Part 1 out of 4
COWMEN AND RUSTLERS
A Story of the Wyoming Cattle Ranges
EDWARD S. ELLIS
AUTHOR OF "LOG CABIN SERIES," "BOONE AND KENTON SERIES," ETC.
WITH FOUR FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS BY W.M. CARY
I. A MERRY GROUP
II. A WARNING FROM THE WOODS
III. THE FLIGHT OVER THE ICE
IV. THE REPORT OF GUNS
V. LOOKING SOUTHWARD
VI. COWMEN AND RUSTLERS
VII. THE WARNING
IX. A SUMMONS AND A REPLY
X. A HOT PURSUIT
XI. A STRANGE DIVERSION
XII. THE BACK TRAIL
XIII. A CONSULTATION
XIV. UNWELCOME CALLERS
XV. THE "DOG INDIANS"
XVI. AN UNPLEASANT VISIT
XVII. A DELICATE SITUATION
XVIII. A MISCALCULATION
XIX. THE BURNED RANCH
XX. THE TRUCE
XXI. A MESSENGER IN HASTE
XXII. IMPORTANT TIDINGS
XXIII. AT BAY
XXIV. THE PRIMITIVE FORT
XXV. THE FLAG or TRUCE
XXVI. THE UNDERGROUND MISSIVE
XXVII. ON PAROLE
XXVIII. THE FINAL SUMMONS
XXIX. A STRANGE OCCURRENCE
XXX. THE MISSING ONE
XXXI. WHY IT WAS DONE
XXXII. THE HOSTAGE
XXXIII. THE PRISONER
XXXIV. OUT IN THE NIGHT
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
"FIRED TWO MORE BARRELS"
"COMING STRAIGHT TOWARD HIM"
"A MASS OF BLAZING EMBERS"
"CHALLENGED ON THE EDGE OF THE CAMP"
A MERRY GROUP.
The Whitney household, in the western part of Maine, was filled with
sunshine, merriment and delight, on a certain winter evening a few
There was the quiet, thoughtful mother, now past her prime, but with
many traces of the beauty and refinement that made her the belle
of the little country town until Hugh Whitney, the strong-bearded
soldier, who had entered the war as private and emerged therefrom
with several wounds and with the eagles of a colonel on his shoulder,
carried her away from all admirers and made her his bride.
Hugh had been absent a couple of weeks in Montana and Wyoming, whither
he was drawn by a yearning of many years' standing to engage in the
cattle business. He had received some tuition as a cowboy on the
Llano Estacada, and the taste there acquired of the free, wild life,
supplemented, doubtless, by his experience during the war, was held in
restraint for a time only by his marriage.
The absence of the father was the only element lacking to make the
household one of the happiest in that section of Maine; but the letter
just received from him was so cheerful and affectionate that it added
to the enjoyment of the family.
The two principal factors in this jollity were the twins and only
children, Fred and Jennie, seventeen on their last birthday, each
the picture of health, bounding spirits, love and devotion to
their parents and to one another. They had been the life of the
sleighing-parties and social gatherings, where the beauty of the
budding Jennie attracted as much admiration as did that of her mother
a score of years before, but the girl was too young to care for any
of the ardent swains who were ready to wrangle for the privilege of a
smile or encouraging word. Like a good and true daughter she had no
secrets from her mother, and when that excellent parent said, with a
meaning smile, "Wait a few years, Jennie," the girl willingly promised
to do as she wished in that as in every other respect.
Fred was home for the Christmas holidays, and brought with him
Monteith Sterry, one year his senior. Sterry lived in Boston, where he
and Fred Whitney were classmates and warm friends. Young Whitney had
spent several Sundays with Sterry, and the latter finally accepted the
invitation to visit him at his home down in Maine.
These two young men, materially aided by Jennie, speedily turned the
house topsy-turvy. There was no resisting their overrunning spirits,
though now and then the mother ventured on a mild protest, but the
smile which always accompanied the gentle reproof betrayed the truth,
that she was as happy as they in their merriment, with which she would
not have interfered for the world.
That night the full, round moon shone from an unclouded sky, and the
air was crisp and clear. There was not much snow on the ground, and
the ice on the little river at the rear of the house was as smooth as
a polished window-pane. For nearly two score miles this current,
which eventually found its way into the Penobscot, wound through the
leafless woods, past an occasional opening, where, perhaps, the humble
cabin of some backwoodsman stood.
It was an ideal skating rink, and the particular overflow of spirits
on that evening was due to the agreement that it was to be devoted to
the exhilarating amusement.
"We will leave the house at 8 o'clock," said Fred at the supper table,
"and skate to the mouth of Wild Man's Creek and back."
"How far is that?" inquired Monteith Sterry.
"About ten miles."
Pretty Jennie's face took on a contemptuous expression.
"Not a bit more; we shall be only fairly started when we must turn
"Well, where do you want to go, sister?"
"We shouldn't think of stopping until we reach Wolf Glen."
"And may I inquire the distance to that spot?" asked Sterry again.
"Barely five miles beyond Wild Man's Creek," said she.
Those were not the young men to take a "dare" from a girl like her.
It will be admitted that thirty miles is a pretty good spurt for a
skater, but the conditions could not have been more favourable.
"It's agreed, then," remarked Sterry, "that we will go to Wolf Glen,
and then, and then--"
"And then what?" demanded Jennie, turning toward him.
"Why not keep on to Boston and call on my folks?"
"If you will furnish the ice we will do so."
"I couldn't guarantee ice all the way, but we can travel by other
means between the points, using our skates as the chance offers."
"Or do as that explorer who is to set out in search of the north
pole--have a combination skate and boat, so when fairly going we can
keep straight on."
"I will consent to that arrangement on one condition," interposed the
mother, so seriously that all eyes were turned wonderingly upon her.
"What is that?"
"That you return before the morrow."
The countenances became grave, and turning to Sterry, on her right,
Jennie asked, in a low voice:
"Is it safe to promise that?"
"Hardly. Let us leave the scheme until we have time in which fully to
"You will start, as I understand, at eight," remarked the mother,
speaking now in earnest. "You can readily reach Wolf Glen within a
couple of hours. There you will rest a while and return as you choose.
So I will expect you at midnight."
"Unless something happens to prevent."
The words of Monteith Sterry were uttered jestingly, but they caused a
pang to the affectionate parent as she asked:
"What could happen, Monteith?"
Fred took it upon himself to reply promptly:
"Nothing at all."
"Is the ice firm and strong?"
"It will bear a locomotive; I never saw it finer; the winter has not
been so severe as some we have known, but it has got there all the
same; Maine can furnish the Union with all the ice she will want next
"There may be air-holes."
"None that we cannot see; they are few and do not amount to anything."
Here Sterry spoke with mock gravity.
"The name, Wolf Glen, is ominous."
"We have wolves and bears and other big game in this part of the
State, but not nearly as many as formerly. It hardly pays to hunt
"I hope we shall meet a few bears or wolves," said Jennie, with her
"And why?" demanded the shocked mother.
"I would like a race with them; wouldn't it be fun!"
"Yes," replied Sterry, "provided we could outskate them."
"I never knew that wild animals skate."
"They can travel fast when they take it into their heads to turn
hunter. I suppose many of the bears are hibernating, but the
wolves--if there are any waiting for us--will be wide awake and may
give us the roughest kind of sport."
Fred Whitney knew his mother better than did his friend and understood
the expression on her face. So did Jennie, and the couple had such
sport of their Boston visitor that the cloud quickly vanished and
Monteith felt a trifle humiliated at his exhibition of what might
be considered timidity. Nevertheless he quietly slipped his loaded
revolver in the outer pocket of his heavy coat just before starting
and when no one was watching him.
Precisely at eight o'clock the three friends, warmly and conveniently
clad, with their keen-edged skates securely fastened, glided
gracefully up-stream, the mother standing on the porch of her home and
watching the figures as they vanished in the moonlight.
She was smiling, but in her heart was a misgiving such as she had not
felt before, when her children were starting off for an evening's
enjoyment. The minute they were beyond sight she sighed, and,
turning about, resumed her seat by the table in the centre of the
sitting-room, where, as the lamplight fell upon her pale face, she
strove to drive away the disquieting thoughts that would not leave
It was a pleasing sight as the three young people, the picture of
life, health and joyous spirits, side by side, laughing, jesting, and
with never a thought of danger, moved out to the middle of the river
and then sped toward its source, with the easy, beautiful movement
which in the accomplished skater is the ideal of grace. The motion
seemingly was attended with no effort, and could be maintained for
hours with little fatigue.
