than they are now, men of Burleigh's stamp, with the means to entertain and the station to enable them to do it, had often the ear of officers from headquarters, and more things were told at such times to generals and colonels about their young men than the victims ever suspected. Burleigh was a man of position and influence, and knew it. Dean was a youngster without either, and did not realize it. He had made an enemy of the quartermaster on the trip and could not but know it. Yet, conscious that he had said nothing that was wrong, he felt no disquiet.
And now, homeward bound, he was jogging contentedly along at the head of the troop. Scouts and flankers signaled "all clear." Not a hostile Indian had they seen since leaving the Gap. The ambulances with a little squad of troopers had hung on a few moments at the noon camp, hitching slowly and leisurely that their passengers might longer enjoy their post prandial siesta in the last shade they would see until they reached Cantonment Reno, a long day's ride away. Presently the lively mule teams would come along the winding trail at spanking trot. Then the troop would open out to right and left and let them take the lead, giving the dust in exchange, and once more the rapid march would begin.
It was four P. M. when the shadows of the mules' ears and heads came jerking into view beside him, and, guiding his horse to the right, Dean loosed rein and prepared to trot by the open doorway of the stout, black-covered wagon. The young engineer officer, sitting on the front seat, nodded cordially to the cavalryman. He had known and liked him at the Point. He had sympathized with him in the vague difference with the quartermaster. He had had to listen to sneering things Burleigh was telling the aide-de-camp about young linesmen in general and Dean in particular, stocking the staff officer with opinions which he hoped and intended should reach the department commander's ears. The engineer disbelieved, but was in no position to disprove. His station was at Omaha, far from the scene of cavalry exploits in fort or field. Burleigh's office and depot were in this new, crowded, bustling frontier town, filled with temptation to men so far removed from the influences of home and civilization, and Burleigh doubtless saw and knew much to warrant his generalities. But he knew no wrong of Dean, for that young soldier, as has been said, had spent all but a few mid-winter months at hard, vigorous work in the field, had been to Gate City and Fort Emory only twice, and then under orders that called for prompt return to Frayne. Any man with an eye for human nature could see at a glance, as Dean saw, that both the aid and his big friend, the quartermaster, had been exchanging comments at the boy's expense. He had shouted a cheery salutation to the engineer in answer to his friendly nod, then turned in saddle and looked squarely at the two on the back seat, and the constraint in their manner, the almost sullen look in their faces, told the story without words.
It nettled Dean—frank, outspoken, straightforward as he had always been. He hated any species of backbiting, and he had heard of Burleigh as an adept in the art, and a man to be feared. Signaling to his sergeant to keep the column opened out, as the prairie was almost level now on every side, he rode swiftly on, revolving in his mind how to meet and checkmate Burleigh's insidious moves, for instinctively he felt he was already at work. The general in command in those days was not a field soldier by any means. His office was far away at the banks of the Missouri, and all he knew of what was actually going on in his department he derived from official written reports; much that was neither official nor reliable he learned from officers of Burleigh's stamp, and Dean had never yet set eyes on him. In the engineer he felt he had a friend on whom he could rely, and he determined to seek his counsel at the campfire that very night, meantime to hold his peace.
They were trotting through a shallow depression at the moment, the two spring-wagons guarded and escorted by some thirty dusty, hardy-looking troopers. In the second, the yellow ambulance, Brooks was stretched at length, taking it easy, an attendant jogging alongside. Behind them came a third, a big quartermaster's wagon, drawn by six mules and loaded with tentage and rations. Out some three hundred yards to the right and left rode little squads as flankers. Out beyond them, further still, often cut off from view by low waves of prairie, were individual troopers riding as lookouts, while far to the front, full six hundred yards, three or four others, spreading over the front on each side of the twisting trail, moved rapidly from crest to crest, always carefully scanning the country ahead before riding up to the summit. And now, as Dean's eyes turned from his charges to look along the sky line to the east, he saw sudden sign of excitement and commotion at the front. A sergeant, riding with two troopers midway between him and those foremost scouts, was eagerly signaling to him with his broad-brimmed hat. Three of the black dots along the gently rising slope far ahead had leaped from their mounts and were slowly crawling forward, while one of them, his horse turned adrift and contentedly nibbling at the buffalo grass, was surely signaling that there was mischief ahead.
In an instant the lieutenant was galloping out to the front, cautioning the driver to come on slowly. Presently he overhauled the sergeant and bade him follow, and together the four men darted on up the gradual incline until within ten yards of where the leaders' horses were placidly grazing. There they threw themselves from saddle; one of the men took the reins of the four horses while Dean and the other two, unslinging carbine and crouching low, went hurriedly on up the slope until they came within a few yards of the nearest scout.
"Indians!" he called to them as soon as they were within earshot. "But they don't seem to be on lookout for us at all. They're fooling with some buffalo over here."
Crawling to the crest, leaving his hat behind, Dean peered over into the swale beyond and this was what he saw.
Half a mile away to the east the low, concave sweep of the prairie was cut by the jagged banks and curves of a watercourse which drained the melting snows in earlier spring. Along the further bank a dozen buffalo were placidly grazing, unconscious of the fact that in the shallow, dry ravine itself half a dozen young Indians—Sioux, apparently—were lurking, awaiting the nearer coming of the herd, whose leaders, at least, were gradually approaching the edge. Away down to the northeast, toward the distant Powder River, the shallow stream bed trended, and, following the pointing finger of the scout who crawled to his side, Dean gazed and saw a confused mass of slowly moving objects, betrayed for miles by the light cloud of dust that hovered over them, covering many an acre of the prairie, stretching far away down the vale. Even before he could unsling his field glass and gaze, his plains-craft told him what was slowly, steadily approaching, as though to cross his front—an Indian village, a big one, on the move to the mountains, bound perhaps for the famous racecourse of the Sioux, a grand amphitheater in the southern hills.
And even as they gazed, two tiny jets of flame and smoke shot from the ravine edge there below them, and before the dull reports could reach their ears the foremost bison dropped on his knees and then rolled over on the sod; and then came the order, at sound of which, back among the halted troopers, every carbine leaped from its socket.
