Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Boy Ranchers on the Trail by Willard F. Baker

Part 3 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Once more they were on the way, and shortly afterward they left
the grim and rocky defile for a more fertile region, where there
was grass for the animals. But they were still down between a
range of high hills which towered on either side.

The trail twisted and turned, this way and that, winding back and
forth. But ever there was to be seen, here and there, signs that
the herd of cattle had been driven this way. Faint the signs
were, at times, and at last they disappeared altogether.

"Where have they gone?" asked Nort.

"Looks like they dropped down a hole, but there isn't any hole
here," said Yellin' Kid.

"Oh, we'll pick the trail up later on," suggested Bud.

But even as they started off once more Bud, who had just
consulted a compass he carried, uttered a cry of amazement.

"What's the matter?" asked Slim.

"We're going the wrong way," declared Bud. "We're heading north
instead of south. We're all turned around! Something's wrong!"



Some of those in the rear, who had heard Bud's exclamation, but
who had not clearly heard what he said, came crowding up. Among
them was Snake Purdee, and his eyes sparkled with hidden emotion
as he inquired:

"Did you see any rattlers? This is just the place for 'em!"

"Yes, we came acrost a nest of baby ones what had lost their
mother, an' they're countin' on you t' bring 'em up on th'
bottle!" laughed Slim. The men, more or less, poked fun at Snake
because of his great fear of reptiles, and Slim could not forego
this chance.

But Snake understood the game, and realized that he had nothing
to fear. He shot a look at Slim, however, which indicated that
there would be an attempt, later, to get even.

"What's wrong?" asked Slim, for in his endeavor to play a joke on
Snake he had not paid much attention to what Bud was saying.

"We're all turned around," spoke the western lad. "All in a maze.
We started out, heading south, and we've kept, generally, to that
direction ever since. But now we're heading back north. Looks
like we'd lost the trail."

Slim and some of the more experienced cowboys studied the trail
for several minutes. Surely it did seem to "peter out," as
Yellin' Kid expressed it, though it had been fairly plain up to
this point.

"They couldn't get up on either side," declared Nort, looking at
the steep, rocky walls which hemmed the trailers in right and

"And they haven't gone on ahead, for there isn't a sign," added
Dick, who had ridden up the defile for some little distance,
returning to make his report. "Nothing short of an air ship could
have lifted up a bunch of cattle from this gorge and set 'em down
farther on."

"Unless they went through a hole in one of the side walls,"
suggested Slim, "like that underground river you fellows
discovered in the tunnel."

"There are no side passages here," declared Bud. And he seemed to
hold the correct view of it, the others agreeing, after a careful
inspection of the rocky and shale-covered walls on either hand.
"It looks just as if they came up to this point and--vanished!"

"Pretty slick work--I'll give Del Pinzo credit for that," said
Slim, as if it were already established that the wily Greaser
halfbreed had made the descent on Happy Valley. "How he and his
bunch could haze cattle this far into a rocky pass, an' then make
'em disappear, gets me!"

"It shore do!" shouted Yellin' Kid.

"But that doesn't change the fact that we're all switched
around," declared Bud. "We're going north instead of south!"

"Not so hard to account for that," said Snake. "This vale just
naturally twists and turns like a windin' river. I wouldn't
wonder but what we'd been going north other times, only you never
noticed your compass, Bud."

"Well, maybe so," admitted the boy rancher, rather dubiously.
"But it looks as if we were back-trailing, instead of keeping on
after those rascals."

"We're keeping on all right!" asserted Slim. "By some hook or
crook they've fooled us, but we haven't passed 'em, that's
certain, and they must be somewhere up ahead. It would take Rocky
Mountain goats to scramble up there," he added, motioning toward
the steep walls of the gorge. "Some trick ponies might do it, but
no cattle ever could, unless they're like some of them Swiss
cheese brand I seen in pictures!"

"Then do you think we should keep on?" asked Dick.

"I shore do!" declared the foreman.

"Forward march!" cried Bud, with a little laugh. "We want to get
our cattle back, and catch the rustlers who took 'em!"

And so, though all signs of the trail seemed to have vanished,
they kept on. Night saw them in even a wilder region, though
there was a spring of water--not boiling this time--and some
grass for the animals. So it was decided to camp there and take
up the search in the morning.

They were in the enemy's country in every sense of the word, and
could afford to take no chances. So after a fire had been built,
and coffee made, bacon and flapjacks being the other items on the
bill of fare, the men and boys were told off into watches.

Bud and Slim, Nort and Snake, and Dick and Yellin' Kid were
assigned to divide the night among them working as partners in
the order named. The others were to be allowed to roll up and get
what sleep they could, Bud and Slim taking the first watch.

That passed off uneventfully, as did the vigil of Nort and Snake,
nothing more important occurring than the distant howls of the

When it was the turn of Dick and Yellin' Kid they rolled out,
albeit sleepy and tired, to stand guard until morning, when the
trail would again be taken up.

"Zimmy! But it's chilly!" said Kid in a low voice, as lie tossed
some wood on the fire and wrapped his blanket more closely about

"Yes, it always is just before sunrise," added Dick. "I wonder
what we'll find after daylight?"

"I hope we find that ornery bunch!" murmured Yellin' Kid, keeping
down his voice so as not to awaken the sleepers.

"So do I," said Dick.

Then they sat about the fire, occasionally strolling around the
improvised camp, to make sure that none of their enemies were
creeping up on them in the darkness.

The stars shone clear and bright in the sky above, and
occasionally a little wind swept up the dismal defile. Now and
then a loose stone rattled down the sides of shale and volcanic
rock, and at such times Dick, and even Yellin' Kid started, and
felt for their guns. But all the alarms were false ones.

That is, the watchers decided they were, for no sight was had of
anyone until Dick, after a stroll about the fire, suddenly
started back and whispered to Yellin' Kid:

"Isn't that a head looking up over that rock?"

The Kid glanced to where Dick directed his gaze, and, in an
instant, the cowboy had his weapon out and leveled. His finger
was even pressing the trigger when he laughed silently and thrust
the .45 back in its leather case. "Why didn't you shoot?" asked

"It was an owl," answered Kid. "It was his ears you seen stickin'
up! Listen!"

And, a moment later, there was the mournful hooting of the
nocturnal bird, which had flown away, but on such downy-feathered
wings that it made no sound.

"An owl!" murmured Dick. Then he was glad he had not shot first,
as he had intended. He would only have awakened the others and
been laughed at for his pains. Sometimes, he reflected, it was
better to hold your fire, even in the west, that region of quick

Soon there was a little grayish, pinkish light to be observed
over the edge of the eastern hill. It grew slowly, and daylight
came, though it was some time before the sun itself was seen, so
deep were the searchers down in the defile.

After breakfast they set out again, looking carefully for signs
of the rustlers, but they saw none, and at last they decided
that, in some mysterious manner, their quarry had given them the

"Though I don't see how they did it," declared Slim, somewhat
vexed that he and his men were not better able to pick up the

"There must be some side passage--like that!" suddenly declared
Yellin' Kid, leaping from his horse and then, as suddenly
disappearing from the sight of his companions. "Hey! What's the
idea! Where'd he go?" asked Snake.

"In this side passage," answered Yellin' Kid, as suddenly
reappearing. "Look, here's a crack, or fissure in the rock, I saw
it from where I sat on my pony. It goes off from th' main trail,
but I can't see where it leads."

They all dismounted and investigated. As the Kid had said, it was
a traverse defile, opening out of the main one and almost at
right angles. The opening was concealed behind a great pinnacle
of rock, so that the cleft was only visible from a certain point,
and it was at this point that the Kid saw it.

"Where does it go to?" asked Bud as they entered, single file. It
was only wide enough for that.

"We've got to follow and see!" said Slim.

"If there was a place like that, back where we discovered we were
in a maze, it would have been easy enough for the rustlers to
have driven the cattle through, one at a time," observed Nort.

"But there wasn't any such place!" declared Bud. "We made sure of
that. But where does this lead?"

That was what they all conjectured, and they were soon to learn.
As they rode along, the side cleft widened, until there was room
enough for three to ride abreast. And it was while thus
progressing that Dick, who was in the lead with Slim and Snake,
made a surprising discovery. He rode around a turn in the new
trail, and at the sight of something beyond, in the smaller,
rocky defile, he set up such a shout as brought all his
companions to his side.

"What is it?" shouted Bud.

"Look!" answered Dick, pointing. "Del Pinzo and big gang!"



Two deep-throated shouts echoed amid the winding mazes of the
small canyon leading off from the main gulch that the boy
ranchers and their friends had been following. One shout followed
closely on that of Dick, announcing his amazing discovery. The
other came from the band of rascals whose hiding place had at
last been spied out, and by a mere chance at that.