The small river, to which allusion has been made, was one hundred
yards in width at the point where they passed out upon its surface.
This width naturally decreased as they ascended, but the decrease was
so gradual that at Wolf Glen, fifteen miles away, the breadth
was fully three-fourths of the width opposite the Whitney home.
Occasionally, too, the channel widened to double or triple its usual
extent, but those places were few in number, and did not continue
long. They marked a shallowing of the current and suggested in
appearance a lake.
There were other spots where this tributary itself received others.
Sometimes the open space would show on the right, and further on
another on the left indicated where a creek debouched into the stream,
in its search for the ocean, the great depository of most of the
rivers of the globe.
The trees, denuded of vegetation, projected their bare limbs into the
crystalline air, and here and there, where they leaned over the banks,
were thrown in relief against the moonlit sky beyond. The moon itself
was nearly in the zenith, and the reflected gleam from the glassy
surface made the light almost like that of day. Along the shore,
however, the shadows were so gloomy and threatening that Monteith
Sterry more than once gave a slight shudder and reached his mittened
hand down to his side to make sure his weapon was in place.
The course was sinuous from the beginning, winding in and out so
continuously that the length of the stream must have been double that
of the straight line extending over the same course. Some of these
turnings were abrupt, and there were long, sweeping curves with a view
extending several hundred yards.
They were spinning around one of these, when Sterry uttered an
"Why?" inquired Jennie, at his elbow.
"I had just wrought myself up to the fancy that we were pioneers, the
first people of our race to enter this primeval wilderness, when lo!"
He extended his arm up-stream and to the right, where a star-like
twinkle showed that a dwelling stood, or some parties had kindled a
"Quance, an old fisherman and hunter, lives, there," explained Fred,
"as I believe he has done for fifty years."
"Would you like to make a call on him?" asked Jennie.
"I have no desire to do so; I enjoy this sport better than to sit by
the fire and listen to the most entertaining hunter. Isn't that he?"
The cabin was several rods from the shore, the space in front being
clear of trees and affording an unobstructed view of the little log
structure, with its single door and window in front, and the stone
chimney from which the smoke was ascending. Half-way between the cabin
and the stream, and in the path connecting the two, stood a man with
folded arms looking at them. He was so motionless that he suggested a
stump, but the bright moonlight left no doubt of his identity.
"Holloa, Quance!" shouted Fred, slightly slackening his speed and
curving in toward shore.
The old man made no reply. Then Jennie's musical voice rang out on the
frosty air, but still the hunter gave no sign that he knew he had been
addressed. He did not move an arm nor stir.
"I wonder whether he hasn't frozen stiff in that position," remarked
Sterry. "He may have been caught in the first snap several weeks ago
and has been acting ever since as his own monument."
At the moment of shooting out of sight around the curve the three
glanced back. The old fellow was there, just as they saw him at first.
They even fancied he had not so much as turned his head while they
were passing, but was still gazing at the bank opposite him, or, what
was more likely, peering sideways without shifting his head to any
The occurrence, however, was too slight to cause a second thought.
They were now fairly under way, as may be said, being more than a mile
from their starting-point. They were proceeding swiftly but easily,
ready to decrease or increase their speed at a moment's notice.
Sometimes they were nigh enough to touch each other's hands, and again
they separated, one going far to the right, the other to the left,
while the third kept near the middle of the stream. Then two would
swerve toward shore, or perhaps it was all three, and again it was
Jennie who kept the farthest from land, or perhaps a fancy led her to
skim so close that some of the overhanging limbs brushed her face.
"Look out; there's an air-hole!" called the brother, at the moment the
three reunited after one of these excursions.
"What of it!" was her demand, and instead of shooting to the right or
left, she kept straight on toward the open space.
"Don't try to jump it!" cautioned Sterry, suspecting her purpose;
"it's too wide."
"No doubt it is for you."
The daring words were on her lips, when she rose slightly in the air
and skimmed as gracefully as a bird across the space of clear water.
She came down seemingly without jar, with the bright blades of steel
ringing over the crystal surface, and without having fallen a foot to
the rear of her companions.
"That was foolish," said her brother, reprovingly; "suppose the ice
had given away when you struck it again?"
"What's the use of supposing what could not take place?"
"The air-hole might have been wider than you suppose."
"How could that be when it was in plain sight? If it had been wider,
why I would have jumped further, or turned aside like my two gallant
escorts. Stick to me and I'll take care of you."
There was no dashing the spirits of the girl, and Sterry broke into
laughter, wondering how it would be with her if actual danger did
Occasionally the happy ones indulged in snatches of song and fancy
skating, gliding around each other in bewildering and graceful curves.
The three were experts, as are nearly all people in that section of
the Union. Any one watching their exhibitions of skill and knowing the
anxiety of the mother at home would have wondered why she should feel
any misgiving concerning them.
True, there were wild animals in the forests, and at this season
of the year, when pressed by hunger, they would attack persons if
opportunity presented; but could the fleetest outspeed any one of
those three, if he or she chose to put forth the utmost strength and
It was Jennie who uttered the exclamation, and there was good cause
for it. She was slightly in advance, and was rounding another of the
turns of the stream, when she caught sight of a huge black bear, who,
instead of staying in some hollow tree or cave, sucking his paw the
winter through, was lumbering over the ice in the same direction with
He was near the middle of the frozen current, so that it was prudent
for them to turn to the right or left, and was proceeding at an easy
pace, as if he was out for a midnight stroll, while he thought over
matters. Though one of the stupidest of animals, he was quick to hear
the noise behind him and looked back to learn what it meant.
A WARNING FROM THE WOODS.
Monteith Sterry began drawing the mitten from his right hand with the
intention of using his revolver on the bear, when he checked himself
with the thought:
"Better to wait until I need it; the most of this excursion is still
The lumbering brute came to a stop, with his huge head turned, and
surveyed the approaching skaters. Had they attempted to flee, or had
they come to a halt, probably he would have started after them. As it
was he swung half-way round, so that his side was exposed. He offered
a fine target for Sterry's weapon, but the young man still refrained
from using it.
"It isn't well to go too near him," remarked Fred Whitney, seizing the
arm of his sister and drawing her toward the shore on the left.
"I don't mean to," replied the bright-witted girl, "but if we turn
away from him too soon he will be able to head us off; he mustn't
suspect what we intend to do."
"There's sense in that," remarked Sterry, "but don't wait too long."
The three were skating close together, with their eyes on the big
creature, who was watching them sharply.
"Now!" called Fred, in a low, quick voice.
He had not loosened his grip of his sister's arm, so that when he made
the turn she was forced to follow him. The moment was well chosen, and
the three swung to one side as if all were controlled by the single
Bruin must have been astonished; for, while waiting for his supper
to drop into his arms, he saw it leaving him. With an angry growl he
began moving toward the laughing party.
The tinge of anxiety which Fred Whitney felt lasted but a moment. He
saw that they could skate faster than the bear could travel; and, had
it been otherwise, no cause for fear would have existed, for, with the
power to turn like a flash, it would have been the easiest thing in
the world to elude the efforts of the animal to seize them.
They expected pursuit, and it looked for a minute as if they were
not to be disappointed. The animal headed in their direction with
no inconsiderable speed, but, with more intelligence than his kind
generally display, he abruptly stopped, turned aside, and disappeared
in the wood before it could be said the race had really begun.
Jennie was the most disappointed of the three, for she had counted
upon an adventure worth the telling, and here it was nipped in the
bud. She expressed her regret.
"There's no helping it," said Monteith, "for I can think of no
inducement that will bring him back; but we have a good many miles
before us, and it isn't likely that he's the only bear in this part of
"There's some consolation in that," she replied, leading the way back
toward the middle of the course; "if we see another, don't be so
abrupt with him."
The stream now broadened to nearly three times its ordinary extent,
so that it looked as if they were gliding over the bosom of some lake
lagoon instead of a small river. At the widest portion, and from the
furthest point on the right, twinkled a second light, so far back
among the trees that the structure from whence it came was out of
sight. They gave it little attention and kept on.
Sterry took out his watch. The moonlight was so strong that he saw the
figures plainly. It lacked a few minutes of nine.