Down along the building railway in the valley or the Platte there had been two years of frequent encounter with small bands of Indians. Down along the Smoky Hill, in Kansas, the Cheyennes were ever giving trouble. Even around Laramie and Frayne, on the North Platte, settlers and soldiers had been murdered, as well as one or two officers, caught alone out hunting, and the Indians were, of course, the perpetrators. Nevertheless, it had been the policy of the leaders of the Northern Sioux to avoid any meeting in force and to deny the complicity of their people in the crimes committed. Supply trains to Reno, Kearney and C. F. Smith, the Big Horn posts of the Bozeman Trail went to and fro with guards of only moderate size. Officers had taken their wives and children to these far-away stations. The stockades were filled with soldiers' families. Big bands of Indians roamed the lovely valleys of the Piney, the Tongue, and Rosebud, near at hand, and rode into full view of the wary sentries at the stockades, yet made no hostile demonstration. Officers and men went far up the rocky canons of the hills in search of fish or game, and came back unmolested. Escorts reported that they sometimes marched all day long side by side with hunting bands of Sioux, a mile away; and often little parties, squaws and boys and young men, would ride confidently over and beg for sugar, coffee, hardtack—anything, and ride off with their plunder in the best of spirits and with all apparent good feeling. And yet the great war-chief of the Brules—Sintogaliska—Spotted Tail, the white man's friend, gave solemn warning not to trust the Ogallallas. "Red Cloud's heart is bad," he said. "He and his people are moving from the reservations to the mountains. They mean trouble." Old traders like Folsom heard and heeded, and Folsom himself hastened to Fort Frayne the very week that Burleigh and his escort left for Warrior Gap. Visiting at the ranch of his son in a beautiful nook behind the Medicine Bow Mountains, the veteran trader heard tidings from an Indian brave that filled him with apprehension, and he hurried to the fort.
"Is it true," he asked, "that the government means to establish a post at Warrior Gap? Is it true that Major Burleigh has gone thither?" And when told that it was and that only Captain Brooks's troop had gone as escort, Folsom's agitation was extreme. "Colonel," said he, to the post commander, "solemnly I have tried to warn the general of the danger of that move. I have told him that all the northern tribes are leaguing now, that they have determined to keep to themselves the Big Horn country and the valleys to the north. It will take five thousand men to hold those three posts against the Sioux, and you've barely got five hundred. I warn you that any attempt to start another post up there will bring Red Cloud and all his people to the spot. Their scouts are watching like hawks even now. Iron Spear came to me at my son's ranch last night and told me not ten warriors were left at the reservation. They are all gone, and the war dances are on in every valley from the Black Hills to the Powder. For heaven's sake send half your garrison up to Reno after Brooks. You are safe here. They won't molest you south of the Platte, at least not now. All they ask is that you build no more forts in the Big Horn."
But the colonel could not act without authority. Telegraph there was none then. What Folsom said was of sufficient importance to warrant his hurrying off a courier to Laramie, fully one hundred miles southeast, and ordering a troop to scout across the wild wastes to the north, while Folsom himself, unable to master his anxiety, decided to accompany the command sent out toward Cantonment Reno. He long had had influence with the Ogallallas. Even now Red Cloud might listen if he could but find him. The matter was of such urgency he could not refrain. And so with the gray troop of the cavalry, setting forth within an hour of his coming, rode the old trader whom the Indians had so long sworn by, and he started none too soon.
Reno was some ninety miles away, and not until late the next evening did the grays reach the lonely post. Not a sign of hostile Indian had been seen or heard, said the officer in command. Small bands of hunters were out toward Pumpkin Butte two days before.—Yes, Ogallallas—and a scouting party, working down the valley of the Powder, had met no band at all, though trails were numerous. They were now patroling toward the Big Horn. Perhaps there'd be a courier in to-morrow. Better get a good night's rest meantime, he said. But all the same he doubled his guards and ordered extra vigilance, for all men knew John Folsom, and when Folsom was anxious on the Indian question it was time to look alive. Daybreak came without a sign, but Folsom could not rest. The grays had no authority to go beyond Reno, but such was his anxiety that it was decided to hold the troop at the cantonment for a day or two. Meantime, despite his years, Folsom decided to push on for the Gap. All efforts to dissuade him were in vain. With him rode Baptiste, a half-breed Frenchman whose mother was an Ogallalla squaw, and "Bat" had served him many a year. Their canteens were filled, their saddle-pouches packed. They led along an extra mule, with camp equipage, and shook hands gravely with the officers ere they rode away. "All depends," said Folsom, "on whether Red Cloud is hereabouts in person. If he is and I can get his ear I can probably stave off trouble long enough to get those people at the Gap back to Kearney, or over here. They're goners if they attempt to stay there and build that post. If you don't have word from us in two days, send for all the troops the government can raise. It will take every mother's son they've got to whip the Sioux when once they're leagued together."
"But our men have the new breech-loaders now, Mr. Folsom," said the officers. "The Indians have only old percussion-cap rifles, and not too many of them."
"But there are twenty warriors to every soldier," was the answer, "and all are fighting men."
They watched the pair until they disappeared far to the west. All day long the lookouts searched the horizon. All that night the sentries listened for hoof-beats on the Bozeman road, but only the weird chorus of the coyotes woke the echoes of the dark prairie. Dawn of the second day came, and, unable to bear suspense, the major sent a little party, mounted on their fleetest horses, to scour the prairies at least halfway to the foothills of the Big Horn, and just at nightfall they came back—three at least—galloping like mad, their mounts a mass of foam. Folsom's dread was well founded. Red Cloud, with heaven only knew how many warriors, had camped on Crazy Woman's Fork within the past three days, and gone on up stream. He might have met and fought the troops sent out three days before. He must have met the troops dispatched to Warrior Gap.
And this last, at least, he had done. For a few seconds after the fall of the buffalo bull, the watchers on the distant ridge lay still, except that Dean, turning slightly, called to the orderly trumpeter, who had come trotting out after the troop commander, and was now halted and afoot some twenty yards down the slope. "Go back, Bryan," he ordered. "Halt the ambulances. Notify Captain Brooks that there are lots of Indians ahead, and have the sergeant deploy the men at once." Then he turned back and with his field glass studied the party along the ravine.
"They can't have seen us, can they, lieutenant?" muttered the trooper nearest him.
But Dean's young face was grave and clouded. Certainly the Indians acted as though they were totally unaware of the presence of troops, but the more he thought the more he knew that no big body of Sioux would be traveling across country at so critical a time (country, too, that was conquered as this was from their enemies, the Crows), without vigilant scouts afar out on front and flank. The more he thought the more he knew that even as early as three o'clock those keen-eyed fellows must have sighted his little column, conspicuous as it was because of its wagons. Beyond question, he told himself, the chief of the band or village so steadily approaching from the northeast had full information of their presence, and was coming confidently ahead. What had he to fear? Even though the blood of settlers and soldiers might still be red upon the hands of his braves, even though fresh scalps might be dangling at this moment from their shields, what mattered it? Did he not know that the safeguard of the Indian Bureau spread like the wing of a protecting angel over him and his people, forbidding troops to molest or open fire unless they themselves were attacked? Did he not laugh in his ragged shirt sleeve at the policy of the white fool who would permit the red enemy to ride boldly up to his soldiers, count their numbers, inspect their array, satisfy himself as to their armament and readiness, then calculate the chances, and, if he thought the force too strong, ride on his way with only a significant gesture in parting insult? If, on the contrary, he found it weak then he could turn loose his braves, surround, massacre and scalp, and swear before the commissioners sent out to investigate next moon that he and his people knew nothing about the matter—nothing, at least, that they could be induced to tell.