One shout was that of joyful anticipation, and this came from
Bud, Dick, Nort and the friends from Diamond X. This shout had in
it an anticipation of righteous punishment to be inflicted on
those who had stolen the cattle.

The other shout was of baffled rage that their hiding place had
been discovered. This shout came from Del Pinzo and his gang.

For it was the lawless Mexican half-breed and his followers,
numbering in all more than two score, whom Dick had seen as he
made the turn in that winding and narrow gorge. At a place where
the rocky defile flared out, making a sort of amphitheatre there
were gathered about a spring of water, their horses tethered
where they could crop the scanty herbage, the crowd of which our
friends had long been in pursuit.

Following the two shouts--one of pleased discovery and the other
of baffled rage at being discovered--there was quick action.

"Here they are!" shouted Bud, as soon as he had joined Dick, and
had seen what the latter had fairly stumbled upon. "Here's the
Del Pinzo crowd!"

Up came riding Nort, Slim, Snake and the others.

"Oh, boy! We've got 'em just where we want 'em," was the
exclamation of Yellin' Kid. And I leave you to judge in what tone
he uttered the words.

"Unlimber, boys!" called Slim Degnan, grimly and significantly as
he whipped out his .45. "There's likely to be action!"

"Hold on! Wait a minute!" counseled Snake, as Bud and his cousins
were about to urge their horses forward. The cowboy reached out,
and his hand fell with a firm grip on the bridle of Bud's steed.

"What's the idea?" asked that boy rancher. "Now we've found the
rascals, can't we go in and clean 'em up?"

"That's natural Bud, most natural," conceded Snake. "But what's
th' use runnin' your head in a bee's nest if yon can git th'
honey some other way?"

"You mean it won't be safe to ride up to 'em and fight 'em?'?"
asked Nort.

"Somethin' like that, yes, son," answered the cowboy. "I think
Del Pinzo an' his crowd have been waitin' for just such a chance
as this. They'd ask nothin' better than t' have us rush 'em, an'
then they'd have a good excuse for sayin', afterward, that they
popped us off in self-defense."

"Snake's right!" declared Yellin' Kid, modulating his voice
somewhat. "We'd better play this hand cautious like."

Seeing that this was the sentiment of the more experienced men,
Bud and his cousins held back, and a moment later, urged by the
cowboys, the ranch lads had turned aside and the whole body of
pursuers had retreated to a position somewhat away from the turn
of the trail where Dick had looked through the defile and had
seen the rascals encamped.

"What's the next move?" asked Nort, as the party gathered
together, giving their horses a breathing spell, for which the
animals were, doubtless, very thankful.

"We'd better look for some shelter," advised Snake, "an' then see
what we can do toward learnin' th' intentions of this bunch of
bad actors."

"You mean sort of spy 'em out?" asked Dick.

"That's it," chimed in Yellin' Kid. "If this is goin' to be a
fight, an' it shore looks as if there was, we want to take all
th' advantage we can. They outnumber us two to one!"

This was true enough. The fleeting glimpse our friends had of the
outlaws, through the crack in the rocky wall, showed that there
were more than two score under the leadership of the unscrupulous
Del Pinzo.

Following the skilful advice of the cowboys, Bud and his cousins
took their places behind some sheltering rocks, leading their
horses in with them, for much depended on their mounts. Without
them it meant giving up the chase. And even if one pony was
killed or wounded, it meant that its owner would have to make his
way back on foot, which was neither pleasant nor safe.

"Get your guns ready," said Slim. "There's going to be action,
but not just yet. We want this to be a winnin' fight if we can
make it so."

Once within comparative shelter, and feeling somewhat calmer
after the first wild excitement, Bud, Nort and Dick looked to
their older companions for further advice.

"Somebody's got t' go back t' that crack, unbeknownst t' them
scoundrels, an' see what they're doin'," decided Slim.

"S'pose they're there yet?" asked Bud.

"Either that, or they've taken the alarm an' are on their way, or
they're doin' just what we are--gittin' ready for a fight," said
the foreman grimly. "An' what it is they're doin' we want t'
know. Snake, you're pretty good at Indian tactics. S'pose you
sneak up there an' take a look in."

"All right," was the ready answer.

Of course Bud, Nort and Dick, each and every one of them, wished
they had been selected for this duty. But while they were rapidly
learning the ways of the west, in dealing with desperate
characters, it was better at this time to have an experienced man
spy out the movements of Del Pinzo and his gang. This Snake set
out to do.

"An' while he's gone, th' rest of us want t' sort of make up our
minds what t' do," said Slim. "If that bunch is gettin' ready
t'rush us, same as we may be able to do on our own hook, we want
t' have some plan of action."

So a sort of council of war was held, during the absence of
Snake, who was soon lost to sight among the rocks, the cowboy
making his way in a crouching, crawling position that almost
resembled the reptiles he so feared and hated.

There was some low-voiced talk among the remaining cowboys, in
which talk Bud and his cousins had no part. For a moment the lads
feared there was some scheme afoot to put them in places of
safety, out of danger so to speak. And the boy ranchers weren't
going tamely to submit to this.

"I say, Slim," exclaimed Bud, with this fear in mind, "we are
going to do our share in this fighting, you know!"

"Shore I know it!" grunted the foreman. "You'll have all th'
scrappin' you want, if these fellows don't vamoose without firin'
a shot! We was just talkin' of the best place t' put you."

"Oh," murmured Bud, "all right."

After some little talk, and a survey of the ground to which the
pursuers had retreated in order to make a temporary stand, each
person's position was designated, and then guns were loosed in
holsters and the supply of cartridges was looked to.

"As soon as Snake comes back we'll know what t' do," Slim said.

"He ought to be along soon now," remarked Dick.

Hardly had he spoken than there was a noise among the loose rocks
and boulders some distance up the gulch--in the direction the
spying-out cowboy had taken.

"Here he comes!" exclaimed Bud, and his hand went to his gun, for
it was very possible that Snake would be pursued, and have to
retreat on the run.

However the alarm proved to be a false one, for, after waiting
some time, Snake not having appeared, it was surmised that some
rock had become loose and rolled down the steep side of the

The waiters and watchers were just beginning to get a bit
worried, and Bud was on the point of suggesting that he be
allowed to go look for Snake, when the cowboy came back.

So quietly did he approach, and so unexpected was his appearance
that Nort and Dick, on whose side of the improvised "fort" Snake
first showed himself, were startled.

"If that had been any of the Del Pinzo crowd they'd have been on
top of us before we knew it," confessed Nort.

"Not much!" laughed Bud. "Slim has seen Snake coming along this
last three minutes; haven't you, Slim?"

"Yep! I noticed him, but I didn't say anythin'," acknowledged the
foreman. "I seen that he was alone. But what's the verdict,
Snake?" he asked, anxiously. "Are they gittin' ready t' come at
us here, or are they leavin'?"

"Neither one," was the answer, "but they're gettin' ready to do
suthin! They're all in a bunch in the middle of that place,
holdin' a confab, I reckon. It's hard to say what they are up to.
But I got a hunch that if we rushed 'em we could throw a scare
int' 'em, anyhow."

"Do you think they know we're here?" asked Bud.

"Oh, sure!" was the answer. "At least they saw us an' heard us
when we reached that crack. But of course they can only guess
what we're up to now, when we didn't rush 'em first shot. They
might have known, though, what our plans was, if I hadn't cracked
their spy on the head!" said Snake, calmly.

"You did what?" asked Slim.

"Just as I got t' th' place where I could look in," went on the
cowboy, "I saw one of them Greasers up t' the same trick I was
tryin' to pull off. He was sneakin' down this way, but I saw him
first. Caught a glimpse of his head around the edge of a rock; I
just reached out with my gun and tapped him on the noodle."

"Kill him?" asked Dick.

"No. Guess not. Just stretched him out so he can't go back an'
tell any tales for a time. Now the way I figger it is this:
They'll be waitin' for a report on what their spy sees, same as
you was waitin' for me t' come back. Only their spy won't show up
for a couple o' hours, an' that gives us a chance to act."

"What had we better do?" asked Yellin' Kid.

"Rush 'em!" instantly decided Snake. "Let's git t' that openin'
as quiet as we can, an' rush right for 'em! This rest has
freshened our horses, an' we're in better shape now."

"Not so much so, as far as horses go," dubiously declared Slim.
"They're pretty badly spent, and can't do much racin'. But I
guess maybe it is better for us t' get into action, instid of
waitin' for that bunch t' come here. As Snake says, they'll be
lookin' for their spy t' come back, an' maybe we can take 'em

So, after some further talk, it was decided to mount again, ride
to the opening that led from the main trail into the hiding place
of the outlaws, and boldly attack them.