"And yonder is the mouth of Wild Man's Creek," said Fred; "we have
made pretty good speed."
"Nothing to boast of," replied Jennie; "if it were not for fear of
distressing mother, I would insist that we go ten or fifteen miles
further before turning back."
Since plenty of time was at command, they continued their easy pace,
passing over several long and comparatively straight stretches of
frozen water, around sharp bends, beyond another expansion of the
stream, in front of a couple of natural openings, and finally, while
it lacked considerable of ten o'clock, they rounded to in front of
a mass of gray towering rocks on the right bank of the stream, and,
skating close into shore, sat down on a bowlder which obtruded several
feet above the ice.
They were at the extremity of their excursion. These collective rocks
bore the name of Wolf Glen, the legend being that at some time in the
past a horde of wolves made their headquarters there, and, when the
winters were unusually severe, held the surrounding country in
what might be called a reign of terror. They had not yet wholly
disappeared, but little fear of them was felt.
The friends could not be called tired, though, after skating fifteen
miles, the rest on the stone was grateful.
They sat for half an hour chatting, laughing, and as merry as when
they started from home. The sky was still unclouded, but the moon had
passed beyond the zenith. A wall of shadow was thrown out from one of
the banks, except for occasional short distances, where the course of
the stream was directly toward or from the orb.
When Sterry again glanced at his watch it was a few minutes past ten.
They had rested longer than any one suspected.
"Mother won't look for us before midnight," remarked Fred, "and we can
easily make it in that time."
"She was so anxious," said the sister, who, despite her
light-heartedness, was more thoughtful than her brother, "that I would
like to please her by getting back sooner than she expects."
"We have only to keep up this pace to do it," said Monteith, "for we
have been resting fully a half hour--"
He paused abruptly. From some point in the wintry wilderness came a
dismal, resounding wail, apparently a mile distant.
"What is that?" asked Monteith, less accustomed to the Maine woods
than his companions.
"It is the cry of a wolf," replied Fred; "I have heard it many times
when hunting alone or with father."
"It isn't the most cheerful voice of the night," commented the young
Bostonian, who, as yet never dreamed of connecting it with any peril
to themselves. And then he sang:
Yes, the war whoop of the Indian may produce a pleasant thrill
When mellowed by the distance that one feels increasing still;
And the shrilling of the whistle from the engine's brazen snout
May have minor tones of music, though I never found it out.
The verse was hardly finished when the howl was repeated.
"It is hard to tell from what point it comes," observed Fred, "but I
think it is on the right shore as we go back."
"Do you imagine it is far from the river?" inquired Monteith.
"I think not, but I may be mistaken."
"I am quite sure Fred is right," said his sister; "and, more than
that, that particular wolf isn't a great way off. I wonder whether he
has scented our trail?"
Before any comment could be made upon this remark, a second, third,
fourth, and fully a half-dozen additional howls rang through the
forest arches. They came from the left shore, and apparently were
about as far off as the cry first heard.
"They are answers," said Fred, in a low voice, in which his companions
detected a slight tremor.
It was at this moment that the first fear thrilled all three. The
cries might mean nothing, but more likely they meant a good deal. The
wolf is one of the fiercest of American wild animals when suffering
from hunger, though a coward at other times, and a horde of them are
capable of attacking the most formidable denizens of the woods.
The fact that they were between the skaters and home, and at no great
distance from the course they must follow to reach there, was cause
for fear. It was almost certain that in some way the keen-scented
creatures had learned there was game afoot that night for them, and
they were signalling to each other to gather for the feast.
Fred and Monteith were not specially frightened on their own account,
for, if the worst should come, they could take to the trees and wait
for help. They might make a sturdy fight, and perhaps, with anything
like a show, could get away from them without taking to such a refuge.
But it was the presence of Jennie that caused the most misgiving.
True, she was as swift and skilful a skater as either, but that of
itself was not likely to save her.
But she was the coolest of all, now that the danger assumed a reality.
The lightness and gayety that had marked the three from the moment
of leaving home had gone. They were thoughtful, the very opposite in
their mood to that of a few minutes before.
"I wish I had brought my pistol," said Fred.
"I have mine," observed Monteith; "a good Smith & Wesson, and each of
the five chambers is loaded."
"Thank fortune for that; have you any extra cartridges?"
"Your pistol may be the means of saving us."
"Why do you speak that way?" asked Jennie; "I never knew you were
scared so easily."
"I am sorry you are with us, sister; my alarm is on your account."
"I do not see why I am not as safe as either of you; neither can skate
faster than I."
"If we are to escape by that means, your chances are as good as ours;
but those creatures have a fearful advantage over us, because we must
run the gauntlet."
"We are not so certain of that; if we hasten, we may pass the
danger-point before they discover us."
For the first time since leaving home the three did their best.
Separated from each other by just enough space to give play to
the limbs, they sped down the icy river with the fleetness of the
hurricane, their movements almost the perfect counterpart of each
First on the right foot, they shot well toward the shore on that side,
then bending gracefully to the left, the weight was thrown on that
limb, the impetus being imparted to the body without any apparent
effort, after the manner of a master of the skater's art. These,
sweeping forward, were many rods in length, the polished steel
frequently giving out a metallic ring as it struck the flinty ice. Now
and then, too, a resounding creak sped past, and might have alarmed
them had they not understood its nature. It indicated no weakness of
the frozen surface, but was caused by the settling of the crystal
floor as the water flowed beneath.
For a few minutes these were the only noises that broke the impressive
stillness. The three had begun to hope that the ominous sounds would
be heard no more, and that the wolves were too far from the river to
discover them until beyond reach.
If they could once place themselves below the animals they need not
fear, for they could readily distance them. Should the speed of the
pursuers become dangerous, a sharp turn or change in the course would
throw them off and give the fugitives an advantage that would last for
a long time. But they dreaded the appearance of a whole pack of the
brutes in front, thus shutting off their line of flight homeward.
True, in that case they could turn about and flee up stream, but the
risk of encountering others attracted by the cries would be great, and
perhaps leave their only recourse to a flight into the woods.
The thoughts of each turned to the nearest hunter's cabin, although it
was several miles distant, and probably beyond reach.
It was strange that, having emitted so many signals, the wolves should
become suddenly quiescent.
No one spoke, but as they glided swiftly forward they peered along the
gleaming surface in search of that which they dreaded to see.
They approached one of those long, sweeping bends to which allusion
has been made. Jennie had already proven that neither of her
companions could outspeed her. They were doing their utmost, but she
easily held her own with less effort than they showed.
In truth, she was slightly in advance as they began following the
curve of the river, her head, like each of the others, bent forward,
to see whither they were going.
"They are there!"
It was she who uttered the exclamation which sent a thrill through
both. They asked for no explanation, for none was needed, and an
instant later they were at her side, she slightly slackening her pace.
The sight, while alarming, was not all that Fred and Monteith
Three or four gaunt animals were trotting along the ice near the left
shore, but no others were visible.
"Keep in the middle while I take a turn that way," said Monteith,
sheering in the direction named.
Brother and sister did not read the meaning of this course, nor could
they detect its wisdom. But they obeyed without question.
Young Sterry hoped by making what might look like an attack upon the
famishing beasts to scare them off for a few minutes, during which the
three, and especially Jennie, could reach a point below them. With the
brutes thus thrown in the rear, it might be said the danger would be
Now, as every one knows, the wolf is a sneak, and generally will run
from a child if it presents a bold front; but the animal becomes very
dangerous when pressed by hunger.
Monteith Sterry's reception was altogether different from what he
anticipated. When the half-dozen wolves saw him speeding toward them
they stopped their trotting, and, like the bear, looked around, as not
understanding what it meant.
"Confound them! Why don't they take to the woods?" he muttered. He had
removed the mitten from his right hand, which grasped his revolver.
"This isn't according to Hoyle."
He shied a little to the right, with a view of preventing a collision
with the creatures, and the moment he was close enough, let fly with
one chamber at the nearest.
Accidentally he nipped the wolf, which emitted a yelping bark, leaped
several feet in the air, then limped into the woods, as he had learned
enough of the interesting stranger.
That was just what the youth had hoped to do, and the success of his
scheme would have been perfect had the others imitated their wounded
companion, but they did not.
Without paying any attention to Sterry they broke into a gallop toward
the middle of the river, their course such as to place them either in
advance of Fred and Jennie Whitney or to bring all together.