One moment more Dean watched and waited. Two of the Indians in the ravine were busily reloading their rifles. Two others were aiming over the bank, for, with the strange stupidity of their kind, the other buffalo, even when startled by the shot, had never sought safety in flight, but were now sniffing the odor of blood on the tainted air, and slowly, wonderingly drawing near the stricken leader as though to ask what ailed him. Obedient and docile, the Indian ponies stood with drooping heads, hidden under the shelter of the steep banks. Nearer and nearer came the big black animals, bulky, stupid, fatuous; the foremost lowered a huge head to sniff at the blood oozing from the shoulder of the dying bull, then two more shots puffed out from the ravine, the huge head tossed suddenly in air, and the ungainly brute started and staggered, whirled about and darted a few yards away, then plunged on its knees, and the next moment, startled at some sight the soldier watchers could not see, the black band was seized with sudden panic, and darted like mad into the depths of the watercourse, disappeared one moment from sight, then, suddenly reappearing, came laboring up the hither side, straight for the crest on which they lay, a dozen black, bounding, panting beasts thundering over the ground, followed by half a dozen darting Indian ponies, each with his lithe red rider scurrying in pursuit.
"Out of the way, men! Don't fire!" shouted Dean. And, scrambling back toward their horses, the lieutenant and his men drew away from the front of the charging herd, invisible as yet to the halted troop and to the occupants of the ambulance, whose eager heads could be seen poked out at the side doors of the leading vehicle, as though watching for the cause of the sudden halt.
And then a thing happened that at least one man saw and fortunately remembered later. Bryan, the trumpeter, with jabbing heels and flapping arms, was tearing back toward the troop at the moment at the top speed of his gray charger, already so near that he was shouting to the sergeant in the lead. By this time, too, that veteran trooper, with the quick sense of duty that seemed to inspire the war-time sergeant, had jumped his little column "front into line" to meet the unseen danger; so that now, with carbines advanced, some thirty blue jackets were aligned in the loose fighting order of the prairies in front of the foremost wagon. The sight of the distant officer and men tumbling hurriedly back and to one side, out of the way presumably of some swiftly-coming peril, acted like magic on the line. Carbines were quickly brought to ready, the gun locks crackling in chorus as the horses pranced and snorted. But it had a varying effect on the occupants of the leading wagon. The shout of "Indians" from Bryan's lips, the sight of scurry on the ridge ahead brought the engineer and aide-de-camp springing out, rifle in hand, to take their manly part in the coming fray. It should have brought Major Burleigh too, but that appropriately named non-combatant never showed outside. An instant more and to the sound of rising thunder, before the astonished eyes of the cavalry line there burst into view, full tear for safety, the uncouth, yet marvelously swift-running leaders of the little herd. The whole dozen came flying across the sky line and down the gentle slope, heading well around to the left of the line of troopers, while sticking to their flanks like red nettles half a dozen young warriors rode like the wind on their nimble ponies, cracking away with revolver or rifle in savage joy in the glorious sport. Too much for Burleigh's nerve was the combination of sounds, thunder of hoofs and sputter of shots, for when a cheer of sympathetic delight went up from the soldier line at sight of the chase, and the young engineer sprang to the door of the ambulance to help the major out, he found him a limp and ghastly heap, quivering with terror in the bottom of the wagon, looking for all the world as if he were trying to crawl under the seat.
Away to the left of the little command tore the quarry and the chase. Out on the rolling prairie, barely four hundred yards from where the ambulance and mules were backed into a tangle of traces and whiffletrees and fear-stricken creatures, another buffalo had dropped in a heap; a swarthy rider had tumbled off his pony, cut a slash or two with ever-ready knife, and then, throwing a bead bedizened left leg over his eager little mount, had gone lashing away after his fellows, not without a jeering slap at the baited soldiery. Then, in almost less time than it takes to tell it, the pursued and pursuers had vanished from sight over a low ridge a mile to the north. "Only a hunting party!" said one or two nervous recruits, with a gulp of relief. "Only a hunting party," gasped Burleigh, as presently he heaved himself up from the floor, "and I thought I'd never find that damned gun of mine. All this fuss for nothing!" he continued, his lips still blue and quivering. "That green youngster up there in front hasn't learned the first principles of plains-craft yet. Here, Brooks," he added loudly, "it's high time you were looking after this sub of yours," and Brooks, despite his illness, was indeed working out of the back door of his yellow trundle bed at the moment, and looking anxiously about. But the engineer stood pale and quiet, coolly studying the flustered growler, and when Burleigh's shifting eyes sought that young scientist's face, what he read there—and Burleigh was no fool—told him he would be wise to change the tune. The aid had pushed out in front of the troop and was signaling to Dean, once more in saddle and scanning through his glass the big band afar down the valley.
"Take my horse, sir," said the sergeant, dismounting, and the officer thanked him and rode swiftly out to join the young commander at the front. Together they gazed and consulted and still no signal came to resume the advance. Then the troopers saw the staff officer make a broad sweep with his right arm to the south, and in a moment Dean's hat was uplifted and waved well out in that direction. "Drop carbine," growled the sergeant. "By twos again. Incline to the right. Damn the Sioux, I say! Have we got to circle five miles around their hunting ground for fear of hurting their feelings. Come on. Jimmy," he added to the driver of the leading wagon. Jimmy responded with vigorous language at the expense of his lead mules. The quartermaster and engineer silently scrambled in; the ambulance started with a jerk and away went the party off to the right of the trail, the wagons jolting a bit now over the uneven clumps of bunch grass.
But once well up at the summit of the low divide the command reined in for a look at the great Indian cavalcade swarming in the northeastward valley, and covering its grassy surface still a good mile away. Out from among the dingy mass came galloping half a dozen young braves, followed by as many squaws. The former soon spread out over the billowy surface, some following the direction of the chase, some bounding on south west ward as though confident of finding what they sought the moment they reached the nearest ridge; some riding straight to the point where lay the carcasses of the earliest victims of the hunt. Here in full view of the soldiery, but vouchsafing them no glance nor greeting whatever, two young warriors reined in their lively ponies and disdainfully turned their backs upon the spectators on the divide, while the squaws, with shrill laugh and chatter, rolled from their saddles and began the drudgery of their lot—skinning and cutting up the buffalos slaughtered by their lords.