True, our friends were outnumbered, but they had right on their
side, and this sometimes makes a difference. Also they would have
a little advantage, they hoped, in making the attack somewhat
unexpectedly. For though Del Pinzo and his crowd knew the
ranchmen were in the neighborhood they would, as Snake believed,
await the return of the spy they had sent out, before doing

"An' that spy won't come t' his senses very soon," declared the
avenging cowboy. "When he does he'll have an awful headache!"

As quietly as possible they made their way to the opening. Slim,
as a sort of captain, was in advance of the others and looked in.
He came back to say:

"They're gettin' ready for suthin'! They're all standin' near
their horses, an' seem to be plannin' a move. Get ready t' rush
in when I give the word!"

There was a final look to arms and saddle leathers, and then the
foreman cried:

"Get into action!" at the same time spurring forward his pony, an
example followed by all the others as they rushed into the

And action there was, but not exactly of the kind the boy
ranchers and their friends anticipated. For Del Pinzo (easily
recognized among the lesser lights of rascaldom) with his
followers, after their first angry shouts, leaped for their
horses. And their agility in that respect spoke well for their
preparedness. In an instant, it seemed, every one of the two
score, and more, was in saddle, and headed out of the defile.
They were retreating--riding away from the following avengers,
and going, it seemed, further into the maze of winding clefts
amid the mountains.

To the credit of Del Pinzo--if credit it be and if he be entitled
to get credit--he rode at the rear, not starting his horse until
all his men had raced away ahead of him.

And then, as Bud, Dick and the others pressed into the defile
after them, the Greaser turned and fired once, but with such
quick action that eye could scarce follow the motion of his hand
and weapon.

There was a sharp crack and the hat of Yellin' Kid, who rode
immediately behind Bud, sailed off his head, at the same time
that a bullet zipped viciously over the pursuers.

"Close call that, Kid!" remarked Snake, leaning over as his horse
galloped forward, and picking up his friend's hat.

"Close nothin'!" snapped out Yellin' Kid. "That was fancy
shootin'! If Del Pinzo wanted to get me he could 'a' done it. He
can mark out th' pips on a ten spot card with his eyes shut,
almost! He shot my hat off just to show he wasn't aimin' t' spill
no innocent blood! But wait until I get him! I'll make him sweat
for that! A hole through brim an' crown! Why couldn't he be
decent about it an' make it one?" grumbled Yellin' Kid as Snake
handed him the hat.

"Never mind that!" shouted Slim Degnan. "If we're going t' get
them fellers we got t' ride!"

That was evident, for even as he spoke Del Pinzo, the last of the
outlaws, disappeared around a turn in the defile. He was "hazing"
his men along to some other hiding place, it appeared. And he and
his rascally followers seemed to know their ground, for they rode
at break-neck pace, without fear of what lay beyond and unseen.
It is likely they had traveled that route before.

Another advantage lay with the rustlers. Their horses were fresh,
for from the negligent attitudes assumed by the men when Dick had
discovered them, it was evident they had been at ease for some
time, whereas the pursuers had been on the trail a long time, and
the way had been rough and stony.

So it is nothing to the discredit of the boy ranchers that they
and their friends were distanced in the first wild rush following
the discovery and alarm.

"Come on!" cried Bud. "Come on!" and he and Dick for the moment
were in the lead, the canyon being wide enough, here, for several
to ride abreast. "We've got to get 'em!"

"And we won't stop until we do!" added his cousin.

But they reckoned not with the roughness of the way, the start
the rustlers had, their fresher horses and the fact that Del
Pinzo and his crowd were more familiar with the trail than were
the boy ranchers. So though our heroes rode on as fast as they
could go with comparative safety, they did not, for some time at
least, again come within sight of the enemy.

"Wait there! Hold on a little!" finally called Slim to Bud, Dick
and Nort, who, in their youthful and natural eagerness, had
forged to the front in a bunch. "Pull up! This isn't a hundred
yard dash! It's going to be a long race!"

Bud was beginning to believe this, and some of his first
exuberance was disappearing. He was getting more cool-headed.

"Let's take it a bit easy," he said to Nort and Dick. "I guess
we've got a long trail to follow."

"But we've got to get 'em!" declared Dick.

"You got rid of something that time!" commented his brother,
meaningly, if slangily. "We're going to make 'em give back our

"Say!" suddenly cried Bud. "That's the queer part of it! Where
are the steers?"

And for the first time it occurred to the minds of the boy
ranchers that of that quarry they had come most in search of they
had had not a glimpse. Not a steer was in sight!

Something of the amazement they felt must have been depicted on
their faces, for when Slim rode up to where the boy ranchers had
halted he asked:

"What's the matter?"

"Where are the cattle?" asked Bud, shouting almost as loudly as
Yellin' Kid would have done. "Did you notice they didn't have a
one with them, Slim?"

"Yes. Are you just waking up to that, Bud?"

"I reckon I am. But what does it mean?"

"It means that there's a deeper game being played than we have
any idea of, son. We've got to go some to get to the bottom!"



Once it became evident that catching the rustlers was likely to
be the work of a long chase on the trail, the whole party of
pursuers came to a halt beside the boy ranchers. And after some
rapid talk of what might lay beyond their stopping place, in a
lonely, wild and desolate section of the defile, the conversation
switched to what had surprised Bud and his cousins--the absence
of the cattle.

"I s'posed they were driving the steers ahead of 'em all along,"
admitted North "They drove the animals off our ranch, and I
didn't think but what they were hazing 'em along to some place
where they could change or blur the brands, and then sell 'em."

"That's what I thought, too," acknowledged Dick.

"Well, I must say I didn't think much about it," confessed Bud.
"When I saw Del Pinzo and his gang in there all I wanted to do
was to come to hand-grips with 'em. I forgot all about the
cattle. But after we'd chased along a bit I did begin to wonder
where my animals were--_our_ animals, I should say," he
corrected himself with a glance at his cousins. However, they

"They must have gotten the cattle over to Double Z, or wherever
it is they dispose of 'em," suggested Dick.

"They couldn't--not in this short time," declared Slim. "We
followed 'em too close. Besides, there isn't a sign of any cattle
having been here, nor in that place where we surprised th' head
Greaser and his gang. Not a sign of cattle!"

He looked up and down the gorge, as did the other cowboys. But
not even the sharpest eye could detect the faintest "sign" of the
steers having been driven along the passage.

"They must have them hidden somewhere," said Dick. "We'd better
go back to the place where the sign petered out. There must be
some opening there out of the main canyon."

"If there is it's so well hid that it takes sharper eyes than
I've got to find it," declared Snake, and he was noted for his
far-seeing and clear vision.

"Go _back_!" exclaimed North impulsively. "We aren't going
back, are we, until we get Del Pinzo and his gang?"

"Shoot 'em up--that's what I advise!" cried Yellin' Kid. There
was a moment's pause, and Bud spoke.

"We're got two things to do," said the boy rancher. "One is to
get our cattle back, and the other is to nab the rustlers. But
it's more important to get the cattle, I think.

"If we don't do that our ranch experiment will be a failure," he
went on. "But, of course, for the sake of other ranchers, it
would be a mighty good thing if we could put Del Pinzo and his
rustler crowd out of business."

"Can't we do both?" asked Nort.

"That's what I was coming to," his cousin continued. "If we can
get on the trail of the hidden steers--for hidden they are, I'm
sure--we can haze them back to the valley. Then we can keep on
after this crowd," and he nodded toward the winding trail that
led down the narrow defile.

"Then you think we'd better go back!" asked Dick.

"Let's see what Slim says" answered Bud. Naturally he would turn
to his father's foreman for advice.

"Oh, you're leavin' it t' me, are you?" asked Slim, as he
finished rolling his cigarette, a feat he could accomplish with
one hand. Then he lighted it, took a satisfying puff and went on:
"If you ask my advice I'd say to go back an' see if you can't
locate the cattle. As Bud remarks, they're dollars an' cents. Th'
rustlers aren't, though it would be a mighty good stunt t' wipe
'em off th' face of this cow country. But maybe we can attend to
_them_ later."

"Turn back she is!" exclaimed Bud, accepting, as did the others,
the advice of Slim as being final. "We'll see if we can find the
cattle, and then haze them to a safe place. After that we'll nab
Del Pinzo and his bunch--if we can," he added, as a saving

"Suits me!" remarked Yellin' Kid, taking off his hat and looking
at the two bullet holes. "That nabbin' part is what I want t'
play at," and his grin suggested that when he and the Greaser met
there would be some interesting happenings.

It having been thus decided that the pursuit would be abandoned
for the time being, a sort of council of war was held to settle
on the next course.

"I say grub!" exclaimed Bud, knowing that the suggestion would
come with better grace from him than from some of the men who
were working for him and his father. "Let's eat!"

There was no debate on this question and when the ponies had
been turned loose to graze on what scanty grass they could find,
a fire was made and preparations started for feeding the hungry
posse. For they were that--both hungry and a posse, bent on the
capture of the lawless rustlers. Though, for the time, righteous
revenge was given over to the more practical side of the
question--getting back the cattle.