Greatly alarmed for his friends, Monteith did an unnecessary thing
by shouting (for the couple could not fail to see their danger), and
fired two more barrels of his pistol. Neither shot took effect, nor
did the wolves give them any heed, but they and the skaters converged
with perilous swiftness.
Forgetful of his own danger, Monteith shouted again:
"Look out! Why don't you change your course?"
Neither replied, but it was absurd for the panic-stricken youth to
suppose they did not understand the situation and were shaping their
Having observed the wolves as soon as Sterry, they never lost sight
of them for a second. Every action was watched, and the curious
proceeding noted the instant made.
Fred and Jennie continued gliding straight forward, as if they saw
them not, and a collision appeared inevitable. At the moment when
Monteith's heart stood still, the couple turned almost at right angles
to the left--that is, in exactly the opposite direction from the
course of the wolves--and in a second they were fifty feet nearer that
shore than the brutes. Then followed another quick turn, and they were
gliding with arrowy speed straight down stream. They had simply passed
around the animals, who, detecting the trick, made their limbs rigid
and slid over the ice, with their claws scratching it, until able to
check their speed to allow them to turn and resume the pursuit.
Sterry was on the point of uttering a shout of exultation and
admiration at the clever manoeuvre, when Jennie cried out; and well
might she do so, for fifty yards beyond, and directly in their path,
the ice seemed suddenly to have become alive with the frightful
creatures, who streamed from the woods on both sides, ravenous, fierce
and unrestrainable in their eagerness to share in the expected feast.
THE FLIGHT OVER THE ICE.
The same minute that Monteith Sterry saw the new peril which
threatened them all he darted out beside the brother and sister, who
had slackened their pace at sight of the wolves in front.
"What shall we do?" asked Fred; "we cannot push on; let's go up
"You cannot do that," replied Jennie, "for they are gathering behind
A glance in that direction showed that she spoke the truth. It looked
as if a few minutes would bring as many there as in advance.
"We shall have to take to the woods," said Fred, "and there's little
"It won't do," added the sister, who seemed to be thinking faster than
either of her companions. "The instant we start for the shore they
will be at our heels. Make as if we were going to run in close to the
right bank, so as to draw them after us; then turn and dash through
The manoeuvre was a repetition of the one she and her brother had
executed a few minutes before, and was their only hope.
"I will take the lead with my pistol," said Monteith, "while you keep
as close to me as you can."
Every second was beyond value. The wolves were not the creatures to
remain idle while a conference was under way. At sight of the three
figures near the middle of the course they rent the air with howls,
and came trotting toward them with that light, springy movement shown
by a gaunt hound, to whom the gait is as easy as a walk.
Monteith Sterry shot forward on his right foot, his revolver, with its
two precious charges, tightly gripped in his naked hand.
This was to be called into play only in the last extremity. The
killing of a couple of wolves from such a horde could produce no
effect upon the rest, unless perhaps to furnish some of them a lunch,
for one of the curious traits of the _lupus_ species is that they are
cannibals, so to speak.
His hope was that the flash and report of the weapon would frighten
the animals into opening a path for a moment, through which the
skaters could dart into the clear space below.
Having started, Monteith did not glance behind him. Fred and his
sister must look out for themselves. He had his hands more than full.
With a swift, sweeping curve he shot toward the bank, the brutes
immediately converging to head him off. The slight, familiar scraping
on the ice told him that Fred and Jennie were at his heels. He kept on
with slackening speed until close to the shore, and it would not do to
go any further. An overhanging limb brushed his face.
But his eye was on the wolves further out in the stream. The place was
one of the few ones where the course was such that no shadow was along
either bank. The moment most of the creatures were drawn well over
toward the right shore, Sterry did as his friends did awhile before,
skimming abruptly to the left and almost back over his own trail, and
then darting around the pack. The line was that of a semicircle, whose
extreme rim on the left was several rods beyond the last of the wolves
swarming to the right.
"Now!" called Sterry at the moment of turning with all the speed at
Critical as was the moment, he flung one glance behind him. Fred and
Jennie were almost nigh enough to touch him with outstretched hand. No
need of shouting any commands to them, for they understood what he was
doing, or rather trying to do.
Young Sterry, as I have said, had cleared the horde of wolves, making
the turn so quickly that they slid a rod or more over the ice before
able to check themselves and change their own course.
The stratagem seemed as successful as the other, but it was too soon
to congratulate themselves. At the moment when everything promised
well, the most enormous wolf he had ever seen bounded from under the
trees on the left bank and galloped directly for him.
He was so far in advance that the only way of dodging him was by
another sharp turn in his course. To do this, however, would bring him
so near the other brutes that they were almost certain to leap upon
every one of the party.
"Use your revolver!" called Fred from the rear.
Monteith had already decided that this was an exigency demanding one
of the remaining charges, and he partly raised the weapon in front of
Meanwhile, the huge wolf had stopped on seeing that the procession was
coming in a straight line for him. The youth moderated his speed still
more, that he might perfect his aim.
He was in the act of levelling his pistol, when the animal advanced
quickly a couple of steps and made a tremendous leap at his throat.
The act was unexpected, but at the instant of his leaving the ice
Monteith let fly with one chamber at him.
The success was better than he had a right to expect, for the leaden
pellet bored its way through the skull of the wolf, who, with a
rasping yelp, made a sidelong plunge, as if diving off a bank into the
water, and, striking on the side of his head, rolled over on his back,
with his legs vaguely kicking at the moon, and as powerless to do harm
as a log of wood.
Brief as was the halt, it had given the leading brutes of the main
body time to come up. They were fearfully near, when the scent of
blood and the sight of their fallen comrade suggested to the foremost
that a meal was at their disposal. They flew at the huge fellow and
rended him to shreds and fragments in a twinkling.
The only way of escape was still in front, and, with the utmost
energy, power, and skill at his command, Monteith Sterry darted ahead.
His crouching body, the head well in advance, somewhat after the
manner of a racing bicyclist on the home-stretch, his compressed lips,
his flashing eyes, with every muscle tense, were proof that he knew it
had now become a struggle of life and death.
If he allowed one of those wolves to approach nigh enough to leap upon
him, he would be borne to the earth like a flash and share the fate
of the victim of his pistol. They were near, for he could hear that
multitudinous pattering on the ice, when the din of their cries
permitted it, and they were running fast.
But, he reasoned, if they were so close to him they must be still
closer to the brother and sister, whose peril, therefore, was
correspondingly greater. He looked around. He was farther from the
horde than he supposed, but Fred and Jennie were not directly behind
him, as he had thought.
At the moment an awful thrill shot through him; he caught a glimpse
of Fred close in shore and going like the wind. The couple were still
preserved from the fangs of the wolves, but only heaven knew how long
it would last.
A short distance ahead an opening showed where a creek put in from the
woods and hills. Monteith gave it only a glance when he skimmed past
at the same furious pace as before. It looked as if there was hope at
last, for the brutes first seen were all at the rear. If new danger
came, it would be from others that ran out on the ice in front.
"It seems to me that all the wolves in Maine are on this little
river," was his thought, "but there may be a few left that will try to
get into our path."
A wild cry came from his friends and he glanced toward them. Not only
that, but believing his help was needed, he sheered over to them as
quickly as he could.
The course of the river had changed, so that a ribbon of shadow
extended along that bank, partially obscuring the form of Fred
Whitney, who seemed to cling to it as if therein lay his safety.
The brutes were now so far to the rear that there was little to be
feared from them, though they still kept up the pursuit, and while
able to follow in a straight line were doing so with more speed than
would be expected.
It struck Sterry that his friend was not skating with his utmost
skill. He was alarmed.
"What's the matter, Fred?" he called, drawing quickly near him.
"O, Jennie! Jennie! What will become of her?"
Fred Whitney, it was now apparent, was alone.
Forgetful of the savage brutes, Monteith Sterry slackened his pace,
and in a scared voice demanded:
"What has become of her? Where is she?"
"She darted into the mouth of that creek."
"Why didn't you follow?"
"I could not; it was done in a flash; she called to me to keep on and
said something else which I could not catch."
"But," continued the wondering Monteith, "how could she do it when she
was at your side?"
"She fell a little to the rear and made a lightning turn. I attempted
to follow, but it seemed half the pack were in my path, and it was
certain death. I was frantic for the moment, and even now do not
understand what it all meant."