"Don't you see," sneered Burleigh, "it's nothing but a village out for a hunt—nothing in God's world to get stampeded about. We've had all this show of warlike preparation for nothing." But he turned away again as he caught the steady look in the engineer's blue eyes, and shouted to his more appreciative friend, the aide-de-camp: "Well, pardner, haven't we fooled away enough time here, or have we got to wait the pleasure of people that never saw Indians before?"
Dean flushed crimson at the taunt. He well knew for whom it was meant. He was indignant enough by this time to speak for himself, but the aide-de-camp saved him the trouble.
"I requested Mr. Dean to halt a few moments, Burleigh. It is necessary I should know what band this is, and how many are out."
"Well, be quick about it," snapped the quartermaster, "I want to get to Reno before midnight, and at this rate we won't make it in a week."
A sergeant who could speak a little Sioux came riding back to the camp, a grin on his sun-blistered face. "Well, sergeant, what'd he say?" asked the staff officer.
"He said would I plaze to go to hell, sorr," was the prompt response.
"Won't he tell who they are?"
"He won't, sorr. He says we know widout askin', which is thrue, sorr. They're Ogallallas to a man, barrin' the squaws and pappooses, wid ould Red Cloud himself."
"How'd you find out if they wouldn't talk?" asked the staff officer impatiently.
"'Twas the bucks wouldn't talk—except in swear wurruds. I wasted no time on them, sorr. I gave the first squaw the last hardtack in me saddle-bags and tould her was it Machpealota, and she said it was, and he was wid Box Karesha—that's ould Folsom—not six hour ago, an' Folsom's gone back to the cantonment."
"Then the quicker we skip the better," were the aide-de-camp's words. "Get us to Reno fast as you can, Dean. Strike for the road again as soon as we're well beyond their buffalo. Now for it! There's something behind all this bogus hunt business, and Folsom knows what it is."
And every mile of the way, until thick darkness settled down over the prairie, there was something behind the trooper cavalcade—several somethings—wary red men, young and wiry, who never let themselves be seen, yet followed on over wave after wave of prairie to look to it that no man went back from that column to carry the news of their presence to the little battalion left in charge of the new post at Warrior Gap.
It was the dark of the moon, or, as the Indians say, "the nights the moon is sleeping in his lodge," and by ten P. M. the skies were overcast. Only here and there a twinkling star was visible, and only where some trooper struck a light for his pipe could a hand be seen in front of the face. The ambulance mules that had kept their steady jog during the late afternoon and the long gloaming that followed still seemed able to maintain the gait, and even the big, lumbering wagon at the rear came briskly on under the tug of its triple span, but in the intense darkness the guides at the head of the column kept losing the road, and the bumping of the wagons would reveal the fact, and a halt would be ordered, men would dismount and go bending and crouching and feeling their way over the almost barren surface, hunting among the sage brush for the double furrow of the trail. Matches innumerable were consumed, and minutes of valuable time, and the quartermaster waxed fretful and impatient, and swore that his mules could find their way where the troopers couldn't, and finally, after the trail had been lost and found half a dozen times, old Brooks was badgered into telling Dean to let the ambulance take the lead. The driver shirked at once.
"There's no tellin' where we'll fetch up," said he. "Those mules can't see the trail if a man can't. Take their harness off and turn 'em loose, an' I suppose they can find their way to the post, but sure as you turn them loose when they've got somethin' on 'em, or behind 'em, and the doggone cussedness of the creatures will prompt them to smash things."
But the quartermaster said he'd tried it with those very mules, between Emory and Medicine Bow a dozen times, and he'd risk it. The driver could get off his seat if he wanted to, and run alongside, but he'd stay where he was.
"Let me out, please," said the engineer, and jumped to the ground, and then the cavalcade pushed on again. The driver, as ordered by an employer whom he dare not disobey, let the reins drop on the mules' backs, the troopers falling behind, the yellow ambulance and the big baggage wagon bringing up the rear.
Then, with a horseman on each side, the mules were persuaded to push on again, and then when fairly started Burleigh called to the troopers to fall back, so that the mules should not, as he expressed it, "be influenced." "Leave them to themselves and they can get along all right," said he, "but mix them up with the horses, and they want them to take all the responsibility."
And now the command was barely crawling. Brooks, heavy, languid with splitting headache, lay in feverish torpor in his ambulance, asking only to be let alone. The engineer, a subaltern as yet, felt that he had no right attempting to advise men like Burleigh, who proclaimed himself an old campaigner. The aide-de-camp was getting both sleepy and impatient, but he, too, was much the quartermaster's junior in rank. As for Dean, he had no volition whatever. "Escort the party," were his orders, and that meant that he must govern the movements of his horses and men by the wishes of the senior staff official. And so they jogged along perhaps twenty minutes more, and then there was a sudden splutter and plunge and stumble ahead, a sharp pull on the traces, a marvelously quick jerk back on the reins that threw the wheel team on their haunches, and thereby saved the "outfit," for when men and matches were hurried to the front the lead mules were discovered kicking and splashing in a mud hole. They were not only off the road by a dozen yards, but over a bank two feet high.
And this last pound broke the back of Burleigh's obstinacy. It was nearly midnight anyway. The best thing to be done was unhitch, unsaddle and bivouac until the gray light of dawn came peering over the eastward prairie, which in that high latitude and "long-day" month would be soon after three. Then they could push on to Reno.
Not until nearly eight o'clock in the morning, therefore, did they heave in sight of the low belt of dingy green that told of the presence of a stream still long miles away; and here, knowing himself to be out of danger, the major bade the weary escort march in at a walk while he hurried on. In fifteen minutes the black-hooded wagon was twisting and turning over the powdery road a good mile ahead, its dust rising high over the sage-covered desert, while the other two, with the dust-begrimed troopers, jogged sturdily on. Loring, the young engineer, had waved a cordial good-by to his old cadet acquaintance. "See you later, old man," he cried. Stone, the aide-de-camp, nodded and said, "Take care of yourself," and Burleigh said nothing at all. He was wondering what he could do to muzzle Loring in case that gifted young graduate were moved to tell what the quartermaster actually did when he heard the rush and firing out at the front on the road from Warrior Gap.
But when at last the black wagon bowled in at the stockaded quadrangle and discharged its occupants at the hut of the major commanding, there were tidings of such import to greet them that Burleigh turned yellow-white again at thought of the perils they had escaped.