Probably you do not need to be told that little time was wasted
over the meal, simple as it was. Cowboys, on the trail, or
otherwise engaged in their work of the ranch or range, do not
spend much time over the pleasures of the appetite. There is a
time for feasting, and a time for chasing cattle rustlers, and
there was no sense in combining the two. That, evidently, was the
thought in the minds of Bud and his friends, for they hurried
through their eating, and, having rested the horses, were soon in
saddles again.

"Now," remarked Bud, talking the matter over with Slim, "what is
the best plan?"

"To get back, as fast as we can, t' th' place where we saw th'
last signs of th' cattle," was the foreman's answer. "The
unravelin' of th' skein of mystery, t' use a poetical expression,
Bud, is there!"

They all agreed with this view of it, and after a short ride down
the defile, to see, if by chance, any of the Del Pinzo crowd
might be in evidence, or returning, the back trail was taken.

"We aren't going to discover much this day," observed Bud, as he
rode slowly along between Nort and Dick.

"Why, did you see a black rabbit?" Nort asked, remembering what
had happened when a similar incident occurred, just before the
strange events narrated in the chapter preceding this.

"No, I didn't see a black jack," Bud answered. "But it won't be
long until dark, for we don't get the full benefit of the
afternoon sun down in this gorge. And we can't do anything except
by daylight. No use looking for sign in the dark."

"That's right," agreed Nort. "But I was afraid it was a black
rabbit you'd seen."

"As if we didn't have enough bad luck without that," commented
Dick. "It's as bad, losing your herd as it is not to have enough
water to give 'em what they need," and he referred to the time
when, by the efforts of this same Del Pinzo, the supply for the
reservoir of Happy Valley was cut off.

"Oh, well, it might be worse," observed Bud, with a sort of
cheerful, philosophical air, for he was of rather a happy

"How?" asked Snake, for he was rather "sore" because Del Pinzo
and the rustlers had escaped. Perhaps Snake felt that he might
have gone in and captured the outlaws single-handed when he was
on the lone spying expedition.

"Well, I might never have had any cattle for those fellows to
steal," went on Bud. "But say, boys," he went on, as they came to
a place where the trail seemed to divide. "Let's take this other
road back. It looks a bit easier, and we want to favor the ponies
all we can."

"Go ahead," advised Slim, to whom Bud looked for confirmation of
his plan. "Anything that makes it easier for th' horses makes it
more sure for us. And we may have a long hunt ahead of us."

The care taken by the boy ranchers and their friends of their
animals was not exaggerated, nor unusual. In the West so much
depends on a man's horse--his comfort and very life, often--that
it is a foolish fellow, indeed, who will not bestow at least some
thought and care on his horse. The animal becomes a trusted
companion and friend to the cowboys and prospectors.

So, in order, as he hoped, to provide an easier means of getting
back to the place they wished to reach, Bud led the way along a
different trail on the retreat.

It was practically a retreat, though one they had selected for
themselves, since the outlaws had distanced them.

It was rather a dejected bunch of boy ranchers and their friends
that were now back-trailing. There was not much talk, after the
excitement of the attack which had "petered out," and even Bud,
gay and cheerful as he usually was, now seemed to have little to

It was Dick who startled them all by suddenly exclaiming:

"Look ahead there! Isn't that a man on the trail?" He, with Nort
and Bud were in advance of the others. Dick pointed toward the
place where he thought he saw something suspicious.

"I don't glimpse anything," observed Nort.

"Nor I," said his cousin.

"He's gone now," Dick stated. "But I did see some one, and I'm
almost sure it was a Greaser. Looked just like one of their

"What is it!" called Slim, for he caught snatches of the rather
excited talk of the boys.

"Dick thought he saw one of the Del Pinzo gang," answered Bud.

"Maybe he's the fellow I cracked on the head," suggested Snake.
For they had lost sight of that individual in the mad rush into
the canyon, and had not seen him when they turned back.

"Say, wouldn't it be a good thing to capture him?" asked Bud
eagerly. "We could make him tell where the others are, and where
our cattle are hidden."

"If we can get him," conceded Slim.

"There he is again!" cried Dick. "Come on, fellows!"

Disregarding, or forgetting the travel-weary horses, the ranch
lad urged his own steed ahead at as rapid a pace as the animal
could be induced to develop in a spurt.

"Take it easy!" advised Nort to his brother, but he might as well
have called to the wind, for Dick was off and away.

"I don't see anything!" cried Bud, and though he had looked
eagerly forward at Dick's call he had glimpsed neither hat nor
face of any personage who might be suspected of being one of the
Del Pinzo gang.

But, even with that, Bud was not going to miss a chance to be in
at the finish of whatever was about to happen, so he spurred his
animal forward.

"Come on, boys!" cried Slim to his comrades. "We can't let those
youngsters tackle this game alone--'specially when if there's one
of the rustlers there may be more. _Pronto_!"

He galloped forward, as did the others, along the new trail that
Bud had suggested taking. But Dick was in the lead, and, in a few
seconds, was out of sight beyond an outcropping ledge of rock,
which narrowed the trail at this particular point.

"Watch your step there, boys!" cried Snake, as he saw What was
likely to prove a bad turning. "I don't see how Dick got around
it as he did, taking it at the gallop," he went on.

And, as it happened, Dick had not exactly made it, for when Bud
and Nort reached the dangerous turn, slightly after Dick had
disappeared abound it, they saw no sight of their companion.

"Pull up!" cried Bud sharply. "There's something wrong!" Nort was
beginning to think so himself, and he hauled his steed back with
such good will and energy that the animal was almost on its

"Where in the world did he go?" cried Bud.

Nort asked the same question, for there lay the narrow trail
before them, running along a ledge, with a shelving bank of shale
and sand on one side and a towering face of rock on the other.

Snake Purdee raced at such speed around the turn, in spite of his
own admonition to the boy ranchers, that the cowboy nearly ran
down Bud and Nort.

"Where's Dick?" cried Snake, at once aware that the stout lad was
not in sight.

"He's vamoosed--somewhere," said Bud. "Maybe he met-up with that
Greaser and----"

At that moment, however, there came a cry, unmistakably of
distress, seemingly from some distance ahead and down below the
high and narrow trail on which the party had come to a halt.

"There's Dick now!" cried Nort, recognizing his brother's voice.

"Where in the world is he?" asked Bud, looking about.

In answer Snake pointed down the sloping bank of shale and sand,
and there, at the bottom, was Dick, half buried in the soft
material, and his horse, with twisted saddle, was standing near
by, looking rather the worse for wear. And if the countenance of
the animal had been visible it would doubtless have shown pained

"What's' the matter? What you doing down there?" called Nort to
his brother, as Dick proceeded to extricate himself from the sand
and shale that covered him almost to his neck.

"You don't s'pose I'm down here for fun, do you?" floated up the
somewhat sarcastic answer. "I came around that turn too fast and
the horse just sat down at the edge and slid here. It's lucky I'm
not killed!"

"It sure is!" agreed Slim. "You want to take a strange trail
easy, boy. Are you hurt--or your horse?"

Dick was about two hundred feet below them at the foot of the
slope. He got up and limped over to his animal.

"Guess he's all right," was the reply.

"How about you?" asked Bud, for Dick had followed the real
westerner's habit of looking first to his steed.

"Oh, I'm scratched up a bit, and lame," was the rueful reply,
"but I guess nothing is busted unless it's one of my girths."

The others watched him, while he straightened his saddle, which
had slipped around under the horse. Then Dick called up:

"It's all right. I can ride him, I reckon," which he proved by
vaulting into the saddle.

"How am I going to get back up there, though?" he asked. "It's as
slippery as an iceberg." "You can't get up," Snake called down.
"Don't try it. The trail up here goes along the same direction as
the one down there. Keep on it until we join you."

Which Dick did, his pony, fortunately, proving to have suffered
no injuries in the unexpected slide down the hill. And thus, by a
narrow margin, was an accident diverted. For had the slope down
which Dick plunged, because of taking the turn too suddenly, been
of rock, both he and the horse might have been badly hurt, if not

"Keep a lookout for that Greaser," called Dick up to his chums
above him.

"I don't believe you saw any," retorted Slim. "There aren't any
signs of him here."

Nor were there, though the cowboys made careful scrutiny. And
afterward Dick admitted that he might have mistaken the
fluttering of a bush for the hat of someone he thought a member
of Del Pinzo's gang. In a short time the upper path merged into
the trail below, and Dick rejoined his friends, exhibiting some
scratches sustained in his perilous slide.