"What a woeful mistake!" wailed Monteith; "the chances are a thousand
to one that she is lost."
"I think," said the brother, half beside himself, "that it may have
been a good thing, but--"
A peculiar cry behind them caused Monteith to turn his head. The
wolves had gained so fast during the last few minutes that one of them
was in the act of springing on Fred Whitney.
"Stoop, quick!" shouted his companion.
Fred bent low in the nick of time, and the gaunt, lank body shot over
his head, landing on the ice in front. Before he could gather himself
a bullet from the revolver was driven into his vitals and he rolled
over and over, snapping and yelping in his death-throes.
The skaters swerved aside enough to avoid him, and the next instant
were skimming over the ice at their utmost speed.
It was not a moment too soon, for the halt was well-nigh fatal; but
they could travel faster than the animals, and steadily drew away from
them until, ere long, they were safe, so far as those creatures were
concerned. They continued the pursuit, however, being a number of rods
to the rear and in plain sight of the fugitives, who looked back,
while speeding forward with undiminished swiftness.
But the couple could not continue their flight, knowing nothing of the
missing one. The wolves were between them and her, and Monteith Sterry
had fired the last shot in his revolver.
"How far back does that tributary reach?" he asked.
"I never learned, but probably a good way."
"Its breadth is not half of this."
"No; nothing like it."
"What has become of her?"
"Alas! alas! What shall I answer?"
"But, Fred, she is not without hope; she can skate faster than either
of us, and I am sure none of them was in front of her on the creek or
she would not have made the turn she did."
"If the creek extends for several miles, that is with enough width to
give her room, she will outspeed them; but how is she to get back?"
"What need that she should? When they are thrown behind she can take
off her skates and continue homeward through the woods, or she may
find her way back to the river and rejoin us."
"God grant that you are right; but some of the wolves may appear in
front of her, and then--"
"Don't speak of it! We would have heard their cries if any of them had
No situation could be more trying than that of the two youths, who
felt that every rod toward home took them that distance farther from
the beloved one whose fate was involved in awful uncertainty.
"This won't do," added Monteith, after they had skated some distance
farther; "we are now so far from the animals that they cannot trouble
us again; we are deserting her in the most cowardly manner."
"But what shall we do? What _can_ we do?"
"You know something of this part of the country; let's take off our
skates and cut across the creek; she may have taken refuge in the limb
of a tree and is awaiting us."
"Isn't some one coming up stream?" asked Fred, peering forward, where
the straight stretch was so extensive that the vision permitted them
to see unusually far.
"It may be another wolf."
"No; it is a person. Perhaps Quance has been drawn from his home by
the racket. He is a great hunter. I hope it is he, for he can give us
help in hunting for Jennie--"
Monteith suddenly gripped the arm of his friend.
"It is not a man! It is a woman!"
"Who can it be? Not Jennie, surely--"
"Hurry along! You are no skaters at all!"
It was she! That was her voice, and it was her slight, girlish figure
skimming like a swallow toward them.
Within the following minute Fred Whitney clasped his beloved sister in
his arms, both shedding tears of joy and gratitude.
Jennie had had a marvellous experience, indeed. Controlled by an
intuition or instinct which often surpasses reason, she was led to
dart aside into the smaller stream at the critical moment when the
fierce wolves were so near that escape seemed impossible. She had
fallen slightly to the rear, and a single terrified glance showed her
a beast in the act of leaping at her. Her dart to the left was only
the effort to elude him for that instant, and she was not aware of the
mouth of the creek until she had entered it. Then, seeing that it was
altogether too late to rejoin her brother, she had no course left but
to continue the flight which, until then, she had not intended.
The words which she called to Fred, that were not understood by him,
were to the effect that she would try to rejoin him farther down the
stream, with whose many turnings she was more familiar than he.
She ascended the tributary with all the wonderful skill at her
command. Not only the brute that was on the point of leaping at her,
but three others, turned as soon as they could poise themselves and
went after her at their utmost bent.
But her change of direction was a most fortunate action. As in the
case of the abrupt darting aside, when on the surface of the larger
stream, it placed her considerably in advance of the nearest pursuers.
Add to this her power of outspeeding them when the chance was equal,
and it will be seen that her only danger was from the front.
The creek was so narrow that if any of the wolves appeared before
her she would be lost, for there was not room to manoeuvre as on the
But she met none. The first signals had drawn them to the river, and
if there were any near, they and she were mutually unaware of it.
As her brother had said, she was more acquainted with this section
than he. She knew at what points the river and its tributary curved so
as to bring them near each other. Reaching that place, she buried the
heels of her skate-runners in the ice, sending the particles about
her in a misty shower, and quickly came to a halt. Then, standing
motionless, she listened.
In the distance sounded the howling of the animals so repeatedly
disappointed of their prey, but none was nigh enough to cause her
"I hope no harm has come to Fred or Monteith," she murmured. "Both can
skate fast enough to leave the wolves behind; they would have done so
at once if they had not been bothered by having me with them. Now they
ought to be able to take care of themselves."
She sat down on the bank and removed her skates. The slight layer of
snow on the leaves caused no inconvenience, for she was well shod, and
the walk was not far. Her fear was that some of the wolves might sneak
up unseen. Often she stopped and listened, but when half the distance
was passed, without any alarm from that source, she believed nothing
was to be feared. A little farther and she reached the main stream,
the distance passed being so much less than was necessary for her
escorts that she knew that she was in advance of them, even if they
had continued their flight without interruption.
Her club skates were securely refastened, and then she listened again.
The cries of the brutes were few and distant and could not cause
Hark! A familiar sound reached her. She recognized it as made by
skates gliding over the ice. Rising to her feet, she remarked, with a
"I think I will give them a surprise." And she did. The meeting was a
happy one, and before the stroke of midnight all three were at home,
where they found the mother anxiously awaiting their return and
greatly relieved to learn that despite their stirring experience no
harm had befallen any member of the little party.
THE REPORT OF GUNS.
And now comes a change of scene and incident.
Hugh Whitney returned to his Maine home a few weeks after the stirring
adventures of his children and Monteith Sterry with the wolves. He
was so pleased with the western country that he made his decision to
remove thither. He met with no difficulty in selling at a fair price
his little property in the Pine-Tree State, and with a portion of the
proceeds he bought a ranch near the headwaters of Powder River, to
which place he removed, with his family, in the spring of 1890,
directly after the incidents related in the preceding chapters.
One of the pleasures of this radical change of residence and
occupation was that it was pleasing to his son Fred and his twin
sister Jennie, now about nineteen years of age.
Whether the wife shared in the desire to make her home in that new
country, or whether she expressed the wish to do so because she saw it
would gratify her husband, cannot be said with certainty. There was no
doubt, however, about the eagerness with which the brother and sister
took part in the removal.
Young, ardent, and of sturdy frame, with all the natural yearning of
imaginative youth for adventure, the prospect was an inviting one to
them. Their father's glowing accounts of the magnificent scenery, its
vast resources and limitless possibilities, caused a yearning on their
part probably deeper than his own.
It is rare that such expectations are fully realized in this life. It
cannot be said that those of the brother and sister found more than
a partial fulfilment, but, though the fateful day came when they
regretted the change beyond the power of language to express, yet it
was many months before it dawned upon them.
Hugh Whitney's herd of cattle numbered several thousand, and, on the
day when we take up the eventful history of the family, they were
grazing on the open ranges along the spurs of the Big Horn Mountains.
The two cowmen engaged by Whitney to assist him in the duty of looking
after his property were Budd Hankinson and Grizzly Weber. They were
veterans in the business, brave and true and tried. Under their
tuition, and that of his father, Fred Whitney became a skilful
horseman and rancher. He learned to lasso and bring down an obdurate
steer, to give valuable help in the round-ups, to assist in branding
the registered trademark of his father on the haunches of his animals.
This brand consisted of a cross, with two stars above, one below, the
initial letter of his given name on the left, and that of his surname
on the right. When this was burned into the flesh of the yearlings,
it identified his property, no matter where wandering, and the honest
rancher would no more disturb it than he would enter another's home
and rob him of his clothing.
The first year was an enjoyable one to Jennie. Her father presented
her with an excellent animal, of which she became very fond. A good
horsewoman when in Maine, in Wyoming she acquired a skill which
compelled the admiration of the cowmen themselves.