"My God, man!" cried the post commander, as he came hurrying out to meet the party, "we've been in a blue funk about you fellows for two whole days. Did you see any Indians?"
"See any Indians!" said Burleigh, rallying to the occasion as became a man who knew how to grasp an opportunity. "We stood off the whole Sioux nation over toward Crazy Woman's Fork. There were enough to cover the country, red and black, for a dozen miles. We sighted them yesterday about four o'clock and there were enough around us to eat us alive, but we just threw out skirmish lines and marched steadily ahead, so they thought best not to bother us. They're shy of our breech loaders, damn 'em! That's all that kept them at respectful distance."
The major's face as he listened took on a puzzled, perturbed look. He did not wish to say anything that might reflect on the opinions of so influential a man as the depot quartermaster at Gate City, but it was plain that there was a train of thought rumbling through his mind that would collide with Burleigh's column of events unless he were spared the need of answering questions. "Let me tell you briefly what's happened," he said. "Red Cloud and his whole band are out on the warpath. They killed two couriers, half-breeds, I sent out to find Thornton's troop that was scouting the Dry Fork. The man we sent to find you and give you warning hasn't got back at all. We've had double sentries for three days and nights. The only souls to get in from the northwest since our fellows were run back last night are old Folsom and Baptiste. Folsom had a talk with Red Cloud, and tried to induce him to turn back. He's beset with the idea that the old villain is plotting a general massacre along the Big Horn. He looks like a ghost. He says if we had five thousand soldiers up there there'd hardly be enough. You know the Sioux have sworn by him for years, and he thought he could coax Red Cloud to keep away, but all the old villain would promise was to hold his young men back ten days or so until Folsom could get the general to order the Warrior Gap plan abandoned. If the troops are there Folsom says it's all up with them. Red Cloud can rally all the Northern tribes, and it's only because of Folsom's influence, at least I fancy so—that—that they didn't attack you."
"Where is Folsom?" growled Burleigh, as he shook the powdery cloud from his linen duster and followed the major within his darkened door, while other officers hospitably led the aid and engineer into the adjoining hut.
"Gone right on to Frayne. The old fellow will wear himself out, I'm afraid. He says he must get in telegraphic communication with Omaha before he's four days older. My heaven, man, it was a narrow squeak you had! It's God's mercy Folsom saw Red Cloud before he saw you."
"Oh, pshaw!" said the quartermaster, turning over a little packet of letters awaiting him in the commanding officer's sanctum. "We could have given a good account of ourselves, I reckon. Brooks is down with fever, and young Dean got rattled, or something like it. He's new at the business and easily scared, you know; so I practically had to take command. They'll be along in an hour or so, and—a word in your ear. If Brooks has to remain on sick report you'd better put somebody in command of that troop that's had—er—er—experience."
The post commander looked genuinely troubled. "Why, Burleigh, we've all taken quite a shine to Dean. I know the officers in his regiment think a heap of him; the seniors do, at least."
But Burleigh, with big eyes, was glaring at a letter he had selected, opened, and was hurriedly reading. His face was yellowing again, under the blister of sun and alkali.
"What's amiss?" queried his friend. "Nothing wrong, I hope. Why, Burleigh, man! Here, let me help you!" he cried in alarm, for the quartermaster was sinking into a chair.
"You can help me!" he gasped. "Get me fresh mules and escort. My God! I must start for Frayne at once. Some whisky, please." And the letter dropped from his trembling hands and lay there unnoticed on the floor.
Mid June had come, and there was the very devil to pay—so said the scouts and soldiers up along the Big Horn. But scouts and soldiers were far removed from the States and cities where news was manufactured, and those were days in which our Indian outbreaks were described in the press long after, instead of before, their occurrence. Such couriers as had got through to Frayne brought dispatches from the far-isolated posts along that beautiful range, insisting that the Sioux were swarming in every valley. Such dispatches, when wired to Washington and "referred" to the Department of the Interior and re-referred to the head of the Indian Bureau, were scoffed at as sensational.
"Our agents report the Indians peaceably assembled at their reservations. None are missing at the weekly distribution of supplies except those who are properly accounted for as out on their annual hunt." "The officers," said the papers, "seem to see red Indians in every bush," and unpleasant things were hinted at the officers as a consequence.
Indians there certainly were in other sections, and they were unquestionably "raising the devil" along the Smoky Hill and the Southern Plains, and there the Interior Department insisted that troops in strong force should be sent. So, too, along the line of the Union Pacific. Officials were still nervous. Troops of cavalry camped at intervals of forty miles along the line between Kearney and Julesburg, and even beyond. At Washington and the great cities of the East, therefore, there was no anxiety as to the possible fate of those little garrisons, with their helpless charge of women and children away up in the heart of the Sioux country. But at Laramie and Frayne and Emory, the nearest frontier posts; at Cheyenne, Omaha and Gate City the anxiety was great. When John Folsom said the Indians meant a war of extermination people west of the Missouri said: "Withdraw those garrisons while there is yet time or else send five thousand troops to help them." But people east of the Missouri said: "Who the devil is John Folsom? What does he know about it? Here's what the Indian agents say, and that's enough," and people east of the Missouri being vastly in the majority, neither were the garrisons relieved nor the reinforcements sent. What was worse, John Folsom's urgent advice that they discontinue at once all work at Warrior Gap and send the troops and laborers back to Reno was pooh-poohed.
"The contracts have been let and signed. The material is all on its way. We can't hack out now," said the officials. "Send runners to Red Cloud and get him in for a talk. Promise him lots of presents. Yes, if he must have them, tell him he shall have breech-loaders and copper cartridges, like the soldiers—to shoot buffalo with, of course. Promise him pretty much anything to be good and keep his hands off a little longer till we get that fort and the new agency buildings finished, and then let him do what he likes."
Such were the instructions given the commissioners and interpreters hurried through Gate City and Frayne, and on up to Reno just within the limit fixed by Folsom. Red Cloud and his chiefs came in accordingly, arrayed in pomp, paint and finery; shook hands grimly with the representatives of the Great Father, critically scanned the proffered gifts, disdainfully rejected the muzzle-loading rifles and old dragoon horse-pistols heaped before him. "Got heap better," was his comment, and nothing but brand new breech-loaders would serve his purpose. Promise them and he'd see what could be done to restrain his young men. But they were "pretty mad," he said, and couldn't be relied upon to keep the peace unless sure of getting better arms and ammunition to help them break it next time. It was only temporizing. It was only encouraging the veteran war-chief in his visions of power and control. The commissioners came back beaming, "Everything satisfactorily arranged. Red Cloud and his people are only out for a big hunt." But officers whose wives and children prayed fearfully at night within the puny wooden stockades, and listened trembling to the howls and tom-toms of the dancing Indians around the council fires in the neighboring valleys, wished to heaven they had left those dear ones in safety at their Eastern homes—wished to heaven they could send them thither now, but well knew that it was too late. Only as single spies, riding by night, hiding by day, were couriers able to get through from the Big Horn to the Platte. Of scouts and soldiers sent at different times since the middle of May, seven were missing, and never, except through vague boastings of the Indians, were heard of again.