Together the posse rode on, making a trail back to the main
defile, and out of the one down which the Greaser and his gang
had turned, where they had been discovered by Dick. And then
Bud's prediction came true. The sun, which never shone directly
into the main canyon for any great length of time, began to set,
bringing gloom into the defile long before it would make its
appearance on the level country up above.

Seeing the gathering darkness, Slim advised calling a halt, and
this was done several miles beyond the place where the last trace
of the stolen cattle had been observed.

"Shall we camp here!" asked Bud, deferring to the foreman, as was
natural under the circumstances.

"We've got grass and water," Slim remarked, indicating a spring
toward which, even then, some of the horses were hastening.
"Water for the ponies and us, grass for the animals, and there
ought to be some grub left."

"There is," said Snake Purdee, who had assumed, or been given (it
did not much matter which) the office of commissary. "We brought
along plenty."

"And we may need it before we reach the end of the trail,"
remarked Bud. "I don't believe it's going to be easy to find
where those cattle disappeared to."

"There's only two ways, or at th' most three, in which they could
be kept away from us," said Slim, as he slid from his saddle.

"What are they?" asked Dick, who, like his brother, was always
eager to learn from a true son of the West, such as was the
foreman of Diamond X.

"Well," Slim resumed, "they've either been driven down some side
passage, or gorge, such like as we found Del Pinzo in, or they
were back-tracked to th' open an' driven off there th' same night
they was run off."

"That might be," admitted Bud. "I didn't think of a back track."

"Well, I did," Slim said, "but the signs of it was so faint I
passed it up."

A back trail, I might explain, is where an animal, or several of
them, or even a human, for that matter, turns and retraces the
way first traveled. A fox, fleeing before the hounds, will often
do this, and as the scent does not indicate the direction in
which Reynard is running, the dogs are often deceived.

But in the case of the fox the imprints of the animal's paws are
so light that perhaps only with a microscope could it be told
when he had "back-tracked." Except, of course, in some place
where soft mud might retain the impression of both trails.

In the case of a large body of cattle, also, though the scent
would not be relied upon, it would be difficult for the casual,
or, in some cases, even the trained observer, to say where the
herd had been turned and driven back over the same course
originally taken.

Thus pursuers would be baffled. And when to this is added the
fact that the floor of the gorge was of rock, in the main, which
did not take, or retain, any impressions, the puzzle was all the
more difficult to solve.

"Well, we'll see what happens in the morning," observed Bud, as
preparations for the camp went on.

The usual watches were set that night, two of the posse being
constantly on guard. It was rather nervous work for the boy
ranchers, especially Nort and Dick, as they started at every
chance sound which seemed to echo so loudly in the darkness. And
once Dick, who was taking the tour of duty with Yellin' Kid,
suddenly fired at an object he saw moving.

It was only a luckless coyote, as was evidenced by the howl of
pain that followed the report of Dick's gun, and then the night
was made hideous and sleepless, for the time, by the chorus of
weird howls from the other slinking beasts who were hanging
about, hoping for something to eat.

However, it was nearly morning when Dick did his shooting, and a
little later they all turned out for an early breakfast, the odor
of the coffee and sizzling bacon producing an aroma finer than
that of the most costly French perfume.

"And now for the day's work!" exclaimed Bud, when they were once
more ready to set off on the trail.

"And may we find something!" was the fervent petition of Dick.

Off they started, refreshed by the night's halt and eager for
what lay before them.

I shall not weary you by a recital of all the minor incidents of
the day, how they found many false trails and leads, several of
which at first seemed promising, but all of which led to nothing.

It was Bud who made the real discovery which, eventually, led to
the solving of the mystery. Bud had alighted from his pony, when
the halt was made for the noonday lunch, and was climbing up the
side of the rocky hill which extended for miles and formed one
wall of the gorge.

"Looking for gold?" asked Dick, as he saw his cousin pick up and
examine several rocks.

"Sure!" was the laughing answer. "Might find the bones of another
Triceratops, too!"

Bud reached forward to pick up something else, and a rock slipped
from beneath his foot. He had been resting heavily on it, and the
sudden lurch threw him backward. To save himself he clutched at
the nearest object, which happened to be a bush growing in the
side of the hill. For a moment it seemed that this would save the
lad from at least sliding down the declivity, but the bush was
not deeply rooted and, in another moment pulled out in the ranch
boy's hands. He flung up his arms, and almost toppled over
backward, but managed to throw himself forward, and then he slid
down several feet.

"Hurt!" called up Dick, ready to hasten to his cousin's aid.

"No, but my shoes are full of gravel. Next time I come up a place
like this I----"

Bud suddenly ceased speaking, and began to scramble up the side
of the shale-covered hill almost as fast as he had slid down.
Then, as he reached the place whence the bush had pulled out he
seemed to be looking into some crevice or opening.

A moment later he turned, looked down on the party gathered in
the defile below him, and shouted:

"I've found 'em! I've found 'em! Here they are, in one of the
queerest places you can imagine! Come up here and look!"



Scrambling up the side of the gorge, slipping and sliding back,
almost like the frog in the well, Dick, Nort and the cowboys
reached Bud's side. He maintained his footing only by constantly
working his way upward, for the shale, at this point, was almost
like fine sand, and kept slipping down, taking the boy rancher
with it. But there were bushes growing here and there, and by
holding to these, taking care not to pull them out by the roots,
Bud managed to stay about where he had been when he made the
amazing discovery.

For it was an amazing discovery, as all the others admitted when
they reached his side, and looked through the fissure which had
been disclosed when Bud pulled out the big bush by which he tried
to save himself a fall.

"What is it?' cried Nort.

"And where are they?" demanded Dick.

"It's our cattle! They're inside there--a place like a football
stadium only there aren't any seats," explained Bud, breathlessly.
By this time he was surrounded by the others, all maintaining a
precarious foothold in the shifting shale. And what they saw
caused them all to join with Bud in wondering amazement.

For there, in what was a great natural bowl of the earth, with
partly sloping green sides, and with a floor covered by grass,
with a pool of sparkling water in the centre, were the missing
cattle! The whole of the big herd that had been driven away from
Happy Valley was there, it seemed. There they were, in that vast,
natural amphitheatre with food and water at hand, and, apparently,
as content as when they grazed on the range of the boy ranchers.

"By all the rattlers that ever rattled!" cried Snake. "We sure
have found 'em!"

"And they're all right, too!" added Yellin' Kid, as he gazed
through the crack which had been opened when Bud pulled out the
bush. For it was only through the crack that they were able to
view the steers contentedly feeding and drinking within that vast
bowl. That is what it was--bowl much more immense in size than
the one where Yale battles with Princeton and Harvard. More
immense than the Palmer Stadium at Old Nassau. The walls towered
higher, and it was greater in diameter. It was almost a perfect
bowl in shape--that is as perfect as so natural a formation could

"But how did the cattle ever get in there!" exclaimed Nort.

"And how are we going to get them out?" asked Dick.

For it seemed, at first sight, that there was no entrance or
egress. And certainly nothing could get in over the top, or out
that way. For though the sides of the great, natural bowl were
green up to a certain distance, beyond that, and between the rim
and a point half way down, they were almost perpendicular in
straightness. And, being of rock, they would, it seemed, afford
scarcely a foot or hand-hold for the most expert "human fly."

"There must be a way in," declared Slim.

"And out, too," added Yellin' Kid. "Those rustlers never would
have driven th' steers in here unless there was some way of
getting 'em out."

"But what is this place, anyhow!" asked Nort. "It looks like the
Yale bowl, but it never could have been built by man."

"It wasn't," said Bud. "It's the crater of an extinct volcano. It
has been filled up, with land-slides, probably, and the winds and
the birds have brought grass seeds here, year after year, until
it makes a regular corral for cattle. There's water, too, which
isn't surprising. That's what it is, an old volcano crater. I
heard there was one around here, but I never had time to look for

"Yes, I've heard of it myself," admitted Slim, "but I didn't think
it was like this. Let's have another look."

Dick and Nort moved aside to give the foreman a place of
advantage, and when he had looked through a spot where the crack
was wider he said: "I see where they can get th' cattle out.
Here, take a look, Bud," and Slim handed the ranch lad a pair of
field glasses that had been brought along in case of emergency.
They were of value now.

"Down at th' far end, and a little to the left of centre," Slim
directed Bud's gaze. "There's a sort of fence of trees piled up.
That's th' entrance all right--or one of 'em."

"You're right!" agreed Bud when he had taken a careful
observation. "But is there more than one!"

"Must be," said Slim. "The rustlers never drove th' cattle in
away around _there_. They sent 'em in from _this_ end. Th' trail
ends right here, an' it's here where th' rustlers drove th' cattle in."

"But where?" asked Bud. "There isn't a sign of an opening!"