"She's struck her callin'," remarked Budd Hankinson one day, while
watching her speeding like a courser across the open country.
"What is that?" asked the father, who was proud of his children, and
especially of the pretty daughter.
"Why, riding hosses like a streak of lightnin'," was the somewhat
"What particular profession can she fill by dashing over the country
in that style?" continued the parent with a smile.
"Why, showing other persons how it is done. I've no doubt, colonel,
that she could make good wages in breaking broncos and teaching young
women like her how to ride in the right style; I advise you to think
"I will do so," replied the parent, with so much gravity that the
cowman never suspected his sincerity, but felt the satisfaction of
believing he had given his employer a valuable "pointer."
Another pleasure which followed the removal of the Whitneys to Wyoming
was that their friend Monteith Sterry followed them within a few
months. He had shown some signs of running down in health while
attending the high school in Boston, despite the fact that he was one
of the best athletes in the institution; but he readily persuaded his
wealthy father that a few months' experience in the bracing northwest
would do him more good than anything and everything else in the world.
That he might have some pretext other than the one which could not
wholly deceive the Whitneys, he engaged to serve the Live Stock
Association, which was beginning to have trouble with the rustlers.
Matters were not only going wrong, but were rapidly getting worse in
Wyoming, and they were glad to secure the services of such a daring
and honest youth, who seemed rather to welcome the fact that he could
perform his duties faithfully only at personal risk to himself.
It need not be explained how it came about that young Sterry found it
necessary to give a great deal of his attention to that section of
Wyoming in which the Whitneys lived. There appeared to be more need of
it there than in any of the other neighborhoods where the outlook was
The natural consequence was that he became a frequent visitor at the
home of his former friend, though he found other acquaintances engaged
in the cattle business who were glad to have him take shelter under
their roofs. Sometimes he engaged in hunting with them, and several
times Fred Whitney and Jennie joined him. There was a spice of peril
in these excursions which rendered them fascinating to all three.
The particular day to which we refer was a mild afternoon in May,
1892. Jennie was helping her mother with her household duties in their
home, where they had lived since coming from their native State. The
building was one of the long, low wooden structures common in that
section, to which the fashions of the older civilization have not yet
penetrated. It possessed all the comforts they required, though it
took some time for the brother and sister to accustom themselves to
the odd style of architecture.
Jennie, as usual, was in high spirits. She had been out for a ride
during the forenoon, and was now trying to make up for it by taking
the burden of most of the work upon her comely shoulders.
In the middle of one of her snatches of song she abruptly paused with
"Did you hear that, mother?"
"No; to what do you refer?"
"The sound of rifle-firing; something is wrong on the range."
The two paused and listened, looking in each other's pale countenances
as they did so.
"It _is_ rifle-firing!" said Mrs. Whitney in a scared voice; "what can
"Trouble with the rustlers," replied Jennie, hurrying through the
open door to the outside that she might hear the better. Her mother
followed, and the two stood side by side, listening and peering
across the wide stretch of undulating plain in the direction of the
mountains, whose wooded crests were outlined against the clear spring
There could be no mistaking the alarming sounds. They were made by
rifles, fired sometimes in quick succession, often mingling with each
other, and then showing comparatively long intervals between the
discharges of the weapons.
"Father said the rustlers were becoming bolder," remarked Jennie, "and
there was sure to be trouble with them before long."
"It has come," was the comment of the parent, "and who shall tell the
"It cannot last long, mother."
"A few minutes is a good while at such a time. A score of shots have
already been fired, and some of them must have done execution."
"Father, Fred and our two men are unerring shots."
"And so are they," responded the mother, referring to the rustlers,
who have made so much trouble for the cattlemen of Wyoming.
Mrs. Whitney and her daughter Jennie stood at the door of their ranch
listening, with rapidly beating hearts, to the sounds of rifle-firing
from the direction of the cattle-range where the beloved husband and
son were looking after their property.
Three shots came in quick succession; then, after the interval of a
full minute, two more followed, and then all was still.
Mother and daughter maintained their listening attitude a while
longer, but nothing more reached their ears.
"It is over," said the parent in an undertone.
Aye, the conflict was over. One party was beaten off, but which? And
how many brave men, the finest horsemen and rifle-shots in the world,
lay on the green sward, staring, with eyes that saw not, at the blue
sky, or were being borne away by their comrades on the backs of their
A brief space and the story would be told.
Jennie Whitney shaded her eyes with her hand and gazed to the
southward for the first sight of returning friends, whose coming could
not be long delayed.
The mother was straining her vision in the same direction, watching
for that which she longed and yet dreaded to see. But years had
compelled her to use glasses, and her eyes were not the equal of
those bright orbs of Jennie. She would be the first to detect the
A good field-glass was in the house, but neither thought of it; their
attention was too deeply absorbed.
"It is time they appeared," remarked Mrs. Whitney, her heart sinking
under the dreadful fear of the possible reason why they remained
Suppose there was none to appear!
But those keen eyes of the maiden have detected something, and she
starts and peers more intently than before.
Far to the southward, in the direction of the mountain spurs, and on
the very boundary of her vision, a black speck seems to be quivering
and flickering, so indistinct, so impalpable, that none but the
experienced eye can guess its nature.
But the eye which is studying it is an experienced one. Many a time it
has gazed across the rolling prairie, and identified the loved father
and brother before another could discover a person at all.
"Some one is coming," she says to her mother.
"Some one!" is the alarmed response; "are there no more?"
"There may be, but this one is in advance."
"But why should he be in advance of the rest?" is the query, born of
the fear in the heart of the parent.
"It is not mine to answer for the present; he may be better mounted
and is coming for--for--"
"Help! What help can we give them?"
"We have a gun in the house, and there is plenty of ammunition."
"That means they have suffered--have been defeated. Look closely,
Jennie; do you see no others?"
She has been searching for them from the first. The approaching
horseman is now fully defined against the dark-green of the mountains,
and the country for half a mile is in clear view.
Over this broad expanse Jennie Whitney's eyes rove, and her heart
seems to stand still as she answers:
"He is alone; I see no others."
"Then he brings evil tidings! Our people have been defeated; more than
one has fallen."
The approaching horseman was riding furiously. His fleet animal was
on a dead run, his neck outstretched, mane and tail streaming as he
thundered through the hurricane created by his own tremendous speed.
The man who sat in the saddle was a perfect equestrian, as are all the
cowmen and rustlers of the West. He leaned forward, as if he would
help his horse to reach his goal at the earliest instant. His
broad-brimmed hat fitted so well that it kept its place on his head
without any fastening; but his own long, dark locks fluttered over his
brawny shoulders, while the trusty Winchester was held in a firm grasp
across the saddle in front, where it could be used on the second
Jennie Whitney was studying him closely, for he must be father,
brother, or one of the two hired men. She was praying that he was a
relative, but it was not so.
The mother could now distinguish the horseman plainly, though not as
much so as her daughter.
"I think it is father," she said, speaking her hope rather than her
"No; it is not he," replied the daughter.
"Then it is Fred."
"No; you are mistaken; it is Budd."
"Alas and alas! why should it be he, and neither my husband nor son?"
wailed the parent.
Jennie was right. The man was the veteran cowboy, Budd Hankinson,
who had whirled the lasso on the arid plains of Arizona, the Llano
Estacado of Texas and among the mountain ranges of Montana; who had
fought Apaches in the southwest, Comanches in the south and Sioux
in the north, and had undergone hardships, sufferings, wounds and
privations before which many a younger man than he had succumbed.
No more skilful and no braver ranchman lived.
Budd had a way of snatching off his hat and swinging it about his head
at sight of the ladies. It was his jocular salutation to them, and
meant that all was well.
But he did not do so now. He must have seen the anxious mother and
daughter almost as soon as they discerned him. Jennie watched for the
greeting which did not come.
"Something is amiss," was her conclusion.
The hoofs of the flying horse beat the hard ground with a regular
rhythm, and he thundered forward like one who knew he was bringing
decisive tidings which would make the hearts of the listeners stand
The black eyes of the cowman were seen gleaming under his hat-rim as
he looked steadily at the couple, against whom his horse would dash
himself the next minute, like a thunderbolt, unless checked.
No fear, however, of anything like that. He rounded to in front of
the women, and halted with a suddenness that would have flung a less
skilful rider over his head, but which hardly caused Budd Hankinson a
He read the questioning eyes, and before the words could shape
themselves on the pallid lips he called out:
"The mischief is to pay!"