"It is a treacherous truce, I tell you," said Folsom, with grave, anxious face, to the colonel commanding Fort Emory. "I have known Red Cloud twenty years. He's only waiting a few weeks to see if the government will be fool enough to send them breech-loaders. If it does, he'll be all the better able to fight a little later on. If it doesn't he will make it his casus belli."
And the veteran colonel listened, looked grave, and said he had done his utmost to convince his superiors. He could do no more.
It was nearly three hundred miles by the winding mountain road from Gate City to Warrior Gap. Over hill and dale and mountain pass the road ran to Frayne, thence, fording the North Platte, the wagon trains, heavily guarded, had to drag over miles of dreary desert, over shadeless slopes and divides to the dry wash of the Powder, and by roads deep in alkali dust and sage brush to Cantonment Reno, where far to the west the grand range loomed up against the sky—another long day's march away to the nearest foothills, to the nearest drinkable water, and then, forty miles further still, in the heart of the grand pine-covered heights, was the rock-bound gateway to a lovely park region within, called by the Sioux some wild combination of almost unpronounceable syllables, which, freely translated, gave us Warrior Gap, and there at last accounts, strengthened by detachments from Frayne and Reno, the little command of fort builders worked away, ax in hand, rifle at hand, subjected every hour to alarm from the vedettes and pickets posted thickly all about them, pickets who were sometimes found stone dead at their posts, transfixed with arrows, scalped and mutilated, and yet not once had Indians in any force been seen by officers or man about the spot since the day Red Cloud's whole array passed Brooks's troop on the Reno trail, peaceably hunting buffalo. "An' divil a sowl in in the outfit," said old Sergeant Shaughnessy, "that hadn't his tongue in his cheek."
For three months that hard-worked troop had been afield, and the time had passed and gone when its young first lieutenant had hoped for a leave to go home and see the mother and Jess. His captain was still ailing and unfit for duty in saddle. He could not and would not ask for leave at such a time, and yet at the very moment when he was most earnestly and faithfully doing his whole duty at the front, slander was busy with his name long miles at the rear.
Something was amiss with Burleigh, said his cronies at Gate City. He had come hurrying back from the hills, had spent a day in his office and not a cent at the club, had taken the night express unbeknown to anybody but his chief clerk, and gone hurrying eastward. It was a time when his services were needed at the depot, too. Supplies, stores, all manner of material were being freighted from Gate City over the range to the Platte and beyond, yet he had wired for authority to hasten to Chicago on urgent personal affairs, got it and disappeared. A young regimental quartermaster was ordered in from Emory to take charge of shipments and sign invoices during Burleigh's temporary absence, and the only other officer whom Burleigh had seen and talked with before his start was the venerable post commander. One after another the few cavalry troops (companies) on duty at Emory had been sent afield until now only one was left, and three days after Burleigh started there came a dispatch from department headquarters directing the sending of that one to Frayne at once. Captain Brooks's troop, owing to the continued illness of its commander, would be temporarily withdrawn and sent back to Emory to replace it.
Marshall Dean did not know whether to be glad or sorry. Soldier from top to toe, he was keenly enjoying the command of his troop. He gloried in mountain scouting, and was in his element when astride a spirited horse. Then, too, the air was throbbing with rumors of Indian depredations along the northward trails, and everything pointed to serious outbreak any moment, and when it came he longed to be on hand to take his share and win his name, for with such a troop his chances were better for honors and distinctions than those of any youngster he knew. Therefore he longed to keep afield. On the other hand the visit paid by Jessie's school friend, little "Pappoose" Folsom, was to be returned in kind. John Folsom had begged and their mother had consented that after a week at home Jess should accompany her beloved friend on a visit to her far western home. They would be escorted as far as Omaha, and there Folsom himself would meet them. His handsome house was ready, and, so said friends who had been invited to the housewarming, particularly well stocked as to larder and cellar. There was just one thing on which Gate City gossips were enabled to dilate that was not entirely satisfactory to Folsom's friends, and that was the new presiding goddess of the establishment.
"What on earth does John Folsom want of a housekeeper?" asked the helpmates of his friends at Fort Emory, and in the bustling, busy town. "Why don't he marry again?" queried those who would gladly have seen some unprovided sister, niece or daughter thus cozily disposed of. It was years since Elinor's mother's death, and yet John Folsom seemed to mourn her as fondly as ever, and except in mid-winter, barely a month went by in which he did not make his pilgrimage to her never-neglected grave. Yet, despite his vigorous years in saddle, sunshine or storm, and his thorough love for outdoor life, Folsom, now well over fifty, could no longer so lightly bear the hard life of the field. He was amazed to see how his sleepless dash to head off Red Cloud, and his days and nights of gallop back, had told upon him. Women at Fort Emory who looked with approving eyes on his ruddy face and trim, erect figure, all so eloquent of health, and who possibly contemplated, too, his solid bank account, and that fast-building house, the finest in Gate City, had been telling him all winter long he ought to have a companion—an elder guide for Miss Elinor on her return; he ought to have some one to preside at his table; and honest John had promptly answered: "Why, Nell will do all that," which necessitated their hinting that although Miss Folsom would be a young lady in years, she was only a child in experience, and would be much the better for some one who could take a mother's place. "No one could do that," said John, with sudden swimming of his eyes, and that put as sudden a stop to their schemings, for the time at least, but only for the time. Taking counsel together, and thinking how lovely it would be now if Mr. Folsom would only see how much there was in this unmarried damsel, or that widowed dame, the coterie at Emory again returned to the subject, until John, in his perplexity, got the idea that propriety demanded that he should have a housekeeper against his daughter's coming, and then he did go and do, in his masculine stupidity, just exactly what they couldn't have had him do for worlds—invite a woman, of whom none of their number had ever heard, to come from Omaha and take the domestic management of his hearth and home. All he knew of her was what he heard there. She was the widow of a volunteer officer who had died of disease contracted during the war. She was childless, almost destitute, accomplished, and so devoted to her church duties. She was interesting and refined, and highly educated. He heard the eulogiums pronounced by the good priest and some of his flock, and Mrs. Fletcher, a substantial person of some forty years at least, was duly installed.
Fort Emory was filled with women folk and consternation—most of the men being afield. The seething question of the hour was whether they should call on her, whether she was to be received at the fort, whether she was to be acknowledged and recognized at all, and then came, mirabile dictu, a great government official from Washington to inspect the Union Pacific and make speeches at various points along the road, and Mrs. Fletcher, mind you, walked to church the very next Sunday on the Honorable Secretary's arm, sat by his side when he drove out to hear the band at Emory, and received with him on the colonel's veranda, and that settled it. Received and acknowledged and visited she had to be. She might well prove a woman worth knowing.
Within a fortnight she had made the new homestead blossom like the rose. Within a month everything was in perfect order for the reception of Elinor and her school friend—a busy, anxious month, in which Folsom was flitting to and fro to Reno and Frayne, as we have seen; to Hal's ranch in the Medicine Bow, to Rawhide and Laramie, and the reservations in Northwestern Nebraska; and it so happened that he was away the night Major Burleigh, on his way to the depot, dropped in to inquire if he could see Mr. Folsom a moment on important business. The servant said he was not in town—had gone, she thought, to Omaha. She would inquire of Mrs. Fletcher, and meantime would the major step inside? Step inside, and stand wonderingly at the threshold of the pretty parlor he did; and then there was a rustle of silken skirts on the floor above, and, as he turned to listen, his haggard, careworn face took on a look something like that which overspread it the night he got the letter at Reno—something that told of bewilderment and perplexity as a quiet, modulated voice told the servant to tell the gentleman Mr. Folsom might not return for several days. Burleigh had no excuse to linger, none to ask to hear that voice again; yet as he slowly descended the steps its accents were still strangely ringing in his ears. Where on earth had he heard that voice before?
The quartermaster's depot at Gate City was little more than a big corral, with a double row of low, wooden sheds for the storing of clothing, camp and garrison equipage. There was a blacksmith and wagon repair shop, and a brick office building. Some cottage quarters for the officer in charge and his clerks, corral master, etc., stood close at hand, while most of the employees lived in town outside the gates. A single-track spur connected the depot with the main line of the Union Pacific only five hundred yards away, and the command at Fort Emory, on the bluff above the rapid stream, furnished, much to its disgust, the necessary guard. A much bigger "plant" was in contemplation near a larger post and town on the east side of the great divide, and neither Fort Emory nor its charge—the quartermaster's depot—was considered worth keeping in repair, except such as could be accomplished "by the labor of troops," which was why, when he wasn't fighting Indians, the frontier soldier of that day was mainly occupied in doing the odd jobs of a day laborer, without the recompense of one, or his privilege of quitting if he didn't like the job. That he should know little of drill and less of parade was, therefore, not to be wondered at.
But what he didn't know about guard duty was hardly worth knowing. He had prisoners and property of every conceivable kind—Indians, horse thieves, thugs and deserters, magazines and medicines, mules and munitions of war. Everything had to be guarded. The fort lay a mile to the west of and two hundred feet higher than the railway hotel in the heart of the town. It looked down upon the self-styled city, and most of its womenkind did the same on the citizens, who were, it must be owned, a rather mixed lot. The sudden discovery of gold in the neighboring foothills, the fact that it promised to be the site of the division car shops and roundhouse, that the trails to the Upper Platte, the Sweetwater, the Park country to the south, and the rich game regions of the Medicine Bow all centered there, and that stages left no less than twice a week for some of those points, and the whole land was alive with explorers for a hundred miles around—all had tended to give Gate City a remarkable boom. Cheyenne and Laramie, thriving frontier towns with coroners' offices in full blast from one week's end to the other, and a double force on duty Sundays, confessed to and exhibited pardonable jealousy. Yet there was wisdom in the warning of an old friend and fellow frontiersman, who said to Folsom, "You are throwing yourself and your money away, John. There's nothing in those gold stones, there's nothing in that yawp about the machine shops; all those yarns were started by U. P. fellows with corner lots to sell. The bottom will drop out of that place inside of a year and leave you stranded."
All the same had Folsom bought big blocks and built his home there. It was the nearest town of promise to Hal Folsom's wild but beautiful home in the hills, and, almost as he loved Nell, his bonny daughter, did the old trader love his stalwart son. Born a wild Westerner, reared among the Sioux with only Indians or army boys for playmates, and precious little choice in point of savagery between them, Hal had grown up a natural horseman with a love for and knowledge of the animal that is accorded to few. His ambition in life was to own a stock farm. All the education he had in the world he owed to the kindness of loving-hearted army women at Laramie, women who befriended him when well-nigh broken-hearted by his mother's death. Early he had pitched his tent on the very spot for a ranchman's homestead, early he had fallen in love with an army girl, who married the strapping frontiersman and was now the proud mistress of the new and promising stock farm nestling in the valley of the Laramie, a devoted wife and mother. The weekly stage to the railway was the event of their placid days except when some of the officers and ladies would come from either of the neighboring posts and spend a week with her and Hal. From being a delicate, consumptive child, Mrs. Hal had developed into a buxom woman with exuberant health and spirits. Life to her might have some little monotony, but few cares; many placid joys, but only one great dread—Indians. John Folsom, her fond father-in-law, was a man all Indians trusted and most of them loved. Hal Folsom, her husband, had many a trusted and devoted friend among the Sioux, but he had also enemies, and Indian enmity, like Indian love, dies hard. As boy he had sometimes triumphed in games and sports over the champions of the villages. As youth he had more than once found favor in the dark eyes that looked coldly on fiercer, fonder claimants, and one girl of the Ogallallas had turned from her kith and kin, spurned more than one red lover to seek the young trader when he left the reservation to build his own nest in the Medicine Bow, and they told a story as pathetic as that of the favorite daughter of old Sintogaliska, chief of the Brule Sioux, who pined and died at Laramie when she heard that the soldier she loved had come back from the far East with a pale-faced bride. There were red men of the Ogallallas to whom the name of Hal Folsom was a taunt and insult to this day, men whom his father had vainly sought to appease, and they were Burning Star, the lover, and two younger braves, the brothers of the girl they swore that Hal had lured away.
South of the Platte, as it rolled past Frayne and Laramie, those Indians were bound by treaty not to go. North of the Platte Hal Folsom was warned never again to venture. These were stories which were well known to the parents of the girl he wooed and won, but which probably were not fully explained to her. Now, even behind the curtain of that sheltering river, with its flanking forts, even behind the barrier of the mountains of the Medicine Bow, she often woke at night and clutched her baby to her breast when the yelping of the coyotes came rising on the wind. There was no woman in Wyoming to whom war with Red Cloud's people bore such dread possibility as to Hal Folsom's wife.