"Because they closed it after them," went on the foreman. "I
begin to see it now. There must have been a break in the wall of
the old crater right about here. They drove th' cattle in an' it
was an easy matter t' let some of th' dirt slide down an' fill it
up again. Let's take a look with a view t' seein' if I'm right."
It is easier to find a clue when you know just what you are
looking for. And it did not take long for the experienced eyes of
the cow punchers to discover where earth and shale from above had
been recently dislodged and allowed to slide down to cover what
must have been the same sort of natural opening into the side of
the wall as that at the far end, closed by a fence of trees. This
was to keep the cattle in without men being needed to ride herd.

"Yes, it does look as if they'd taken 'em in here," said Bud,
when it was found that the trail of the steers led to the foot of
the crater wall, where all signs stopped. "If we had looked up a
little, instead of sticking so close to the ground, we might have
seen this clue before."

"All in good time," observed Slim. "The question is, now, how can
we get in there?"

"It will be easy enough," suggested Nort. "All you'll have to do
will be to enlarge the crack we looked through."

"That's all right for us getting inside that crater," observed
Dick, "but what about our horses? They can't scramble up there."

"Then what can we do?" asked Bud. "Ride around to the other

"That would take too long," answered the foreman. "I fancy that
Del Pinzo and his gang are on their way to this natural corral
now, t' drive out th' cattle they stole from us. We've got t' get
ahead of 'em!"

"But how?" Bud wanted to know.

"I think we can dig out enough of th' shale an' dirt they slid
int' th' opening, so that we can get th' horses through," Slim
answered. "We ought t' have shovels, but we can use sticks t' dig
with. It will take longer, but it's the best we can do."

Little time was lost in putting this plan into operation. With a
hatchet, which formed part of their camp equipment, some strong
poles were cut from one of the few trees that grew on the slope
of the gorge, and with these digging operations began. It was
slow work, but many hands were engaged and soon an opening was
made so that entrance could be had to the original crack in the
rocky side of the bowl. For it was by this crack that the cattle
had been driven in. And the crack had only been partly filled
with broken rock and earth to conceal it from view.

"Yes, they did come in this way!" cried Bud as he and the others
urged their horses through the opening and into the bowl proper--
the crater of the extinct volcano. "Look, plenty of signs!" There
was no doubt of it. The rustlers had driven the cattle into the
defile, hazed them along until they reached the opening into this
great natural hiding place, and then the rest was easy.

The animals had been run into this solitary place, passing
through the narrow, fissure-like opening in the rocky wall, a
crack similar to, but larger, than the opening through which Bud
had made his discovery. Then shale and dirt had been started, in
a miniature avalanche, down the side of the slope, effectually
hiding the means by which the cattle were secreted away.

"No wonder we thought an airship had been used," commented Dick.

Before them lay the vast crater of the old volcano, inactive for
centuries. Nature had covered the hard lava with a layer of soil
in which grew rich grass. And nature had further made the place
an ideal corral for cattle by supplying a large spring of water.
It was a "rustler's paradise," to quote Slim Degnan.

As the boy ranchers rode into the amphitheatre, the cattle at the
far end, and in the middle, stopped grazing to look at them.

"We're friends of yours!" called Bud, waving his hat in the joy
at finding his lost stock.

"Yes, but here come some fellows who aren't!" shouted Yellin'

"Where?" asked Bud, quickly.

"There!" Kid pointed to the far end of the crater, if one may use
the word "end" in referring to a circular bowl.

The cowboy posse saw, riding at top speed into the great
depression, a crowd of men, who, as they came nearer, could be
recognized as the Del Pinzo gang. The Greaser leader was not in
evidence, however.

"They're after the cattle!" cried Nort.

"Well, they won't get 'em without a fight!" shouted Bud.

He drew his weapon, an example followed by the others, and as the
two parties, one representing law and order and the other the
wild, reckless element, started toward each other, the fight



"Come on, fellows; Come on!" yelled Bud, as he clapped his heels
against the sides of his pony and rushed toward the rustlers.
"Give 'em all they got coming!"

"We're with you!" cried Nort.

"A fight to the finish!" shouted Dick.

The boy ranchers had their weapons out, as, indeed, had every one
of the following cowboys. Nor was Del Pinzo's gang a whit behind
in this, though their lawless leader did not seem to be present.
The sun gleamed on the flashing ornaments of silver worn by some
of the Mexican Greasers as they rode to the fray.

"Don't ride too far, Bud!" called Slim, for the boys were
inclined to be reckless.

"We've got to ride 'em down or they'll have all the cattle out of
that far opening before we get there!" Bud answered. And, as he
replied he fired one shot in the air, over the heads of the
enemy. For Bud bore in mind his father's injunction, not to shoot
to wound unless it was absolutely necessary. And Bud thought
perhaps a strong show of force would awe the rustlers, causing
them to retreat.

However, they were in too strong force for this. And as the boy
ranchers and their friends rode on into the vast, natural,
volcanic bowl, and were able to take note of their foes, they saw
that the rustlers outnumbered them two to one.

Bud's shot--the first of the fight--was the signal for general
firing, though, as usual in such engagements, the initial
fusilade was wild on both sides; mercifully so, it seemed
ordered, for no one was hurt by the opening volley.

"There's going to be a hot time!" shouted Yellin' Kid, as he
spurred forward. "And I don't see th' skunk that spoiled my hat!
Where is he?"

"Del Pinzo would rather his men'd get th' lickin's!" answered
Snake. "He's hidin' out, I reckon."

"I'd like to find his hole!" said Yellin' Kid.

The clashing forces were nearer each other now, with the bunch of
Happy Valley steers in between, but off to one side. In order
that you may better understand what follows, and the positions of
the contending parties, I will explain the situation briefly.

The boy ranchers and their friends had ridden in on what I might
call the north end of the volcanic crater, in which bowl the
rustlers had hidden the cattle. The opening by which the cattle
had been placed in the bowl had been closed by a slide of dirt
and shale but this had been partly cleared away by our friends so
they could ride through the crack.

At what may be termed the south end of the crater was a larger
opening, wide enough, in fact, for several horsemen to ride
abreast or a large herd of cattle to be driven through. This
opening had been roughly fenced off to keep in the cattle. And it
was through this opening that the rustlers had ridden, advancing
to meet the force of the boy ranchers coming from the north.

The cattle had been feeding in the centre of the bowl, but as the
two parties began the fight, the steers drew off to the west. It
was evidently the intention of the rustlers to take out the
cattle if possible. Whether they could succeed in driving them
away in spite of the pursuit of the rightful owners, or whether
they hoped to hide them in some other secret place did not

At any rate, here were the two contending parties racing toward
each other, and firing as they galloped forward. And when they
were all out in the open it was evident that the rustlers far
outnumbered the boy ranchers and their friends.

One thing, however, was in favor of Bud and the others with him.
They had advanced farther into the bowl than had the rustlers,
and were past the centre when the actual fray began. Using the
illustration of a football game, to which I am tempted because of
the location of the fray, I might remark that the ball was now
over the centre line and well into the enemy's territory. It was
up to Bud and his followers to rush it over for a touchdown.

But the rustlers were not going to give up without a sharp fight.
They had come to take away the cattle, and this they now
endeavored to do. Several Greasers separated from the main body
and began to circle around with the evident intention of cutting
out a bunch of steers, to drive them to the larger opening, where
the fence had been torn down.

"We've got to stop that!" shouted Slim. "Here, Snake, you and Kid
ride over and see what you can do!"

The two cowboys, shouting at the tops of their voices, wheeled to
one side and started toward half a dozen Greasers. The odds were
not so great as they seemed, for right and justice were on the
side of the cowboys.

Suddenly Dick, who was riding between Bud and Nort, gave a little
cry, and his weapon dropped from his right hand, on which a spot
of blood appeared.

"Hit?" asked Nort.

"Only a scratch," Dick answered. He halted his pony, snatched his
neckerchief off and, with the help of his brother, bound up the
wound. It was decidedly more than a scratch, being a deep cut
where a glancing bullet had hit, and Dick's hand would be out of
commission for some time.

"But I can fire with my left," he added, a feat to which he was
equal, "and Star guides by knee pressure." He was riding a pony
he had taught to obey directions by means of pressure of the
cowboy's knees on either side. And Dick had been practicing left
hand shooting for some time. His gun restored to him, he rode on
with his brother and cousin.

With sudden yells, accompanied by as sudden a rush, a band of the
Greasers now rode straight for Bud, Dick, Nort and some of the
Diamond X outfit with our heroes. So fierce was the attack, and
in such numbers, that there was nothing for our friends to do but
retreat, for the time being at least.

This attack took place in a part of the bowl where there were a
large number of immense boulders scattered. Seeing that these
formed a natural protection, or breastwork, Bud called to his
cousins and the men to get behind the stones.