"What is it, Budd?" asked Jennie, she and her mother stepping close to
"We have had a fight with the rustlers--one of the worst I ever
seed--there was eight of 'em."
"Was anybody--hurt?" faltered the mother.
"Wal, I reckon; three of them rustlers won't rustle again very soon,
onless that bus'ness is carried on below, where they've gone; two
others have got holes through their bodies about the size of my hat."
"But--but were any of our people injured?" continued the parent, while
Jennie tried to still the throbbing of her heart until the answer
"Wal, yes," replied Budd, removing his hat and passing his
handkerchief across his forehead, as though the matter was of slight
account; "I'm sorry to say some of us got it in the neck."
"Who--who--how was it? Don't trifle!"
"Wal, you see Zip Peters rode over from Capt. Whiting's to tell us
about the rustlers, and he hadn't much more'n arriv, when along come
the others behind him with one of our branded steers. I made them give
him up, and then the fight was on. Zip got a piece of lead through
the body and the arm, and went out of the saddle without time to say
good-by. My hip was grazed twice, but it didn't amount to nothin'; I'm
as good as ever. Grizzly lost a piece of his ear, but he bored the
rustler through that done it, so that account was squared."
"Then father and Fred were not hurt?" gasped Jennie, clasping her
hands and gazing inquiringly into the face of the messenger.
"Wal," he replied, with the same exasperating coolness he had shown
after his first exclamation, "I wish I could say that, but it ain't
quite so good."
"What--what of my husband?" demanded Mrs. Whitney, stepping so close
that she laid her hand on the knee of the sturdy horseman; "tell me
quick; and what of Fred, my son?"
"Fred fought like a house afire; he killed one of the rustlers, but
his horse was shot and Fred got it through the arm, which ended his
power to do much fighting, but he laid down behind his hoss and kept
it up like the trump he is."
"Then he isn't badly injured?"
"Bless your heart! of course not; he will be all right in a few days;
his arm wants a little nursing, that's all. In the midst of the rumpus
who should ride up but Mont Sterry, as he had heard the firing, and
the way he sailed in was beautiful to behold. It reminded me of the
times down in Arizona when Geronimo made it so lively. He hadn't much
chance to show what he could do, for the rustlers found they had
bitten off more than they could chaw, and they skyugled after he had
The wife and mother drew a sigh of relief, but the daughter was far
from satisfied. A dreadful fear in her heart had not yet been quelled.
Her quick perceptions noticed that Budd had said nothing more about
her father than to mention the fact that he had been wounded. The
mother, in her distress and anxiety, caught at a hope as an assurance
which the daughter could not feel.
At the same time Jennie saw that, despite the apparent nonchalance
of the messenger and his assumed gayety, he was stirred by some deep
"He is keeping back something, because he fears to tell it," was her
COWMEN AND RUSTLERS.
Jennie Whitney saw something else, which almost made her heart stop
To the southward, whence Budd Hankinson had ridden, several horsemen
were in sight, coming from the direction of the cattle-ranges. They
were approaching at a walk, something they would not do unless serious
The messenger had been sent ahead to break the news to the sad and
"Budd," she said, "you have not told us about father."
"Why, yes, my dear," interposed her mother, as if to shut out all evil
tidings; "nothing has happened to him."
"Wal, I'm sorry to say that he has been hurt worse than Fred," was the
alarming response, accompanied by a deep sigh.
"How bad? How much worse? Tell us, tell us," insisted the wife.
"Thar's no use of denyin' that he got it bad; fact is he couldn't have
been hit harder."
The distressed fellow was so worked up that he turned his head and
looked over his shoulder, as if to avoid those yearning eyes fixed
upon him. That aimless glance revealed the approaching horsemen and
nerved him with new courage.
"Now, Mrs. Whitney and Jennie, you must be brave. Bear it as he would
bear the news about you and Fred if he was--alive!"
A shriek accompanied the words of the cowman, and Jennie caught her
mother in time to save her from falling. Her own heart was breaking,
but she did her utmost, poor thing, to cheer the one to whom the
sunlight of happiness could never come again.
"There, mother, try to bear it. We have Fred left to us, and I am with
you. God will not desert us."
Hugh Whitney had never spoken after that first interchange of volleys
with the rustlers. He died bravely at the post of duty and was
tenderly borne homeward, where he was given a decent burial, his grave
bedewed not only by the tears of the stricken widow and children, but
by those of the stern, hardy cowmen to whom he had been an employer as
kind and indulgent as he was brave.
A few paragraphs are necessary to explain the incidents that follow.
Wherever cattlemen have organized outfits and located ranches
cattle-thieves have followed, and fierce fighting has resulted. These
men are known as "rustlers." The late troubles caused cattle and
horse-thieves to unite against the legitimate owners, and the name now
includes both classes of evil-doers. The troubles in Wyoming were the
results of the efforts of the Wyoming State Live Stock Association to
put a check upon rustlers who are tempted to steal by the vast profits
At the time the Association was formed the rustlers were few in
number, and confined their acts to branding the mavericks or unbranded
yearlings with their own brands. They did not act in concert, and
since the laws of the State require every brand to be registered, in
order to establish ownership, the rustlers had as much right to their
own brands as the legitimate cowmen. As long as the mavericks were not
openly branded there was no means of stopping them.
It happens quite often that the round-up fails to gather in all the
cattle. The mavericks are allowed to go to the outfit with whose
cattle they have run, and that outfit puts its own brand on them.
The rustlers grew more daring as their numbers increased, and, instead
of confining their operations to the mavericks, began altering brands.
Not only that, but they were often bold enough to leave the old brand
and burn a new one and forge a bill of sale.
The rustlers were generally the owners of small ranches, or cowboys
who had a few head of cattle on the range or running with some
rancher's stock. The Association made a rule that no cow outfit should
employ a cowman that had been guilty of branding a maverick, or of
helping the rustlers, or of working with or for them. A blacklist was
kept of such cowmen, with the result that a good many were unable to
get employment from the Association outfits and were compelled to
become rustlers themselves.
The association of rustlers became desperate because of the serious
check given them by the Live Stock Association, which placed its
inspectors at all the cattle-markets, Omaha, Chicago, St. Louis,
Kansas City and St. Paul. Every shipment of cattle was closely
inspected, and if it came from a rustler he was obliged to prove his
title to each steer, or they were confiscated and the proceeds sent to
the owner of the brand. Sometimes a legal proof of ownership would not
be accepted, for the owners were determined to stamp out the rustling
Deprived by this means of a market for their hoof cattle, the rustlers
were compelled to butcher their cattle or drive to Montana. The latter
recourse was not only difficult and dangerous, but there was no
certainty of a market when accomplished, as the Live Stock Association
kept a vigilant watch on all Wyoming cattle.
The other scheme was unsatisfactory, but it was all that was left to
the rustlers. They employed a number of butchers at Buffalo to do
their killing for them, but even then they were not sure of always
getting their meat marketed.
In the summer of 1891 the rustlers ran waggons openly on all the
three great round-ups, and worked the round-up just as if they were a
regular Association outfit. They also gathered in all the mavericks,
and no one dared interfere.
It should be added that no more dangerous set of men can be found
anywhere than the Wyoming rustlers. No living being excels them in
horsemanship. The bucking pony is as a child in their hands. There
is not one among them who cannot rope, throw, tie and brand a steer
single-handed. They include the best riders and the best shots in the
cattle business. They do not know what fear is, and in the year named
became strong enough to elect one of their own number sheriff.
The full moon was shining on the second night succeeding the conflict
which Budd Hankinson described between the rustlers and the cowmen of
Whitney's ranch. The man that had fallen was laid away in a grave back
of the house, and mother, son and daughter mourned him with a sorrow
that was soothed by the consciousness that he had been a good husband
and father in every sense of the word.
On this night, before the hour was late, three persons were seated in
the balmy air on the outside of the dwelling, talking together in low
They were Fred Whitney, whose bandaged arm rested in a sling, Monteith
Sterry, and Jennie Whitney. The memory of the recent affliction
suffered in the death of the father naturally subdued the voices and
tinged the words with a seriousness that would not have been felt at
Young Sterry, as already stated, had accepted an engagement with
the Live Stock Association, which required him to investigate the
operations of the rustlers over a large portion of Wyoming and
Montana, and to report at regular intervals to his superior officers.