And so when Marshall Dean came riding in one glad June morning, bronzed, and tanned, and buoyant, and tossed his reins to the orderly who trotted at his heels, while the troop dismounted and watered at the stream, Mrs. Folsom's heart was gladdened by his confident and joyous bearing. Twice, thrice he had seen Red Cloud and all his braves, and there was nothing, said he, to worry about. "Ugly, of course they are; got some imaginary grievances and talk big about the warpath. Why, what show would those fellows have with their old squirrel rifles and gas-pipe Springfields against our new breech-loaders? They know it as well as we do. It's all a bluff, Mrs. Folsom. You mark my words," said he, and really the boy believed it. Frequent contact in the field with the red warriors inspires one with little respect for their skill or prowess until that contact becomes hostile, then it's time to keep every sense on guard and leave no point uncovered.
"But what if the Indian Bureau should let them have breech-loaders?" she anxiously asked. "You know that is Red Cloud's demand."
"Oh," said Dean, with confidence born of inexperience in the Bureau ways, "they couldn't be such fools. Besides, if they do," he added hopefully, "you'll see my troop come trotting back full tilt. Now, I'm counting on a good time at Emory, and on bringing your sister and mine up here to see you."
"It will be just lovely," said Mrs. Hal, with a woman's natural but unspoken comparison between the simplicity of her ranch toilet and the probable elegancies of the young ladies' Eastern costumes. "They'll find us very primitive up here in the mountains, I'm afraid; but if they like scenery and horseback riding and fishing there's nothing like it."
"Oh, they're coming sure. Jessie's letters tell me that's one of the big treats Mr. Folsom has promised them. Just think, they should be along this week, and I shall be stationed so near them at Emory—of all places in the world."
"How long is it since you have seen Elinor—'Pappoose,' as your sister calls her," asked Mrs. Hal, following the train of womanly thought then drifting through her head, as she set before her visitor a brimming goblet of buttermilk.
"Two years. She was at the Point a day or two the summer of our graduation," he answered carelessly. "A real little Indian girl she was, too, so dark and shy and silent, yet I heard Professor M——'s daughters and others speak of her later; she pleased them so much, and Jessie thinks there's no girl like her."
"And you haven't seen her since—not even her picture?" asked Mrs. Hal, rising from her easy-chair. "Just let me show you the one she sent Hal last week. I think there's a surprise in store for you, young man," was her mental addition, as she tripped within doors.
The nurse girl, a half-breed, one of the numerous progeny of the French trappers and explorers who had married among the Sioux, was hushing the burly little son and heir to sleep in his Indian cradle, crooning some song about the fireflies and and Heecha, the big-eyed owl, and the mother stooped to press her lips upon the rounded cheek and to flick away a tear-drop, for Hal 2d had roared lustily when ordered to his noonday nap. Away to the northward the heavily wooded heights seemed tipped by fleecy, summer clouds, and off to the northeast Laramie Peak thrust his dense crop of pine and scrub oak above the mass of snowy vapor that floated lazily across that grim-visaged southward scarp. The drowsy hum of insects, the plash of cool, running waters fell softly on the ear. Under the shade of willow and cottonwood cattle and horses were lazily switching at the swarm of gnats and flies or dozing through the heated hours of the day. Out on the level flat beyond the corral the troopers had unsaddled, and the chargers, many of them stopping to roll in equine ecstasy upon the turf, were being driven out in one big herd to graze. Without and within the ranch everything seemed to speak of peace and security. The master rode the range long miles away in search of straying cattle, leaving his loved ones without thought of danger. The solemn treaty that bound the Sioux to keep to the north of the Platte stood sole sentinel over his vine and fig tree. True there had been one or two instances of depredation, but they could be fastened on no particular band, and all the chiefs, even defiant Red Cloud, and insolent, swaggering Little Big Man, denied all knowledge of the perpetrators. Spotted Tail, it was known, would severely punish any of his people who transgressed, but he could do nothing with the Ogallallas. Now they were not two hundred miles away to the north, their ranks swollen by accessions from all the disaffected villages and turbulent young braves of the swarming bands along the Missouri and Yellowstone, and if their demands were resisted by the government, or worse, if they were permitted to have breech-loaders or magazine rifles, then just coming into use, no shadow of doubt remained that war to the knife would follow. Then how long would it be before they came charging down across the Platte, east or west of Frayne, and raiding those new ranches in the Laramie Valley?
Reassuring as he meant his words to be, Marshall Dean himself looked anxiously about at the unprotected walls. Not even the customary "dugout" or underground refuge seemed to have been prepared. Almost every homestead, big or little, of those days, had its tunnel from the cellar to a dugout near at hand, stocked with provisions and water and provided with loopholes commanding the neighborhood, and herein the besieged could take refuge and stand off the Indians until help should come from the nearest frontier fort. "The name of Folsom is our safeguard," said Mrs. Hal, in her happy honeymoon days, but that was before the mother told her of the threats of Burning Star or the story of the Ogallalla girl he vainly loved. "All that happened so long ago," she murmured, when at last the tale was told. But Hal should have known, if she did not, that, even when it seems to sleep, Indian vengeance is but gaining force and fury.
Presently Mrs. Hall came tripping forth again, a little carte de visite in her hand, a smile of no little significance on her lips. "Now, Mr. Dean, will you tell me what you think of that for a pappoose?"
And with wonderment in his eyes the young officer stood and held it and gazed.
There stood Pappoose, to be sure, but what a change! The little maiden with the dark braids of hair hanging far below her waist had developed into a tall, slender girl, with clear-cut, oval face, crowned by a mass of dark tresses. Her heavy, low-arching brows spanned the thoughtful, deep, dark-brown eyes that seemed to speak the soul within, and the beautiful face was lighted up with a smile that showed just a peep of faultless white teeth, gleaming through the warm curves of her soft, sensitive lips. The form was exquisitely rounded, yet supple and erect.
"Hasn't Jessie written you of how Nell has grown and improved?" said Mrs. Hall, with a woman's quick note of the admiration and surprise in Dean's regard.
"She must have," was the answer, "I'm sure she has, but perhaps I thought it schoolgirl rhapsody—perhaps I had too many other things to think of."
"Perhaps you'll find it superseding these too many things, Mr. Soldier Boy," was Mrs. Hal's mental comment. "Now, sir, if you've gazed enough perhaps you'll tell me your plans," and she stretched forth a reclaiming hand.