"Make the horses lie down!" was his advice. "We'll fight Indian

And, at this point, at least, this became the style of the
battle. The Greasers rode fast, endeavoring to cut off Bud and
his party, but the latter reached the haven of rocks first, and
with the horses on their sides, positions the steeds were glad
enough to assume, doubtless, the advantage was on the side of the
boy ranchers.

They were protected by rocks, from behind which they could fire,
while the enemy was in the open. But the enemy far outnumbered
our friends, and the latter, for the time being, were in the
position of persons besieged.

For, no sooner had the Greasers seen what was the object of Bud
and his followers, than the lawless ones took such small shelter
as they could find, some behind their prostrate horses, and began
firing at the boy ranchers' party. And as the renegade Mexicans
were, in a number of cases, armed with rifles, the odds against
Bud and his chums were increased. True, the Greasers were not
good marksmen, but a rifle in the hands of even a poor shooter is
often more than a match for a .45 revolver in the hands of an

"Pick 'em off!" cried Bud, as bullets zinged their way in among
the rocks behind which he and his friends were hidden. "Pick 'em
off, but don't expose yourself!"

This was good advice if it could have been followed, but to fire
effectively it was necessary for those of the Diamond X outfit to
take aim over, or to one side, of the rocks, and when this was
done, some part of the body was exposed. At such times the
watching Greasers fired.

It was now an actual state of siege as far as Bud and his
immediate companions were concerned, and they were outnumbered.
Several of Bud's party, including Nort this time, had been
slightly wounded. But, in turn, they had wounded some Greasers,
too, one vitally, as was learned later.

Meanwhile, Snake and Kid were having their own troubles with the
party of Greasers they had been sent off to intercept and prevent
from driving off the cattle. More Mexicans had joined their
comrades, and Kid and Snake were obliged to beat a retreat,
joining Slim and his forces, who were fighting the main, and
larger body of rustlers.

And it was while these two separate fights were going on, and
while the Greasers that had forced Kid and Snake to retire were
gathering together a bunch of cattle to drive out of the main
opening, that Dick, who was readjusting the bandage on his hand,
saw something that made his heart sink.

This was a sight of another body of Greasers riding into the bowl
from the south end--a body of Mexican horsemen led by Del Pinzo

"I guess it's all up with us now," said Dick to his brother,
calling the latter's attention to the reinforcements of the
enemy. "That's what that half-breed was hanging back for. He
wanted to get us well mixed up, and now he'll drive off the

"Whew!" whistled Nort. "It does look that way. What we going to
do, Dick?"

The two brothers were behind a great boulder, off to one side.
Bud and some of the cowboys were replying to a brisk fire on the
part of the besieging Greasers.

For a moment, after having tied the bandage on his hand, Dick did
not answer. Then, as if an inspiration came to him, he said:

"It's only a chance, Nort, and a desperate chance at that. But
maybe we can do it! Did you ever read Kipling's 'Drums of the
Fore and Aft'?"

"Sure! But what's that got to do with this?"

"A lot. You and I are going to be the 'Drums' and these are going
to play the tune," and he tapped his .45. "Come on," he added,
motioning to his brother. "As I said, it's a desperate chance,
but it may do the trick!"



Not to mystify you, when there is no need for it, I will say that
the scheme Dick had hit upon was simple enough. If you recall
Kipling's famous story you know that two drummer boys, of a
British regiment in India, when the main body was being defeated
by a horde of natives, slipped quietly off to one side, and, by
hiding behind rocks, played the fife and beat the drum to such
advantage that the heathens thought another regiment was
approaching to take them in the rear, while the British force was
so heartened by hearing the familiar strains that they rallied,
the retreat was stopped and the day won.

Dick and Nort had no fife or drum, and, if they had possessed
those instruments, it is doubtful if they could have performed on
them with any credit to themselves.

Each of them was slightly wounded, but they possessed their guns
and had a plentiful supply of ammunition, and it was Dick's idea
to use this. "We'll slide out, crawl along that gully there," and
he pointed to Nort the one he meant, "and we'll take 'em on the
flank. By keeping behind the rocks, and firing fast, we can make
'em think, maybe, that another force is coming."

"You well said it--_maybe_," murmured Nort. "But at that,
the idea isn't so bad. They may hold us here all day, and with
Slim and his bunch having their hands full, it looks as if the
cattle would be driven off."

For while some of the rustlers were holding Bud and his band in
check behind the rocks, and while others were fighting Slim and
his cowboys, still others were driving the cattle toward the
opening in the old volcano bowl. It was Dick's idea that if by a
cross fire on the part of himself and his brother, hidden among
the rocks, they could scare away the band besieging Bud and his
friends, a diversion might be created which would rout the enemy.
At any rate, it was worth trying.

Bud was busy, as Nort and Dick slipped off, tying a bandage on
the arm of one of the cowboys who had been shot. And the brothers
were glad to try their desperate venture unnoticed, for they did
not want to explain. And they did not want to be observed going
away, as it looked a little like desertion in the face of the
enemy. But, for the time being, there was a lull in the fighting.
The Greasers who had been holding Bud's force behind the rocks,
had quieted down. The fighting between Slim and his cowboys out
in the open, however, was going on fiercely, and several had
fallen on both sides.

Once Dick and Nort were down in a gully, off to the right of the
rocks behind which the band had taken shelter, the eastern lads
were screened from observation, both by their friends and by the

"Cut along, North!" advised Dick, and, in spite of their wounds,
the boy ranchers ran in crouching positions, their guns in

It did not take them long to reach a point which they regarded as
favorable for the trick they were going to play--for it was
nothing more nor less than a trick. If they could succeed, by
quick firing, in deceiving the enemy, and causing a retreat, a
sudden rush on the part of Bud and his friends might turn the

"All ready?" asked Dick of his brother, as they reached some
sheltering rocks on the flank of the party besieging Bud.

"Wait until I lay a lot of cartridges ready on the ground. It
will be easier to reload them."

"Good idea. I'll do the same."

It was rather awkward for Dick, with his wounded right hand, to
reload his gun, but he could manage after a fashion, though not
so well as Nort, whose hurt was in his upper left arm. The lads
saw to it that their weapons were ready, with a goodly supply of
cartridges in front of them. Nort looked across at Dick, behind
the sheltering rock, and at a nod from the latter they both began

The effect on the Greasers, poorly screened as they were, was
instantaneous. Several leaped to their feet and turned in
surprise toward the sound of firing on their flank. These made
good targets, and by firing at them Dick and Nort brought more
than one to the ground.

Bud and his companions, hearing the firing in a new direction,
where, as yet they did not know they had supporters, were also
taken by surprise, but it was of another nature.

"Come on! Rush 'em!" yelled Bud, when he had looked around, and,
missing Dick and Nort, guessed what had happened. "We've got 'em
in a cross fire now! Rush 'em!"

But the Greasers, disheartened by the firing of Dick and Nort on
their flank, did not stop to be rushed. Those who were able
leaped up and ran toward their horses, which had strayed off to
one side. Bud and his party emerged from behind the rocks, firing
as they rushed the enemy.

"This is the stuff, Dick!" shouted Nort, as he reloaded his gun
and sent another fusilade of bullets into the ranks of the now
retreating Greasers.

"I'm glad it worked!" remarked the proposer of the Kipling
scheme. "Now we can go help Slim and his bunch. They're having

Indeed the tide of battle did seem to be turning against the
foreman and his forces. They were outnumbered, and had lost
several cowboys, by wounds if not by death--just which it was
impossible to determine then. And, meanwhile, the other Greasers,
under the leadership of the wily Del Pinzo, were hazing the
cattle toward the main entrance.

"Good work, boys! Great work!" Bud greeted his cousins with as he
rode out to meet them, when the besieging Greasers had been
routed by the cross fire of the two lads. "How'd you think of

"It was Dick," spoke Nort.

"It was Kipling!" Dick answered.

"Get mounted and join us!" Bud requested. "We've got to help

This was evident, as the foreman and his cowboys were now hard
pressed. But as Nort and Dick rejoined Bud, having leaped to
their saddles they, as well as the others from Diamond X caught
sight of something which, for the moment made them sick at heart.

For the sight was that of another body of horsemen riding into
the old volcano bowl. On they cantered, the sun glinting on their

"More of Del Pinzo's rustlers!" burst out Bud. "We may as well
give up! They're too many for us!"

But he did not pull rein, intending it seemed, to fight it out to
the bitter end. A cry from Dick was the cause of wonderment. He
pointed to the new body of advancing horsemen.

"Look! Look!" Dick shouted. "Those aren't Greasers! They aren't
rustlers or Del Pinzo's gang! They're United States troopers! By
all the jack rabbits that ever jumped we've got the rustlers now!
The United States cavalry is on the job!"

And a moment later, as the notes of a bugle gave a musical order,
causing the advancing troop to deploy to right and left, it was
evident that the tide of battle had turned in favor of the boy
ranchers and their friends.