This was perilous business, but Sterry set about the work with a
vigour, directness and intelligence that were felt over an extent of
territory numbering hundreds of square miles, and made him a marked
man by the rustlers, who are always quick to identify their friends
and enemies. It seemed to make little difference, however, to him, who
loved the excitement. He was a capital pistol and rifle-shot, a fine
horseman, and as devoid of fear as the men against whom he directed
Unconsciously Monteith Sterry brought a grievous peril upon his
friends, who held him in so high regard. Hated intensely by the
rustlers, they were not long in learning that he spent a great deal
of his time at the Whitneys. They came to be regarded, therefore, as
aiders and abettors of his. This enmity was emphasized by the attack
of which an account has been given.
"I think, Fred," said his sister, oppressed by the shadow that had
fallen across the threshold, "we ought to sell out and leave this
"Why?" he gently asked.
"Because not only of what happened yesterday, but of the certainty
that such attacks will be repeated."
"What reason have you to fear their repetition?" asked Monteith.
"Matters are growing worse between the cowmen and the rustlers; I have
heard our men talk, and you have said so yourself."
"I cannot deny it," replied their visitor, thoughtfully smoking his
cigar. He would have been pleased had her brother, now the head of the
little household, decided to make his home once more in the East, for
then he would take up the study of his profession of law and be placed
where he could often meet them.
"It would be cowardly to sell out and abandon the country through
fear of those men," said the brother, to whom the proposition was not
"But suppose you should be their next victim?" suggested Jennie, with
"I don't think I shall be a victim," he quietly responded; "this wound
won't bother me long, and with Budd and Grizzly to help, we can laugh
at all the rustlers in the country."
"It is hardly a matter of courage," ventured Sterry, "for no one
knowing you or your sister would question your bravery, but it is
rather the peace of mind of your mother and her. It will be a
long time, if ever, before your parent recovers from the shock of
yesterday. No matter how confident and plucky you may be, Fred, you
know it is no guarantee against a bullet from one of those scamps at
five hundred or a thousand yards. I shudder to think of what might
Fred turned and looked full in the handsome face of the fellow beside
"It strikes me that you are showing little faith in your own words.
Why do you remain where you are a marked man when there is no need of
it, and where your personal danger is certainly as great as mine?"
This _argumentum ad hominem_ was so unexpected that Sterry was
embarrassed for the moment, but found voice to reply:
"I have no mother and sister dependent on me, as you have."
"But you have brothers, sisters, father and mother, and therefore the
more to mourn if you should fall. The fact is, Mont, I feel that it
is a duty you owe to them to give up the dangerous calling you have
adopted. You not only do not need it, but are squandering time that
ought to be given to the study of your profession, and you have become
so feared and hated by the rustlers that they will go to any length to
"The more cause, therefore, why I should stay," responded the other.
"A poor argument--"
The discussion was interrupted by the sound of a horse's hoofs. Some
one was riding toward them on a gallop, and speedily loomed to view
in the bright moonlight. The three instinctively ceased speaking and
gazed curiously at the horseman, who reined up in front of where they
Hospitality is limitless in the West, and, before the stranger had
halted, Fred Whitney rose from his chair and walked forward to welcome
The man was in the costume of a cowboy, with rifle, revolver and all
the paraphernalia of the craft.
"Is your name Whitney?" asked the horseman, speaking first.
"It is; what can I do for you?"
"Do you know Mont Sterry?"
"He is a particular friend of mine," replied Whitney, refraining from
adding that he was the young man sitting a few paces away with his
sister and hearing every word said.
"Well, there's a letter for him; if I knew where to find him I would
deliver it myself. Will you hand it to him the next time you meet
As he spoke he leaned forward from his saddle and handed a sealed
envelope to Fred Whitney, who remarked, as he accepted it:
"I will do as you wish; I expect to see him soon; won't you dismount
and stay over night with us?"
"No; I have business elsewhere," was the curt answer, as the fellow
wheeled and spurred off on a gallop.
Budd Hankinson and Grizzly Weber, the two hired men, were absent,
looking after the cattle, for the rustler is a night hawk who often
gets in the best part of his work between the set and rise of sun.
Mrs. Whitney was sitting in the gloom, alone in her sorrow. Jennie
wished to stay with her, but the mother gently refused, saying she
preferred to have none with her. No light was burning in the building,
and that night the weather was unusually mild.
Mont Sterry accepted the paper from the hand of his friend and
remarked, with a smile:
"I suspect what it is. When the rustlers don't like a man they have a
frank way of telling him so, supplemented by a little good advice, I
fancy I have been honoured in a similar way."
He deliberately tore open the envelope, while Jennie and her brother
looked curiously at him. The moonlight, although strong, was not
sufficiently so to show the words, which were written in lead-pencil.
Fred Whitney, therefore, struck a match and held it in front of the
paper, while the recipient read in a low voice, loud enough, however,
to be heard in the impressive hush:
"MONT STERRY: If you stay in the Powder River country twenty-four
hours longer you are a dead man. Over fifty of us rustlers have
sworn to shoot you on sight, whether it is at Fort McKinley,
Buffalo, or on the streets of Cheyenne. I have persuaded the
majority to hold off for the time named, but not one of them will
do so an hour longer, nor will I ask them to do so. We are bound
to make an honest living, and it is weak for me to give you this
warning, but I do it, repeating that if you are within reach
twenty-four hours from the night on which this is handed to
Whitney I will join them in hunting you down, wherever you may be.
Monteith Sterry read the "warning" through in a voice without the
slightest tremor. Then he quietly smoked his cigar and looked off in
the moonlight, as though thinking of something of a different nature.
It was natural that Jennie Whitney should be more impressed by the
occurrence, with the memory of the recent tragedy crushing her to the
earth. She exclaimed:
"Larch Cadmus! Why, Fred, he has visited our house several times; he
was here last week."
"Yes," replied her brother; "he has often sat at our table; and, by
the way, he is a great admirer of yours."
"Nonsense!" was the response; "why do you say that?"
"It may be nonsense, but it is true, nevertheless. Your mother noticed
it; and, that there might be no mistake, Larch had the impudence to
tell me so himself."
"I never liked him; he is a bad man," said Jennie, much to the relief
of Sterry, who felt a little uncomfortable. "I did not know he
belonged to the rustlers."
"He was a cowboy until last fall. He had a quarrel with Col. Ringgold
and went off with the others, and has been on the blacklist ever
"Why didn't he bring the message himself," continued the sister,
"instead of sending it?"
"He did," was the significant reply of the brother.
"What! That surely was not he?"
"It was. I knew his voice the moment he spoke; those whiskers were
false; he didn't want to be recognized, and I thought it as well to
humor his fancy, but I could not be mistaken."
"Now that I recall it, his voice _did_ resemble Cadmus'," said the
sister, more thoughtfully.
"Of course, and I can tell you something more; he was among the
rustlers with whom we had the fight yesterday. He did his best to kill
me, and came pretty near succeeding. It wasn't he, however, who put
the bullet through my arm, for I dropped that fellow."
"You frighten me!" was all that Jennie Whitney could say.
Sterry still smoked in silence. He was thinking hard, but it was his
turn to be startled by the next remark.
"Larch Cadmus hates you, Mont, not so much because you are the enemy
of all rustlers, but more because he believes my sister holds you in
higher esteem than she does him."
Sterry was clever enough to parry this compliment with considerable
"For the same reason he is jealous of every gentleman whom Miss
Whitney has ever met, for it would be a sorry tribute to any man's
worth if he did not stand higher in her regard than Larch Cadmus."
"Well spoken!" said the young lady, relieved from what threatened to
become an embarrassing situation for her.
Had her brother chosen he might have expressed what was in his mind,
but he had the good taste to refrain. None knew better than he the
deep, tender affection existing between his friend and his sister,
though it had not yet reached the point of avowal and confession.
"Well, Mont, what are you going to do about it?" asked Whitney.
By way of reply, the latter twisted the "warning" into the form of a
lamplighter. Then he applied a match to one corner, and held the paper
until it had burned to the last fragment.
"That's my opinion of Mr. Larch Cadmus and his gang, and I shall pay
the same attention to them."
"You are not wise," ventured Jennie, who, with the awful memory of
the preceding day upon her, could not but shudder at the peril to her
friend, who had never been quite so near to her as during the last few