For the newcomers were, in reality, a troop of United States
regulars, and with a dash and vim, exceeded nowhere in the world,
and among no other fighters, this band of grim-faced men entered
into action. Carbines were unslung and their short and ugly bark
was added to the din.

"Come on, fellows!"

"Now we've got 'em!"

"Over the line!"


These were only a few of the excited shouts of the boy ranchers
themselves, while the cowboys of Diamond X riding into the fray
with new hearts, sent up their shrill, yipping yells. It was all
over then but the shouting, so to speak. The Greasers were fairly
trapped--Del Pinzo and all his gang. In vain they attempted to
ride around and escape by the main entrance. But the troopers had
stationed a guard there, and the bowl was "bottled up." One or
two Greasers, sneaking around to the north, did manage to escape
through the crack by which Bud and his friends had entered,
though the main body was captured and the cattle saved.

"Whew, but that was hot work!" commented Bud, toward sundown,
when the rustlers had been caught, disarmed and corraled under

"You told the truth for once," remarked Dick, whose wound had
been rebandaged by the surgeon accompanying the troopers.

"And I guess this is the end of Del Pinzo," remarked Nort, for
the outlaw Greaser half-breed had been caught red-handed, so to

"I hope so," mused Bud. "But we paid a price for it."

"And so did they," observed Slim. "We accounted for quite a few,
but I'm sorry for our boys." Several of the Diamond X outfit had
been grievously wounded, and one was killed outright. But the
casualties on the side of the enemy were greater.

The fight was over. The cattle of the boy ranchers were saved,
and the rustlers captured. Tired horses were staked out near
grass and water, and while the cavalry established their camp,
Bud and his friends began to wonder how it was the troopers had
arrived in the nick of time.

"Well, it was more by chance than anything else," said Captain
Parker, who was in command. "We'd been on the trail of these
outlaws for some time, and finally we saw a chance to corner
them. It was due to the work of Lieutenant Wayne that we were
able so to effectually bag them here, though. He has been on
scout duty in this section for some time, endeavoring to get information
so that we might round up this gang."

"Lieutenant Wayne," repeated Bud, wonderingly.

"Yes, here he comes now. He says he knows you boys."

"Knows us!" murmured Dick, as a trooper approached, saluting his
superior and smiling at the boy ranchers. "Yes, don't you know
me?" asked Lieutenant Wayne, holding out his hand to Bud.
"Perhaps if I had on my glasses, you would be better able to----"

"Four Eyes!" burst out Nort. "At least--I beg your pardon--Henry--er--Mr.
Mellon--Lieutenant Wayne!" he stammered.

"Yes, Four Eyes!" was the laughing answer of the trooper. "Those
glasses were only fakes! I wore them as a sort of disguise, and
very effectual they were, it seems."

"Four Eyes!" gasped Bud. "And were you in the United States
cavalry all the while?"

"Yes, on scout, or detached duty," was the answer. "The
government has had many complaints of this band of Del Pinzo's
rustlers, and we were detailed to put them out of business. I was
assigned to go on duty as a cowboy, which wasn't so hard, as I
had been one nearly all my life before joining the army. I worked
on several ranches, picking up bits of information here and
there, and I completed all I needed to get in Happy Valley," he

"And we never tumbled!" remarked Dick.

"Glad you didn't!" laughed Lieutenant Wayne, to give him his
proper title. "I thought you were suspicious of me, more than
once, though," he said.

"We were, after you built that signal lantern on the watch tower--you
did do that, didn't you?" asked Bud.

"Yes, but only as a decoy for the rustlers. I managed to overhear
some of their plans, and part of their scheme called for a light
on the tower when the time was ripe for a raid on your cattle,
boys. So I flashed the signal myself, and, indirectly, it led to
this capture today. For I joined my troop right after that, and
we have been rounding the rascals up ever since.

"We knew they had made a big raid at your place, but we didn't
know where they had hidden the cattle until I happened to think
of this old crater, which I discovered one day when I was working
for you, Bud. So we made our way here and--well, this is the end,
I believe," he added, as he looked over at the bunch of miserable

"I hope it's the end," said Bud. "We want to get back to
business. And I'm sorry we suspected you, Lieutenant."

"Oh, that's all right. In fact, I'm glad you did. It shows I
lived up to the character I was supposed to represent."

There is little more to tell. That night, around the campfire
many things, hitherto a mystery, were explained. The stethoscope
the boys found was the property of Lieutenant Wayne. He had
dropped it when paying a secret visit to Happy Valley. He had
intended to pose as a doctor to deceive the rustlers, but, on
losing the stethoscope he gave up that plan. It is needless to
say that he had nothing to do with the robbery at Diamond X, the
real thieves never being discovered. Lieutenant Wayne apologized
for cutting his way from Bud's tent the night he disappeared
after the signal from the tower. This was the only way he could
disappear and accomplish his plans, he said. And it was he who
had fired and broken the bottle, and had also fired mysterious
signal shots, in order to play up to his character of being in
with the rustlers.

"Though the bottle-breaking was only a joke I indulged in," he
admitted, "I'm sorry it worried you so."

The soldier, of course, had nothing to do with the prairie fire,
and who set it, if it was set, was not discovered. Lieutenant
Wayne finally recovered his black horse Cinder, the animal having
made its way back to Curly Q ranch, where the officer once posed
as a cowboy.

The cattle first stolen by the rustlers were not recovered, but
it was found that when they seemed they had been spirited off in
an airship they had been merely back-tracked and hidden until an
opportune time to dispose of them. Del Pinzo's gang was in
hiding, waiting for a chance to drive off the main body of
steers, when they were surprised by our heroes. Whether Hank
Fisher was in with the rustlers was not decided, though
suspicions pointed toward him. The outlaws were sentenced to long
terms after being captured by the troopers, and their secret
meeting place, having been discovered, was destroyed.

After these explanations had been made, it was decided not to try
to drive the cattle out of the crater until the next day.

The night passed without incident, though none of the boy
ranchers turned in early. They were too excited, and they wanted
to talk over what had happened.

The existence of the old crater was not generally known, but Del
Pinzo and his rustlers appeared to have the secret of it. They
had driven off Bud's cattle, put them into the natural corral and
then filled in, with dirt, the only entrance visible from the
defile trail leading from Happy Valley. They intended to use the
larger opening out of the bowl, to the south, to get the cattle
away. But their plans were frustrated.

The next day the troopers drove off before them the discomfitted
Del Pinzo and his disheartened followers, Yellin' Kid taking the
Mexican's elaborate hat to replace the cowboy's with the bullet
holes. Lieutenant Wayne said farewell to the boy ranchers,
promising to come and see them again, in his real character.

The wounded were transported as tenderly as possible out of the
main egress from the bowl, it being impractical to use the other.
And it was from this larger entrance, after the fence had been
torn away, that the cattle were driven, by a long winding trail
amid the mountains back to Happy Valley. Only a few were lost by
the raid, which was the largest ever perpetrated by the rustlers
in that part of the country.

"But I guess, now that the troopers have Del Pinzo, and not the
local authorities with their flimsy town jails, that this Greaser
won't be foot-loose for some time," observed Bud, when, once
more, the boy ranchers were back in camp.

"I don't want to hear his name again," murmured Dick, nursing his
wounded hand.

"And to think that Four Eyes was working in our interests when we
thought him a spy! That was pretty good!" laughed Nort.

"Yes, it all worked out pretty well," spoke Bud. "And do you know
what I'd like to do? I'd like Dad to buy that old volcano crater
for us. It would be a peach of a place where we could winter a
herd of cattle, and have 'em fat for spring selling. I'm going to
speak to him about it," he concluded.

"Well, you can speak right now, for here he comes, and your
mother and sister, too," added Dick, as Mr. Merkel's auto chugged
down the trail from Diamond X.

"Well, boys, I hear you beat Del Pinzo at his own game!" greeted
the rancher, while Nell expressed her sorrow at Dick's wound, to
the somewhat jealous regard of Nort, whose hurt was more slight.

"Yes, he's where he won't blur any more brands right away," Bud
answered. "But it looked like touch and go for a while. The
troopers came just in time!"

"Well, you fellows seem to know how to take care of yourselves
and the cattle," observed Bud's father. "Guess I'll turn one of
my main ranches over to you. What say?"

But the boys did not answer. They were busy eating slices of a
large chocolate cake that Nell had brought over. This is reason
enough, isn't it? However, the adventures of our heroes did not
end with the capture of the rustlers. And those of you who wish
to follow them further may do so in the next volume of this
series which will be entitled: "The Boy Ranchers Among the
Indians; or Trailing the Yaquis." In that volume we shall meet
many of our old friends again, and, should Bud permit it, I may
tell you about Zip Foster. But with the capture of Del Pinzo, and
his rustlers, this book is finished.


Book of the day: