Part 2 out of 6
issue. Both were bloody now, clothing and all. Then in a flash the
scales turned against the challenger _a l'outrance_.
Banion caught his antagonist by the wrist, and swift as a flash stooped,
turning his own back and drawing the arm of his enemy over his own
shoulder, slightly turned, so that the elbow joint was in peril and so
that the pain must be intense. It was one of the jiu jitsu holds,
discovered independently perhaps at that instant; certainly a new hold
for the wrestling school of the frontier.
Woodhull's seconds saw the look of pain come on his face, saw him wince,
saw him writhe, saw him rise on his toes. Then, with a sudden squatting
heave, Banion cast him full length in front of him, upon his back!
Before he had time to move he was upon him, pinning him down. A growl
came from six observers.
In an ordinary fall a man might have turned, might have escaped. But
Woodhull had planned his own undoing when he had called it free. Eyeless
men, usually old men, in this day brought up talk of the ancient and
horrible warfare of a past generation, when destruction of the adversary
was the one purpose and any means called fair when it was free.
But the seconds of both men raised no hand when they saw the balls of
Will Banion's thumbs pressed against the upper orbit edge of his enemy's
"Do you say enough?" panted the victor.
A groan from the helpless man beneath.
"Am I the best man? Can I whip you?" demanded the voice above him, in
the formula prescribed.
"Go on--do it! Pull out his eye!" commanded Bill Jackson savagely. "He
called it free to you! But don't wait!"
But the victor sprang free, stood, dashed the blood from his own eyes,
wavered on his feet.
The hands of his fallen foe were across his eyes. But even as his men
ran in, stooped and drew them away the conqueror exclaimed:
"I'll not! I tell you I won't maim you, free or no free! Get up!"
So Woodhull knew his eyes were spared, whatever might be the pain of the
sore nerves along the socket bone.
He rose to his knees, to his feet, his face ghastly in his own sudden
sense of defeat, the worse for his victor's magnanimity, if such it
might be called. Humiliation was worse than pain. He staggered, sobbing.
"I won't take nothing for a gift from you!"
But now the men stood between them, like and like. Young Jed Wingate
pushed back his man.
"It's done!" said he. "You shan't fight no more with the man that let
you up. You're whipped, and by your own word it'd have been worse!"
He himself handed Will Banion his coat.
"Go get a pail of water," he said to Kelsey, and the latter departed.
Banion stepped apart, battered and pale beneath his own wounds.
"I didn't want to fight him this way," said he. "I left him his eyes so
he can see me again. If so he wants, I'll meet him any way. I hope he
won't rue back."
"You fool!" said old Bill Jackson, drawing Banion to one side. "Do ye
know what ye're a-sayin'? Whiles he was a-layin' thar I seen the bottoms
o' his boots. Right fancy they was, with smallish heels! That skunk'll
kill ye in the dark, Will. Ye'd orto hev put out'n both his two eyes!"
A sudden sound made them all turn. Came crackling of down brush, the
scream of a woman's voice. At the side of the great tree stood a figure
that had no right there. They turned mute.
It was Molly Wingate who faced them all now, turning from one bloody,
naked figure to the other. She saw Sam Woodhull standing, his hands
still at his face; caught some sense out of Jackson's words, overheard
as she came into the clearing.
"You!" she blazed at Will Banion. "You'd put out a man's eyes! You
Molly Wingate looked from one to the other of the group of silent,
shamefaced men. Puzzled, she turned again to the victor in the savage
Will Banion caught up his clothing, turned away.
"You are right!" said he. "I have been a brute! Good-by!"
An instant later Molly found herself alone with the exception of her
"You, Jed, what was this?" she demanded.
Jed took a deep and heartfelt chew of plug.
"Well, it was a little argument between them two," he said finally.
"Like enough a little jealousy, like, you know--over place in the train,
or something. This here was for men. You'd no business here."
"But it was a shame!"
"I reckon so."
"Who started this?"
"Both of them. All we was here for was to see fair. Men got to fight
"But not like animals, not worse than savages!"
"Well, it was right savage, some of the time, sis."
"They said--about eyes--oh!"
The girl shivered, her hands at her own eyes.
"Yes, they called it free. Anybody else, Sam Woodhull'd be sorry enough
right now. T'other man throwed him clean and had him down, but he let
him up. He didn't never hurt Sam's eyes, only pinched his head a little.
He had a right, but didn't. It had to be settled and it was settled,
fair and more'n fair, by him."
"But, Jed"--the eternal female now--"then, which one really whipped?"
"Will Banion did, ain't I told you? You insulted him, and he's gone.
Having come in here where you wasn't no ways wanted, I reckon the best
thing you can do is to go back to your own wagon and stay there. What
with riding horses you hadn't ought, and seeing fights when you don't
know a damned thing about nothing, I reckon you've made trouble about
enough. Come on!"
"Price," said Bill Jackson to the grave and silent man who walked with
him toward the wagon train beyond the duelling ground, "this settles
hit. Us Missoury wagons won't go on under no sech man as Sam Woodhull.
We didn't no ways eleck him--he was app'inted. Mostly, elected is
better'n app'inted. An' I seen afore now, no man can hold his place on
the trail unless'n he's fatten. We'll eleck Will Banion our cap'n, an'
you fellers kin go to hell. What us fellers started out to do was to go
"But that'll mean the train's split!"
"Shore hit will! Hit is split right now. But thar's enough o' the
Liberty wagons to go through without no help. We kin whup all the rest
o' this train, give we need ter, let alone a few Injuns now an' then.
"To-night," he concluded, "we'll head up the river, an' leave you
fellers the boat an' all o' Papin's Ferry to git acrost the way you
want. Thar hain't no manner o' man, outfit, river er redskin that Ole
Missoury kain't lick, take 'em as they come, them to name the holts an'
the rules. We done showed you-all that. We're goin' to show you some
more. So good-by." He held out his hand. "Ye helped see far, an' ye're a
far man, an' we'll miss ye. Ef ye git in need o' help come to us. Ole
Missoury won't need no help."
"Well, Woodhull's one of you Missourians," remarked Price.
"Yes, but he ain't bred true. Major Banion is. Hit was me that made him
fight knuckle an' skull an' not with weapons. He didn't want to, but I
had a reason. I'm content an' soothe jest the way she lies. Ef Will
never sees the gal agin she ain't wuth the seem'.
"Ye'll find Col. William Banion at the head o' his own train. He's
fitten, an' he's fout an' proved hit"
WHEN ALL THE WORLD WAS YOUNG
Molly Wingate kneeled by her cooking fire the following morning, her
husband meantime awaiting the morning meal impatiently. All along the
medley of crowded wagons rose confused sounds of activity at a hundred
"Where's Little Molly?" demanded Wingate. "We got to be up and coming."
"Her and Jed is off after the cattle. Well, you heard the news last
night. You've got to get someone else to run the herd. If each family
drives its own loose stock everything'll be all mixed up. The Liberty
outfit pulled on by at dawn. Well, anyways they left us the sawmill and
"Sam Woodhull, he's anxious to get on ahead of the Missourians," she
added. "He says he'll take the boat anyhow, and not pay them Kaws any
such hold-up price like they ask."
"All I got to say is, I wish we were across," grumbled Wingate, stooping
to the bacon spider.
"Huh! So do I--me and my bureau and my hens. Yes, after you've fussed
around a while you men'll maybe come to the same conclusion your head
cowguard had; you'll be making more boats and doing less swimming. I'm
sorry he quit us."
"It's the girl," said her husband sententiously.
"Yes. But"--smiling grimly--"one furse don't make a parting."
"She's same as promised Sam Woodhull, Molly, and you know that."
"Before he got whipped by Colonel Banion."
"Colonel! Fine business for an officer! Woodhull told me he tripped and
this other man was on top of him and nigh gouged out his two eyes. And
he told me other things too. Banion's a traitor, to split the train. We
can spare all such."
"Can we?" rejoined his wife. "I sort of thought--"
"Never mind what you thought. He's one of the unruly, servigerous sort;
can't take orders, and a trouble maker always. We'll show that outfit.
I've ordered three more scows built and the seams calked in the wagon
Surely enough, the Banion plan of crossing, after all, was carried out,
and although the river dropped a foot meantime, the attempt to ford _en
masse_ was abandoned. Little by little the wagon parks gathered on the
north bank, each family assorting its own goods and joining in the
general _sauve qui peut_.
Nothing was seen of the Missouri column, but rumor said they were
ferrying slowly, with one boat and their doubled wagon boxes, over which
they had nailed hides. Woodhull was keen to get on north ahead of this
body. He had personal reasons for that. None too well pleased at the
smiles with which his explanations of his bruised face were received, he
made a sudden resolution to take a band of his own immediate neighbors
and adherents and get on ahead of the Missourians. He based his
decision, as he announced it, on the necessity of a scouting party to
locate grass and water.
Most of the men who joined him were single men, of the more restless
sort. There were no family wagons with them. They declared their
intention of traveling fast and light until they got among the buffalo.
This party left in advance of the main caravan, which had not yet
completed the crossing of the Kaw.
"Roll out! Ro-o-o-ll out!" came the mournful command at last, once more
down the line.
It fell on the ears of some who were unwilling to obey. The caravan was
disintegrating at the start. The gloom cast by the long delay at the
ford had now resolved itself in certain instances into fear amounting
half to panic. Some companies of neighbors said the entire train should
wait for the military escort; others declared they would not go further
west, but would turn back and settle here, where the soil was so good.
Still others said they all should lie here, with good grass and water,
until further word came from the Platte Valley train and until they had
more fully decided what to do. In spite of all the officers could do,
the general advance was strung out over two or three miles. The rapid
loss in order, these premature divisions of the train, augured ill
The natural discomforts of the trail now also began to have their
effect. A plague of green-headed flies and flying ants assailed them by
day, and at night the mosquitoes made an affliction well-nigh
insufferable. The women and children could not sleep, the horses groaned
all night under the clouds of tormentors which gathered on them. Early
as it was, the sun at times blazed with intolerable fervor, or again the
heat broke in savage storms of thunder, hail and rain. All the elements,
all the circumstances seemed in league to warn them back before it was
too late, for indeed they were not yet more than on the threshold of the
The spring rains left the ground soft in places, so that in creek
valleys stretches of corduroy sometimes had to be laid down. The high
waters made even the lesser fords difficult and dangerous, and all knew
that between them and the Platte ran several strong and capricious
rivers, making in general to the southeast and necessarily transected by
the great road to Oregon.
They still were in the eastern part of what is now the state of Kansas,
one of the most beautiful and exuberantly rich portions of the country,
as all early travelers declared. The land lay in a succession of
timber-lined valleys and open prairie ridges. Groves of walnut, oak,
hickory, elm, ash at first were frequent, slowly changing, farther
west, to larger proportions of poplar, willow and cottonwood. The white
dogwood passed to make room for scattering thickets of wild plum. Wild
tulips, yellow or of broken colors; the campanula, the wild honeysuckle,
lupines--not yet quite in bloom--the sweetbrier and increasing
quantities of the wild rose gave life to the always changing scene. Wild
game of every sort was unspeakably abundant--deer and turkey in every
bottom, thousands of grouse on the hills, vast flocks of snipe and
plover, even numbers of the green parrakeets then so numerous along that
latitude. The streams abounded in game fish. All Nature was easy and
Men and women grumbled at leaving so rich and beautiful a land lying
waste. None had seen a country more supremely attractive. Emotions of
tenderness, of sadness, also came to many. Nostalgia was not yet shaken
off. This strained condition of nerves, combined with the trail
hardships, produced the physical irritation which is inevitable in all
amateur pioneer work. Confusions, discordances, arising over the most
trifling circumstances, grew into petulance, incivility, wrangling and
intrigue, as happened in so many other earlier caravans. In the
Babel-like excitement of the morning catch-up, amid the bellowing and
running of the cattle evading the yoke, more selfishness, less friendly
accommodation now appeared, and men met without speaking, even this
early on the road.
The idea of four parallel columns had long since been discarded. They
broke formation, and at times the long caravan, covering the depressions
and eminences of the prairie, wound along in mile-long detachments, each
of which hourly grew more surly and more independent. Overdriven oxen
now began to drop. By the time the prairies proper were reached more
than a score of oxen had died. They were repeating trail history as
recorded by the travelers of that day.
Personal and family problems also made divisions more natural. Many
suffered from ague; fevers were very common. An old woman past seventy
died one night and was buried by the wayside the next day. Ten days
after the start twins were born to parents moving out to Oregon. There
were numbers of young children, many of them in arms, who became ill.
For one or other cause, wagons continually were dropping out. It was
difficult for some wagons to keep up, the unseasoned oxen showing
distress under loads too heavy for their draft. It was by no means a
solid and compact army, after all, this west-bound wave of the first men
with plows. All these things sat heavily on the soul of Jesse Wingate,
who daily grew more morose and grim.
As the train advanced bands of antelope began to appear. The striped
prairie gophers gave place to the villages of countless barking prairie
dogs, curious to the eyes of the newcomers. At night the howling and
snarling of gray wolves now made regular additions to the coyote chorus
and the voices of the owls and whippoorwills. Little by little, day by
day, civilization was passing, the need for organization daily became
more urgent. Yet the original caravan had split practically into three
divisions within a hundred and fifty miles from the jump-off, although
the bulk of the train hung to Wingate's company and began to shake down,
at least into a sort of tolerance.
Granted good weather, as other travelers had written, it was indeed
impossible to evade the sense of exhilaration in the bold, free life. At
evening encampment the scene was one worthy of any artist of all the
world. The oblong of the wagon park, the white tents, the many fires,
made a spectacle of marvelous charm and power. Perhaps within sight, at
one time, under guard for the evening feed on the fresh young grass,
there would be two thousand head of cattle. In the wagon village men,
women and children would be engaged as though at home. There was little
idleness in the train, and indeed there was much gravity and devoutness
in the personnel. At one fireside the young men might be roaring "Old
Grimes is dead, that good old man," or "Oh, then, Susannah"; but quite
as likely close at hand some family group would be heard in sacred
hymns. A strange envisagement it all made, in a strange environment, a
new atmosphere, here on the threshold of the wilderness.
[Footnote 1: To get the local descriptions, the color, atmosphere,
"feel" of a day and a country so long gone by, any writer of to-day must
go to writers of another day. The Author would acknowledge free use of
the works of Palmer, Bryant, Kelly and others who give us journals of
the great transcontinental trail.]
THE DEAD MEN'S TALE
The wilderness, close at hand, soon was to make itself felt. Wingate's
outriders moved out before noon of one day, intending to locate camp at
the ford of the Big Vermilion. Four miles in advance they unexpectedly
met the scout of the Missouri column, Bill Jackson, who had passed the
Wingate train by a cut-off of his own on a solitary ride ahead for sake
of information. He was at a gallop now, and what he said sent them all
back at full speed to the head of the Wingate column.
Jackson riding ahead, came up with his hand raised for a halt.
"My God, Cap'n, stop the train!" he called. "Hit won't do for the womern
and children to see what's on ahead yan!"
"What's up--where?" demanded Wingate.
"On three mile, on the water where they camped night afore last. Thar
they air ten men, an' the rest's gone. Woodhull's wagons, but he ain't
thar. Wagons burned, mules standing with arrers in them, rest all dead
but a few. Hit's the Pawnees!"
The column leaders all galloped forward, seeing first what later most
of the entire train saw--the abominable phenomena of Indian warfare on
Scattered over a quarter of a mile, where the wagons had stood not
grouped and perhaps not guarded, lay heaps of wreckage beside heaps of
ashes. One by one the corpses were picked out, here, there, over more
than a mile of ground. They had fought, yes, but fought each his own
losing individual battle after what had been a night surprise.
The swollen and blackened features of the dead men stared up, mutilated
as savages alone mark the fallen. Two were staked out, hand and foot,
and ashes lay near them, upon them. Arrows stood up between the ribs of
the dead men, driven through and down into the ground. A dozen mules, as
Jackson had said, drooped with low heads and hanging ears, arrow shafts
standing out of their paunches, waiting for death to end their agony.
"Finish them, Jackson."
Wingate handed the hunter his own revolver, signaling for Kelsey and
Hall to do the same. The methodical cracking of the hand arms began to
end the suffering of the animals.
They searched for scraps of clothing to cover the faces of the dead, the
bodies of some dead. They motioned the women and children back when the
head of the train came up. Jackson beckoned the leaders to the side of
one wagon, partially burned.
"Look," said he, pointing.
A long stick, once a whipstock, rose from the front of the wagon bed. It
had been sharpened and thrust under the wrist skin of a human hand--a
dried hand, not of a white man, but a red. A half-corroded bracelet of
copper still clung to the wrist.
"If I read signs right, that's why!" commented Bill Jackson.
"But how do you explain it?" queried Hall. "Why should they do that? And
how could they, in so close a fight?"
"They couldn't," said Jackson. "That hand's a day an' a half older than
these killings. Hit's Sam Woodhull's wagon. Well, the Pawnees like
enough counted 'coup on the man that swung that hand up for a sign, even
if hit wasn't one o' their own people."
"Listen, men," he concluded, "hit was Woodhull's fault. We met some
friendlies--Kaws--from the mission, an' they was mournin'. A half dozen
o' them follered Woodhull out above the ferry when he pulled out. They
told him he hadn't paid them for their boat, asked him for more
presents. He got mad, so they say, an' shot down one o' them an' stuck
up his hand--fer a warnin', so he said.
"The Kaws didn't do this killin'. This band of Pawnees was away down
below their range. The Kaws said they was comin' fer a peace council, to
git the Kaws an' Otoes to raise against us whites, comin' put so many,
with plows and womernfolks--they savvy. Well, the Kaws has showed the
Pawnees. The Pawnees has showed us."
"Yes," said the deep voice of Caleb Price, property owner and head of a
family; "they've showed us that Sam Woodhull was not fit to trust.
There's one man that is."
"Do you want him along with your wagons?" demanded Jackson. He turned to
"Well," said the train captain after a time, "we are striking the Indian
"Shall I bring up our wagons an' jine ye all here at the ford this
"I can't keep you from coming on up the road if you want to. I'll not
"All right! We'll not park with ye then. But we'll be on the same water.
Hit's my own fault we split. We wouldn't take orders from Sam Woodhull,
an' we never will."
He nodded to the blackened ruins, to the grim dead hand pointing to the
sky, left where it was by the superstitious blood avengers.
Wingate turned away and led the wagon train a half mile up the stream,
pitching camp above the ford where the massacre had occurred. The duties
of the clergy and the appointed sextons were completed. Silence and
sadness fell on the encampment.
Jackson, the scout of the Missouri column, still lingered for some sort
of word with Molly Wingate. Some odds and ends of brush lay about. Of
the latter Molly began casting a handful on the fire and covering it
against the wind with her shawl, which at times she quickly removed. As
a result the confined smoke arose at more or less well defined
intervals, in separate puffs or clouds.
"Ef ye want to know how to give the smoke signal right an' proper, Miss
Molly," said he at length, quietly, "I'll larn ye how."
The girl looked up at him.
"Well, I don't know much about it."
"This way: Hit takes two to do hit best. You catch holt two corners o'
the shawl now. Hist it on a stick in the middle. Draw it down all over
the fire. Let her simmer under some green stuff. Now! Lift her clean
off, sideways, so's not ter break the smoke ball. See 'em go up? That's
He looked at the girl keenly under his bushy gray brows.
"That's the Injun signal fer 'Enemy in the country.' S'pose you ever
wanted to signal, say to white folks, 'Friend in the country,' you might
remember--three short puffs an' one long one. That might bring up a
friend. Sech a signal can be seed a long ways."
Molly flushed to the eyes.
"What do you mean?"
"Nothin' at all, any more'n you do."
Jackson rose and left her.
The afternoon wore on, much occupied with duties connected with the sad
scenes of the: tragedy. No word came of Woodhull, or of two others who
could not be identified as among the victims at the death camp. No word,
either, came from the Missourians, and so cowed or dulled were most of
the men of the caravan that they did not venture far, even to undertake
trailing out after the survivors of the massacre. In sheer indecision
the great aggregation of wagons, piled up along the stream, lay
apathetic, and no order came for the advance.
Jed and his cow guards were obliged to drive the cattle back into the
ridges for better grazing, for the valley and adjacent country, which
had not been burned over by the Indians the preceding fall, held a lower
matting of heavy dry grass through which the green grass of springtime
appeared only in sparser and more smothered growth. As many of the
cattle and horses even now showed evil results from injudicious driving
on the trail, it was at length decided to make a full day's stop so that
they might feed up.
Molly Wingate, now assured that the Pawnees no longer were in the
vicinity, ventured out for pasturage with her team of mules, which she
had kept tethered close to her own wagon. She now rapidly was becoming a
good frontierswoman and thoughtful of her locomotive power. Taking the
direction of the cattle herd, she drove from camp a mile or two,
resolving to hobble and watch her mules while they grazed close to the
She was alone. Around her, untouched by any civilization, lay a wild,
free world. The ceaseless wind of the prairie swept old and new grass
into a continuous undulating surface, silver crested, a wave always
passing, never past. The sky was unspeakably fresh and blue, with its
light clouds, darker edged toward the far horizon of the unbounded,
unbroken expanse of alternating levels and low hills. Across the broken
ridges passed the teeming bird life of the land. The Eskimo plover in
vast bands circled and sought their nesting places. Came also the sweep
of cinnamon wings as the giant sickle-billed curlews wheeled in vast
aerial phalanx, with their eager cries, "Curlee! Curlee! Curlee!"--the
wildest cry of the old prairies. Again, from some unknown,
undiscoverable place, came the liquid, baffling, mysterious note of the
nesting upland plover, sweet and clean as pure white honey.
Now and again a band of antelope swept ghostlike across a ridge. A great
gray wolf stood contemptuously near on a hillock, gazing speculatively
at the strange new creature, the white woman, new come in his lands. It
was the wilderness, rude, bold, yet sweet.
Who shall say what thoughts the flowered wilderness of spring carried
to the soul of a young woman beautiful and ripe for love, her heart as
sweet and melting as that of the hidden plover telling her mate of
happiness? Surely a strange spell, born of youth and all this free world
of things beginning, fell on the soul of Molly Wingate. She sat and
dreamed, her hands idle, her arms empty, her beating pulses full, her
heart full of a maid's imaginings.
How long she sat alone, miles apart, an unnoticed figure, she herself
could not have said--surely the sun was past zenith--when, moved by some
vague feeling of her own, she noticed the uneasiness of her feeding
The mules, hobbled and side-lined as Jed had shown her, turned face to
the wind, down the valley, standing for a time studious and uncertain
rather than alarmed. Then, their great ears pointed, they became uneasy;
stirred, stamped, came back again to their position, gazing steadily in
the one direction.
The ancient desert instinct of the wild ass, brought down through
thwarted generations, never had been lost to them. They had
foreknowledge of danger long before horses or human beings could suspect
Danger? What was it? Something, surely. Molly sprang to her feet. A band
of antelope, running, had paused a hundred yards away, gazing back.
Danger--yes; but what?
The girl ran to the crest of the nearest hillock and looked back. Even
as she did so, it seemed that she caught touch of the great wave of
apprehension spreading swiftly over the land.
Far off, low lying like a pale blue cloud, was a faint line of something
that seemed to alter in look, to move, to rise and fall, to
advance--down the wind. She never had seen it, but knew what it must
be--the prairie fire! The lack of fall burning had left it fuel even
Vast numbers of prairie grouse came by, hurtling through the silence,
alighting, strutting with high heads, fearlessly close. Gray creatures
came hopping, halting or running fully extended--the prairie hares,
fleeing far ahead. Band after band of antelope came on, running easily,
but looking back. A heavy line of large birds, black to the eye, beat on
laboriously, alighted, and ran onward with incredible speed--the wild
turkeys, fleeing the terror. Came also broken bands of white-tailed
deer, easy, elastic, bounding irregularly, looking back at the
miles-wide cloud, which now and then spun up, black as ink toward the
sky, but always flattened and came onward with the wind.
Danger? Yes! Worse than Indians, for yonder were the cattle; there lay
the parked train, two hundred wagons, with the household goods that
meant their life savings and their future hope in far-off Oregon. Women
were there, and children--women with babes that could not walk. True,
the water lay close, but it was narrow and deep and offered no salvation
against the terror now coming on the wings of the wind.
That the prairie fire would find in this strip fuel to carry it even at
this green season of the grass the wily Pawnees had known. This was
cheaper than assault by arms. They would wither and scatter the white
nation here! Worse than plumed warriors was yonder broken undulating
line of the prairie fire.
Instinct told the white girl, gave her the same terror as that which
inspired all these fleeing creatures. But what could she do? This was an
elemental, gigantic wrath, and she but a frightened girl. She guessed
rather than reasoned what it would mean when yonder line came closer,
when it would sweep down, roaring, over the wagon train.
The mules began to bray, to plunge, too wise to undertake flight. She
would at least save them. She would mount one and ride with the alarm
for the camp.
The wise animals let her come close, did not plunge, knew that she meant
help, allowed her trembling hands to loose one end of the hobble straps,
but no more. As soon as each mule got its feet it whirled and was away.
No chance to hold one of them now, and if she had mounted a hobbled
animal it had meant nothing. But she saw them go toward the stream,
toward the camp. She must run that way herself.
It was so far! There was a faint smell of smoke and a mysterious low
humming in the air. Was it too late?
A swift, absurd, wholly useless memory came to her from the preceding
day. Yes, it would be no more than a prayer, but she would send it out
blindly into the air.... Some instinct--yes, quite likely.
Molly ran to her abandoned wagonette, pushed in under the white tilt
where her pallet bed lay rolled, her little personal plunder stored
about. Fumbling, she found her sulphur matches. She would build her
signal fire. It was, at least, all that she could do. It might at least
alarm the camp.
Trembling, she looked about her, tore her hands breaking off little
faggots of tall dry weed stems, a very few bits of wild thorn and
fragments of a plum thicket in the nearest shallow coulee. She ran to
her hillock, stooped and broke a dozen matches, knowing too little of
fire-making in the wind. But at last she caught a wisp of dry grass, a
few dry stems--others, the bits of wild plum branches. She shielded her
tiny blaze with her frock, looking back over her shoulder, where the
black curtain was rising taller. Now and then, even in the blaze of full
day, a red, dull gleam rose and passed swiftly. The entire country was
afire. Fuel? Yes; and a wind.
The humming in the air grew, the scent of fire came plainly. The plover
rose around their nests and circled, crying piteously. The scattered
hares became a great body of moving gray, like camouflage blots on the
still undulating waves of green and silver, passing but not yet
past--soon now to pass.
The girl, her hands arrested, her arms out, in her terror, stood trying
to remember. Yes, it was three short puffs and a long pillar. She caught
her shawl from her shoulder, stooped, spread it with both hands, drove
in her stiffest bough for a partial support, cast in under the edge,
timidly, green grass enough to make smoke, she hoped.
An instant and she sprang up, drawing the shawl swiftly aside, the next
moment jealously cutting through the smoke with a side sweep of the
It worked! The cut-off column rose, bent over in a little detached
cloud. Again, with a quick flirt, eager eyed, and again the detached
irregular ball! A third time--Molly rose, and now cast on dry grass and
green grass till a tall and moving pillar of cloud by day arose.
At least she had made her prayer. She could do no more. With vague
craving for any manner of refuge, she crawled to her wagon seat and
covered her eyes. She knew that the wagon train was warned--they now
would need but little warning, for the menace was written all across the
She sat she knew not how long, but until she became conscious of a
roaring in the air. The line of fire had come astonishingly soon, she
reasoned. But she forgot that. All the vanguard and the full army of
wild creatures had passed by now. She alone, the white woman, most
helpless of the great creatures, stood before the terror.
She sprang out of the wagon and looked about her. The smoke crest,
black, red-shot, was coming close. The grass here would carry it.
Perhaps yonder on the flint ridge where the cover was short--why had she
not thought of that long ago? It was half a mile, and no sure haven
She ran, her shawl drawn about her head--ran with long, free stride, her
limbs envigored by fear, her full-bosomed body heaving chokingly. The
smoke was now in the air, and up the unshorn valley came the fire
remorselessly, licking up the under lying layer of sun-cured grass which
a winter's snow had matted down.
She could never reach the ridge now. Her overburdened lungs functioned
but little. The world went black, with many points of red. Everywhere
was the odor and feel of smoke. She fell and gasped, and knew little,
cared little what might come. The elemental terror at last had caught
its prey--soft, young, beautiful prey, this huddled form, a bit of brown
and gray, edged with white of wind-blown skirt. It would be a sweet
morsel for the flames.
Along the knife-edged flint ridge which Molly had tried to reach there
came the pounding of hoofs, heavier than any of these that had passed.
The cattle were stampeding directly down wind and before the fire.
Dully, Molly heard the lowing, heard the far shouts of human voices.
Then, it seemed to her, she heard a rush of other hoofs coming toward
her. Yes, something was pounding down the slope toward her wagon,
toward her. Buffalo, she thought, not knowing the buffalo were gone from
But it was not the buffalo, nor yet the frightened herd, nor yet her
mules. Out of the smoke curtain broke a rider, his horse flat; a black
horse with flying frontlet--she knew what horse. She knew what man rode
him, too, black with smoke as he was now. He swept close to the wagon
and was off. Something flickered there, with smoke above it, beyond the
wagon by some yards. Then he was in saddle and racing again, his eyes
and teeth white in the black mask of his face.
She heard no call and no command. But an arm reached down to hers, swept
up--and she was going onward, the horn of a saddle under her, her body
held to that of the rider, swung sidewise. The horse was guided not down
but across the wind.
Twice and three times, silent, he flung her off and was down, kindling
his little back fires--the only defense against a wildfire. He breathed
thickly, making sounds of rage.
"Will they never start?" he broke out at last. "The fools--the fools!"
But by now it was too late. A sudden accession in the force of the wind
increased the speed of the fire. The little line near Molly's wagon
spared it, but caught strength. Could she have seen through the veils of
smoke she would have seen a half dozen fires this side the line of the
great fire. But fire is fire.
Again he was in saddle and had her against his thigh, his body, flung
any way so she came with the horse. And now the horse swerved, till he
drove in the steel again and again, heading him not away from the fire
but straight into it!
Molly felt a rush of hot air; surging, actual flame singed the ends of
her hair. She felt his hand again and again sweep over her skirts,
wiping out the fire as it caught. It was blackly hot, stifling--and then
it was past!
Before her lay a wide black world. Her wagon stood, even its white top
spared by miracle of the back fire. But beyond came one more line of
smoke and flame. The black horse neighed now in the agony of his hot
hoofs. His rider swung him to a lower level, where under the tough cover
had lain moist ground, on which uncovered water now glistened. He flung
her into the mire of it, pulled up his horse there and himself lay down,
full length, his blackened face in the moist mud above which still
smoked stubbles of the flame-shorn grass. He had not spoken to her, nor
she to him. His eyes rested on the singed ends of her blown hair, her
charred garments, in a frowning sympathy which found no speech. At
length he brought the reins of his horse to her, flirting up the singed
ends of the long mane, further proof of their narrow escape.
"I must try once more," he said. "The main fire might catch the wagon."
He made off afoot. She saw him start a dozen nucleuses of fires; saw
them advance till they halted at the edge of the burned ground, beyond
the wagon, so that it stood safe in a vast black island. He came to her,
drove his scorched boots deep as he could into the mud and sat looking
up the valley toward the emigrant train. An additional curtain of smoke
showed that the men there now were setting out back fires of their own.
He heard her voice at last:
"It is the second time you have saved me--saved my life, I think. Why
did you come?"
He turned to her as she sat in the edge of the wallow, her face streaked
with smoke, her garments half burned off her limbs. She now saw his
hands, which he was thrusting out on the mud to cool them, and sympathy
was in her gaze also.
"I don't know why I came," said he. "Didn't you signal for me? Jackson
told me you could."
"No, I had no hope. I meant no one. It was only a prayer."
"It carried ten miles. We were all back-firing. It caught in the
sloughs--all the strips of old grass. I thought of your camp, of you. At
least your signal told me where to ride."
At length he waved his hand.
"They're safe over there," said he. "Think of the children!"
"Yes, and you gave me my one chance. Why?"
"I don't know. I suppose it was because I am a brute!" The bitterness
of his voice was plain.
"Come, we must go to the wagons," said Molly at length, and would have
"No, not yet. The burned ground must cool before we can walk on it. I
would not even take my horse out on it again." He lifted a foot of the
black Spaniard, whose muzzle quivered whimperingly. "All right, old
boy!" he said, and stroked the head thrust down to him. "It might have
His voice was so gentle that Molly Wingate felt a vague sort of
jealousy. He might have taken her scorched hand in his, might at least
have had some thought for her welfare. He did speak at last as to that.
"What's in your wagon?" he asked. "We had better go there to wait. Have
you anything along--oil, flour, anything to use on burns? You're burned.
It hurts me to see a woman suffer."
"Are not you burned too?"
"It pains you?"
"Oh, yes, of course."
He rose and led the way over the damper ground to the wagon, which stood
smoke-stained but not charred, thanks to his own resourcefulness.
Molly climbed up to the seat, and rummaging about found a jar of butter,
a handful of flour.
"Come up on the seat," said she. "This is better medicine than nothing."
He climbed up and sat beside her. She frowned again as she now saw how
badly scorched his hands were, his neck, his face. His eyebrows, caught
by one wisp of flame, were rolled up at the ends, whitened. One cheek
was a dull red.
Gently, without asking his consent, she began to coat his burned skin as
best she might with her makeshift of alleviation. His hand trembled
"Now," she said, "hold still. I must fix your hand some more."
She still bent over, gently, delicately touching his flesh with hers.
And then all in one mad, unpremeditated instant it was done!
His hand caught hers, regardless of the pain to either. His arm went
about her, his lips would have sought hers.
It was done! Now he might repent.
A mad way of wooing, inopportune, fatal as any method he possibly could
have found, moreover a cruel, unseemly thing to do, here and with her
situated thus. But it was done.
Till now he had never given her grounds for more than guessing. Yet now
here was this!
He came to his senses as she thrust him away; saw her cheeks whiten, her
eyes grow wide.
"Oh!" she said. "Oh! Oh! Oh!"
"Oh!" whispered Will Banion to himself, hoarsely.
He held his two scorched hands each side her face as she drew back,
sought to look into her eyes, so that she might believe either his hope,
his despair or his contrition.
But she turned her eyes away. Only he could hear her outraged
protest--"Oh! Oh! Oh!"
"It was the wind!" Will Banion exclaimed. "It was the sky, the earth! It
was the fire! I don't know what it was! I swear it was not I who did it!
Don't forgive me, but don't blame me. Molly! Molly!
"It had to be sometime," he went on, since she still drew away from him.
"What chance have I had to ask you before now? It's little I have to
offer but my love."
"What do you mean? It will never be at any time!" said Molly Wingate
slowly, her hand touching his no more.
"What do you yourself mean?" He turned to her in agony of soul. "You
will not let me repent? You will not give me some sort of chance?"
"No," she said coldly. "You have had chance enough to be a gentleman--as
much as you had when you were in Mexico with other women. But Major
William Banion falsified the regimental accounts. I know that too. I
didn't--I couldn't believe it--till now."
He remained dumb under this. She went on mercilessly.
"Oh, yes, Captain Woodhull told us. Yes, he showed us the very
vouchers. My father believed it of you, but I didn't. Now I do. Oh,
fine! And you an officer of our Army!"
She blazed out at him now, her temper rising.
"Chance? What more chance did you need? No wonder you couldn't love a
girl--any other way than this. It would have to be sometime, you say.
What do you mean? That I'd ever marry a thief?"
Still he could not speak. The fire marks showed livid against a paling
"Yes, I know you saved me--twice, this time at much risk," resumed the
girl. "Did you want pay so soon? You'd--you'd--"
"Oh! Oh! Oh!"
It was his voice that now broke in. He could not speak at all beyond the
exclamation under torture.
"I didn't believe that story about you," she added after a long time.
"But you are not what you looked, not what I thought you were. So what
you say must be sometime is never going to be at all."
"Did he tell you that about me?" demanded Will Banion savagely.
"Woodhull--did he say that?"
"I have told you, yes. My father knew. No wonder he didn't trust you.
How could he?"
She moved now as though to leave the wagon, but he raised a hand.
"Wait!" said he. "Look yonder! You'd not have time now to reach camp."
In the high country a great prairie fire usually or quite often was
followed by a heavy rainstorm. What Banion now indicated was the
approach of yet another of the epic phenomena of the prairies, as rapid,
as colossal and as merciless as the fire itself.
On the western horizon a low dark bank of clouds lay for miles, piled,
serrated, steadily rising opposite to the course of the wind that had
driven the fire. Along it more and more visibly played almost incessant
sheet lightning, broken with ripping zigzag flames. A hush had fallen
close at hand, for now even the frightened breeze of evening had fled.
Now and then, at first doubtful, then unmistakable and continuous, came
the mutter and rumble and at length the steady roll of thunder.
They lay full in the course of one of the tremendous storms of the high
country, and as the cloud bank rose and came on swiftly, spreading its
flanking wings so that nothing might escape, the spectacle was
terrifying almost as much as that of the fire, for, unprotected, as they
were, they could make no counter battle against the storm.
The air grew supercharged with electricity. It dripped, literally, from
the barrel of Banion's pistol when he took it from its holster to carry
it to the wagon. He fastened the reins of his horse to a wheel and
hastened with other work. A pair of trail ropes lay in the wagon. He
netted them over the wagon top and lashed the ends to the wheels to make
the top securer, working rapidly, eyes on the advancing storm.
There came a puff, then a gust of wind. The sky blackened. The storm
caught the wagon train first. There was no interval at all between the
rip of the lightning and the crash of thunder as it rolled down on the
clustered wagons. The electricity at times came not in a sheet or a
ragged bolt, but in a ball of fire, low down, close to the ground,
exploding with giant detonations.
Then came the rain, with a blanketing rush of level wind, sweeping away
the last vestige of the wastrel fires of the emigrant encampment. An
instant and every human being in the train, most of them ill defended by
their clothing, was drenched by the icy flood. One moment and the
battering of hail made climax of it all. The groaning animals plunged
and fell at their picket ropes, or broke and fled into the open. The
remaining cattle caught terror, and since there was no corral, most of
the cows and oxen stampeded down the wind.
The canvas of the covered wagons made ill defense. Many of them were
stripped off, others leaked like sieves. Mothers sat huddled in their
calicoes, bending over their tow-shirted young, some of them babes in
arms. The single jeans garments of the boys gave them no comfort. Under
the wagons and carts, wrapped in blankets or patched quilts whose colors
dripped, they crawled and sat as the air grew strangely chill. Only
wreckage remained when they saw the storm muttering its way across the
prairies, having done what it could in its elemental wrath to bar the
road to the white man.
As for Banion and Molly, they sat it out in the light wagon, the girl
wrapped in blankets, Banion much of the time out in the storm, swinging
on the ropes to keep the wagon from overturning. He had no apparent
fear. His calm assuaged her own new terrors. In spite of her bitter
arraignment, she was glad that he was here, though he hardly spoke to
her at all.
"Look!" he exclaimed at last, drawing back the flap of the wagon cover.
"Look at the rainbow!"
Over the cloud banks of the rain-wet sky there indeed now was flung the
bow of promise. But this titanic land did all things gigantically. This
was no mere prismatic arch bridging the clouds. The colors all were
there, yes, and of an unspeakable brilliance and individual distinctness
in the scale; but they lay like a vast painted mist, a mural of some
celestial artist flung _en masse_ against the curtain of the night. The
entire clouded sky, miles on untold miles, was afire. All the opals of
the universe were melted and cast into a tremendous picture painted by
the Great Spirit of the Plains.
"Oh, wonderful!" exclaimed the girl. "It might be the celestial city in
the desert, promised by the Mormon prophet!"
"It may be so to them. May it be so to us. Blessed be the name of the
Lord God of Hosts!" said Will Banion.
She looked at him suddenly, strangely. What sort of man was he, after
all, so full of strange contradictions--a savage, a criminal, yet
reverent and devout?
"Come," he said, "we can get back now, and you must go. They will think
you are lost."
He stepped to the saddle of his shivering horse and drew off the poncho,
which he had spread above the animal instead of using it himself. He was
wet to the bone. With apology he cast the waterproof over Molly's
shoulders, since she now had discarded her blankets. He led the way, his
horse following them.
They walked in silence in the deep twilight which began to creep across
the blackened land. All through the storm he had scarcely spoken to her,
and he spoke but rarely now. He was no more than guide. But as she
approached safety Molly Wingate began to reflect how much she really
owed this man. He had been a pillar of strength, elementally fit to
combat all the elements, else she had perished.
She had halted at the point of the last hill which lay between them and
the wagons. They could hear the wailing of the children close at hand.
He turned inquiringly. She handed back the poncho.
"I am all right now. You're wet, you're tired, you're burned to pieces.
Won't you come on in?"
But still she hesitated. In her mind there were going on certain
processes she could not have predicted an hour earlier.
"I ought to thank you," she said. "I do thank you."
His utter silence made it hard for her. He could see her hesitation,
which made it hard for him, coveting sight of her always, loath to leave
Now a sudden wave of something, a directness and frankness born in some
way in this new world apart from civilization, like a wind-blown flame,
irresponsible and irresistible, swept over Molly Wingate's soul as
swiftly, as unpremeditatedly as it had over his. She was a young woman
fit for love, disposed for love, at the age for love. Now, to her
horror, the clasp of this man's arm, even when repelled in memory,
returned, remained in memory! She was frightened that it still
remained--frightened at her own great curiousness.
"About--that"--he knew what she meant--"I don't want you to think
anything but the truth of me. If you have deceived people, I don't want
to deceive you."
"What do you mean?" He was a man of not very many words.
"You said it could never be."
"No. If it could, I would not be stopping here now to say so much."
He stepped closer, frowning.
"What is it you are saying then--that a man's a worse brute when he goes
mad, as I did?"
"I expect not," said Molly Wingate queerly. "It is very far, out here.
It's some other world, I believe. And I suppose men have kissed girls. I
suppose no girl ever was married who was not ever kissed."
"What are you saying?"
"I said I wanted you to know the truth about a woman--about me. That's
just because it's not ever going to be between us. It can't be, because
of that other matter in Mexico. If it had not been for that, I suppose
after a time I wouldn't have minded what you did back there. I might
have kissed you. It must be terrible to feel as you feel now, so
ashamed. But after all--"
"It was criminal!" he broke out. "But even criminals are loved by women.
They follow them to jail, to the gallows. They don't mind what the man
is--they love him, they forgive him. They stand by him to the very end!"
"Yes, I suppose many a girl loves a man she knows she never can marry.
Usually she marries someone else. But kissing! That's terrible!"
"Yes. But you will not let me make it splendid and not terrible. You say
it never can be--that means we've got to part. Well, how can I forget?"
"I don't suppose you can. I don't suppose that--that I can!"
"What are you going to say? Don't! Oh, please don't!"
But she still went on, strangely, not in the least understanding her
own swift change of mood, her own intent with him, _vis-a-vis_, here in
"While we were walking down here just now," said she, "somehow it all
began to seem not so wrong. It only seemed to stay wrong for you to have
deceived me about yourself--what you really were--when you were in the
Army. I could maybe forgive you up to that far, for you did--for men
are--well, men. But about that other--you knew all the time we
couldn't--couldn't ever--I'd never marry a thief."
The great and wistful regret of her voice was a thing not to be escaped.
She stood, a very splendid figure, clean and marvelous of heart as she
was begrimed and bedraggled of body now, her great vital force not
abated by what she had gone through. She spread her hands just apart and
looked at him in what she herself felt was to be the last meeting of
their lives; in which she could afford to reveal all her soul for once
to a man, and then go about a woman's business of living a life fed on
the husks of love given her by some other man.
He knew that he had seen one more miracle. But, chastened now, he could,
he must, keep down his own eager arms. He heard her speak once more, her
voice like some melancholy bell of vespers of a golden evening.
"Oh, Will Banion, how could you take away a girl's heart and leave her
miserable all her life?"
The cry literally broke from her. It seemed in her own ears the sudden
voice of some other woman speaking--some unaccountable, strange woman
whom she never had seen or known in all her life.
"Your--heart?" he whispered, now close to her in the dusk. "You were
not--you did not--you--"
But he choked. She nodded, not brazenly or crudely or coarsely, not even
bravely, but in utter simplicity. For the time she was wholly free of
woman coquetry. It was as though the elements had left her also
elemental. Her words now were of the earth, the air, the fire, the
floods of life.
"Yes," she said, "I will tell you now, because of what you have done for
me. If you gave me life, why shouldn't I give you love--if so I could?"
"Love? Give me love?"
"Yes! I believe I was going to love you, until now, although I had
promised him--you know--Captain Woodhull. Oh, you see, I understand a
little of what it was to you--what made you--" She spoke disconnectedly.
"I believe--I believe I'd not have cared. I believe I could follow a man
to the gallows. Now I will not, because you didn't tell me you were a
thief. I can't trust you. But I'll kiss you once for good-by. I'm sorry.
I'm so sorry."
Being a man, he never fathomed her mind at all. But being a man, slowly,
gently, he took her in his arms, drew her tight. Long, long it was till
their lips met--and long then. But he heard her whisper "Good-by," saw
her frank tears, felt her slowly, a little by a little, draw away from
"Good-by," she said. "Good-by. I would not dare, any more, ever again.
Oh, Will Banion, why did you take away my heart? I had but one!"
"It is mine!" he cried savagely. "No other man in all the world shall
ever have it! Molly!"
But she now was gone.
He did not know how long he stood alone, his head bowed on his saddle.
The raucous howl of a great gray wolf near by spelled out the lonesome
tragedy of his future life for him.
Quaint and sweet philosopher, and bold as she but now had been in one
great and final imparting of her real self, Molly Wingate was only a
wet, weary and bedraggled maid when at length she entered the desolate
encampment which stood for home. She found her mother sitting on a box
under a crude awning, and cast herself on her knees, her head on that
ample bosom that she had known as haven in her childhood. She wept now
like a little child.
"It's bad!" said stout Mrs. Wingate, not knowing. "But you're back and
alive. It looks like we're wrecked and everything lost, and we come nigh
about getting all burned up, but you're back alive to your ma! Now,
That night Molly turned on a sodden pallet which she had made down
beside her mother in the great wagon. But she slept ill. Over and over
to her lips rose the same question:
"Oh, Will Banion, Will Banion, why did you take away my heart?"
The great wagon train of 1848 lay banked along the Vermilion in utter
and abject confusion. Organization there now was none. But for Banion's
work with the back fires the entire train would have been wiped out. The
effects of the storm were not so capable of evasion. Sodden, wretched,
miserable, chilled, their goods impaired, their cattle stampeded, all
sense of gregarious self-reliance gone, two hundred wagons were no more
than two hundred individual units of discontent and despair. So far as
could be prophesied on facts apparent, the journey out to Oregon had
ended in disaster almost before it was well begun.
Bearded men at smoking fires looked at one another in silence, or would
not look at all. Elan, morale, esprit de corps were gone utterly.
Stout Caleb Price walked down the wagon lines, passing fourscore men
shaking in their native agues, not yet conquered. Women, pale, gaunt,
grim, looked at him from limp sunbonnets whose stays had been half
dissolved. Children whimpered. Even the dogs, curled nose to tail under
the wagons, growled surlily. But Caleb Price found at last the wagon of
the bugler who had been at the wars and shook him out.
"Sound, man!" said Caleb Price. "Play up Oh, Susannah! Then sound the
Assembly. We've got to have a meeting."
They did have a meeting. Jesse Wingate scented mutiny and remained away.
"There's no use talking, men," said Caleb Price, "no use trying to fool
ourselves. We're almost done, the way things are. I like Jess Wingate as
well as any man I ever knew, but Jess Wingate's not the man. What shall
He turned to Hall, but Hall shook his head; to Kelsey, but Kelsey only
"I could get a dozen wagons through, maybe," said he. "Here's two
hundred. Woodhull's the man, but Woodhull's gone--lost, I reckon, or
maybe killed and lying out somewhere on these prairies. You take it,
Price considered for a time.
"No," said he at length. "It's no time for one of us to take on what may
be done better by someone else, because our women and children are at
stake. The very best man's none too good for this job, and the more
experience he has the better. The man who thinks fastest and clearest at
the right time is the man we want, and the man we'd follow--the only
man. Who'll he be?"
"Oh, I'll admit Banion had the best idea of crossing the Kaw," said
Kelsey. "He got his own people over, too, somehow."
"Yes, and they're together now ten miles below us. And Molly
Wingate--she was caught out with her team by the fire--says it was
Banion who started the back-fire. That saved his train and ours. Ideas
that come too late are no good. We need some man with the right ideas at
the right time."
"You think it's Banion?" Hall spoke.
"I do think it's Banion. I don't see how it can be anyone else."
"Woodhull'd never stand for it."
"He isn't here."
"He'll have to."
The chief of mutineers, a grave and bearded man, waited for a time.
"This is a meeting of the train," said he. "In our government the
majority rules. Is there any motion on this?"
Silence. Then rose Hall of Ohio, slowly, a solid man, with three wagons
of his own.
"I've been against the Missouri outfit," said he. "They're a wild bunch,
with no order or discipline to them. They're not all free-soilers, even
if they're going out to Oregon. But if one man can handle them, he can
handle us. An Army man with a Western experience--who'll it be unless it
is their man? So. Mister Chairman, I move for a committee of three,
yourself to be one, to ride down and ask the Missourians to join on
again, all under Major Banion."
"I'll have to second that," said a voice. Price saw a dozen nods.
"You've heard it, men," said he. "All in favor rise up."
They stood, with not many exceptions--rough-clad, hard-headed,
hard-handed men of the nation's vanguard. Price looked them over
"You see the vote, men," said he. "I wish Jess had come, but he didn't.
Who'll be the man to ride down? Wingate?"
"He wouldn't go," said Kelsey. "He's got something against Banion; says
he's not right on his war record--something--"
"He's right on his train record this far," commented Price. "We're not
electing a Sabbath-school superintendent now, but a train captain who'll
make these wagons cover twelve miles a day, average.
"Hall, you and Kelsey saddle up and ride down with me. We'll see what we
can do. One thing sure, something has got to be done, or we might as
well turn back. For one, I'm not used to that."
They did saddle and ride--to find the Missouri column coming up with
intention of pitching below, at the very scene of the massacre, which
was on the usual Big Vermilion ford, steep-banked on either side, but
with hard bottom.
Ahead of the train rode two men at a walk, the scout Jackson, and the
man they sought. They spied him as the man on the black Spanish horse,
found him a pale and tired young man, who apparently had slept as ill as
they themselves. But in straight and manful fashion they told him their
The pale face of Will Banion flushed, even with the livid scorch marks
got in the prairie fire the day before. He considered.
"Gentlemen," he said after a time, "you don't know what you are asking
of me. It would be painful for me to take that work on now."
"It's painful for us to see our property lost and our families set
afoot," rejoined Caleb Price. "It's not pleasant for me to do this. But
it's no question, Major Banion, what you or I find painful or pleasant.
The question is on the women and children. You know; that very well."
"I do know it--yes. But you have other men. Where's Woodhull?"
"We don't know. We think the Pawnees got him among the others."
"Jackson"--Banion turned to his companion--"we've got to make a
look-around for him. He's probably across the river somewhere."
"Like enough," rejoined the scout. "But the first thing is for all us
folks to git acrost the river too. Let him go to hell."
"We want you, Major," said Hall quietly, and even Kelsey nodded.
"What shall I do, Jackson?" demanded Banion.
"Fly inter hit, Will," replied that worthy. "Leastways, take hit on
long enough so's to git them acrost an' help git their cattle together.
Ye couldn't git Wingate to work under ye no ways. But mebbe-so we can
show 'em fer a day er so how Old Missoury gits acrost a country.
Again Banion considered, pondering many things of which none of these
knew anything at all. At length he drew aside with the men of the main
"Park our wagons here, Bill," he said. "See that they are well parked,
too. Get out your guards. I'll go up and see what we can do. We'll all
cross here. Have your men get all the trail ropes out and lay in a lot
of dry cottonwood logs. We'll have to raft some of the stuff over. See
if there's any wild grapevines along the bottoms. They'll help hold the
logs. So long."
He turned, and with the instinct of authority rode just a half length
ahead of the others on the return.
Jesse Wingate, a sullen and discredited Achilles, held to his tent, and
Molly did as much, her stout-hearted and just-minded mother being the
main source of Wingate news. Banion kept as far away from them as
possible, but had Jed sent for.
"Jed," said he, "first thing, you get your boys together and go after
the cattle. Most of them went downstream with the wind. The hobbled
stuff didn't come back down the trail and must be below there too. The
cows wouldn't swim the big river on a run. If there's rough country,
with any shelter, they'd like enough begin to mill--it might be five
miles, ten--I can't guess. You go find out.
"Now, you others, first thing, get your families all out in the sun.
Spread out the bedclothes and get them dried. Build fires and cook your
best right away--have the people eat. Get that bugle going and play
something fast--Sweet Hour of Prayer is for evening, not now. Give 'em
Reveille, and then the cavalry charge. Play Susannah.
"I'm going to ride the edge of the burning to look for loose stock. You
others get a meal into these people--coffee, quinine, more coffee. Then
hook up all the teams you can and move down to the ford. We'll be on the
Platte and among the buffalo in a week or ten days. Nothing can stop us.
All you need is just a little more coffee and a little more system, and
then a good deal more of both.
"Now's a fine time for this train to shake into place," he added. "You,
Price, take your men and go down the lines. Tell your kinfolk and
families and friends and neighbors to make bands and hang together. Let
'em draw cuts for place if they like, but stick where they go. We can't
tell how the grass will be on ahead, and we may have to break the train
into sections on the Platte; but we'll break it ourselves, and not see
it fall apart or fight apart. So?"
He wheeled and went away at a trot. All he had given them was the one
thing they lacked.
The Wingate wagons came in groups and halted at the river bank, where
the work of rafting and wagon boating went methodically forward. Scores
of individual craft, tipsy and risky, two or three logs lashed together,
angled across and landed far below. Horsemen swam across with lines and
larger rafts were steadied fore and aft with ropes snubbed around tree
trunks on either bank. Once started, the resourceful pioneer found a
dozen ways to skin his cat, as one man phrased it, and presently the
falling waters permitted swimming and fording the stock. It all seemed
ridiculously simple and ridiculously cheerful.
Toward evening a great jangling of bells and shouting of young captains
announced the coming of a great band of the stampeded livestock--cattle,
mules and horses mixed. Afar came the voice of Jed Wingate singing, "Oh,
then Susannah," and urging Susannah to have no concern.
But Banion, aloof and morose, made his bed that night apart even from
his own train. He had not seen Wingate--did not see him till the next
day, noon, when he rode up and saluted the former leader, who sat on his
own wagon seat and not in saddle.
"My people are all across, Mr. Wingate," he said, and the last of your
wagons will be over by dark and straightened out. I'm parked a mile
"You are parked? I thought you were elected--by my late friends--to lead
this whole train."
He spoke bitterly and with a certain contempt that made Banion color.
"No. We can travel apart, though close. Do you want to go ahead, or
"As you like. The country's free."
"It's not free for some things, Mr. Wingate," rejoined the younger man
hotly. "You can lead or not, as you like; but I'll not train up with a
man who thinks of me as you do. After this think what you like, but
don't speak any more."
"What do you mean by that?"
"You know very well. You've believed another man's word about my
personal character. It's gone far enough and too far."
"The other man is not here. He can't face you."
"No, not now. But if he's on earth he'll face me sometime."
Unable to control himself further, Banion wheeled and galloped away to
his own train.
"You ask if we're to join in with the Yankees," he flared out to
Jackson. "No! We'll camp apart and train apart. I won't go on with
"Well," said the scout, "I didn't never think we would, er believe ye
could; not till they git in trouble agin--er till a certain light wagon
an' mules throws in with us, huh?"
"You'll say no more of that, Jackson! But one thing: you and I have got
to ride and see if we can get any trace of Woodhull."
"Like looking for a needle in a haystack, an' a damn bad needle at
that," was the old man's comment.
"On to the Platte! The buffalo!" New cheer seemed to come to the hearts
of the emigrants now, and they forgot bickering. The main train ground
grimly ahead, getting back, if not all its egotism, at least more and
more of its self-reliance. By courtesy, Wingate still rode ahead, though
orders came now from a joint council of his leaders, since Banion would
not take charge.
The great road to Oregon was even now not a trail but a road, deep cut
into the soil, though no wheeled traffic had marked it until within the
past five years. A score of paralled paths it might be at times, of
tentative location along a hillside or a marshy level; but it was for
the most part a deep-cut, unmistakable road from which it had been
impossible to wander. At times it lay worn into the sod a half foot, a
foot in depth. Sometimes it followed the ancient buffalo trails to
water--the first roads of the Far West, quickly seized on by hunters and
engineers--or again it transected these, hanging to the ridges after
frontier road fashion, heading out for the proved fords of the greater
streams. Always the wheel marks of those who had gone ahead in previous
years, the continuing thread of the trail itself, worn in by trader and
trapper and Mormon and Oregon or California man, gave hope and cheer to
these who followed with the plow.
Stretching out, closing up, almost inch by inch, like some giant
measuring worm in its slow progress, the train held on through a vast
and stately landscape, which some travelers had called the Eden of
America, such effect was given by the series of altering scenes. Small
imagination, indeed, was needed to picture here a long-established
civilization, although there was not a habitation. They were beyond
organized society and beyond the law.
Game became more abundant, wild turkeys still appeared in the timbered
creek bottoms. Many elk were seen, more deer and very many antelope,
packed in northward by the fires. A number of panthers and giant gray
wolves beyond counting kept the hunters always excited. The wild
abundance of an unexhausted Nature offered at every hand. The
sufficiency of life brought daily growth in the self-reliance which had
left them for a time.
The wide timberlands, the broken low hills of the green prairie at
length began to give place to a steadily rising inclined plane. The soil
became less black and heavy, with more sandy ridges. The oak and
hickory, stout trees of their forefathers, passed, and the cottonwoods
appeared. After they had crossed the ford of the Big Blue--a hundred
yards of racing water--they passed what is now the line between Kansas
and Nebraska, and followed up the Little Blue, beyond whose ford the
trail left these quieter river valleys and headed out over a high
table-land in a keen straight flight over the great valley of the
Platte, the highway to the Rockies.
Now the soil was sandier; the grass changed yet again. They had rolled
under wheel by now more than one hundred different varieties of wild
grasses. The vegetation began to show the growing altitude. The cactus
was seen now and then. On the far horizon the wavering mysteries of the
mirage appeared, marvelous in deceptiveness, mystical, alluring, the
very spirits of the Far West, appearing to move before their eyes in
giant pantomime. They were passing from the Prairies to the Plains.
Shouts and cheers arose as the word passed back that the sand hills
known as the Coasts of the Platte were in sight. Some mothers told their
children they were now almost to Oregon. The whips cracked more loudly,
the tired teams, tongues lolling, quickened their pace as they struck
the down-grade gap leading through the sand ridges.
Two thousand Americans, some of them illiterate and ignorant, all of
them strong, taking with them law, order, society, the church, the
school, anew were staging the great drama of human life, act and scene
and episode, as though upon some great moving platform drawn by
invisible cables beyond the vast proscenium of the hills.
THE GREAT ENCAMPMENT
As the long columns of the great wagon train broke through the screening
sand hills there was disclosed a vast and splendid panorama. The valley
of the Platte lay miles wide, green in the full covering of spring. A
crooked and broken thread of timber growth appeared, marking the moister
soil and outlining the general course of the shallow stream, whose giant
cottonwoods were dwarfed now by the distances. In between, and for miles
up and down the flat expanse, there rose the blue smokes of countless
camp fires, each showing the location of some white-topped ship of the
Plains. Black specks, grouped here and there, proved the presence of the
livestock under herd.
Over all shone a pleasant sun. Now and again the dark shadow of a moving
cloud passed over the flat valley, softening its high lights for the
time. At times, as the sun shone full and strong, the faint loom of the
mirage added the last touch of mysticism, the figures of the wagons
rising high, multiplied many-fold, with giant creatures passing between,
so that the whole seemed, indeed, some wild phantasmagoria of the
"Look!" exclaimed Wingate, pulling up his horse. "Look, Caleb, the
Northern train is in and waiting for us! A hundred wagons! They're
camped over the whole bend."
The sight of this vast re-enforcement brought heart to every man, woman
and child in all the advancing train. Now, indeed, Oregon was sure.
There would be, all told, four hundred--five hundred--above six hundred
wagons. Nothing could withstand them. They were the same as arrived!
As the great trains blended before the final emparkment men and women
who had never met before shook hands, talked excitedly, embraced, even
wept, such was their joy in meeting their own kind. Soon the vast valley
at the foot of the Grand Island of the Platte--ninety miles in length it
then was--became one vast bivouac whose parallel had not been seen in
all the world.
Even so, the Missouri column held back, an hour or two later on the
trail. Banion, silent and morose, still rode ahead, but all the flavor
of his adventure out to Oregon had left him--indeed, the very savor of
life itself. He looked at his arms, empty; touched his lips, where once
her kiss had been, so infinitely and ineradicably sweet. Why should he
go on to Oregon now?
As they came down through the gap in the Coasts, looking out over the
Grand Island and the great encampment, Jackson pulled up his horse.
"Look! Someone comin' out!"
Banion sat his horse awaiting the arrival of the rider, who soon cut
down the intervening distance until he could well be noted. A tall,
spare man he was, middle-aged, of long lank hair and gray stubbled
beard, and eyes overhung by bushy brows. He rode an Indian pad saddle,
without stirrups, and was clad in the old costume of the hunter of the
Far West--fringed shirt and leggings of buckskin. Moccasins made his
foot-covering, though he wore a low, wide hat. As he came on at speed,
guiding his wiry mount with a braided rope looped around the lower jaw,
he easily might have been mistaken for a savage himself had he not come
alone and from such company as that ahead. He jerked up his horse close
at hand and sat looking at the newcomers, with no salutation beyond a
Banion met him.
"We're the Westport train. Do you come from the Bluffs? Are you for
"Yes. I seen ye comin'. Thought I'd projeck some. Who's that back of
ye?" He extended an imperative skinny finger toward Jackson. "If it
hain't Bill Jackson hit's his ghost!"
"The same to you, Jim. How!"
The two shook hands without dismounting. Jackson turned grinning to
"Major," said he, "this is Jim Bridger, the oldest scout in the Rockies,
an' that knows more West than ary man this side the Missoury. I never
thought to see him agin, sartain not this far east."
"Ner me," retorted the other, shaking hands with one man after another.
"Jim Bridger? That's a name we know," said Banion. "I've heard of you
back in Kentucky."
"Whar I come from, gentlemen--whar I come from more'n forty year ago,
near's I can figger. Leastways I was borned in Virginny an' must of
crossed Kentucky sometime. I kain't tell right how old I am, but I
rek'lect perfect when they turned the water inter the Missoury River."
He looked at them solemnly.
"I come back East to the new place, Kansas City. It didn't cut no
mustard, an' I drifted to the Bluffs. This train was pullin' west, an' I
hired on for guide. I've got a few wagons o' my own--iron, flour an'
bacon for my post beyant the Rockies--ef we don't all git our ha'r
lifted afore then!
"We're in between the Sioux and the Pawnees now," he went on. "They're
huntin' the bufflers not ten mile ahead. But when I tell these pilgrims,
they laugh at me. The hull Sioux nation is on the spring hunt right now.
I'll not have it said Jim Bridger led a wagon train into a massacree. If
ye'll let me, I'm for leavin' 'em an' trainin' with you-all, especial
since you got anyhow one good man along. I've knowed Bill Jackson many a
year at the Rendyvous afore the fur trade petered. Damn the pilgrims!
The hull world's broke loose this spring. There's five thousand Mormons
on ahead, praisin' God every jump an' eatin' the grass below the roots.
Womern an' children--so many of 'em, so many! I kain't talk about hit!
Women don't belong out here! An' now here you come bringin' a thousand
"There's a woman an' a baby layin' dead in oar camp now," he concluded.
"Died last night. The pilgrims is tryin' to make coffins fer 'em out'n
"Lucky for all!" Jackson interrupted the garrulity of the other. "We
buried men in blankets on the Vermilion a few days back. The Pawnees got
a small camp o' our own folks."
"Yes, I know all about that."
"What's that?" cut in Banion. "How do you know?"
"Well, we've got the survivors--three o' them, countin' Woodhull, their
"How did they get here?"
"They came in with a small outfit o' Mormons that was north o' the
Vermilion. They'd come out on the St. Jo road. They told me--"
"Is Woodhull here--can you find him?"
"Shore! Ye want to see him?"
"He told me all about hit--"
"We know all about it, perhaps better than you do--after he's told you
all about it."
Bridger looked at him, curious.
"Well, anyhow, hit's over," said he. "One of the men had a Pawnee arrer
in his laig. Reckon hit hurt. I know, fer I carried a Blackfoot
arrerhead under my shoulder blade fer sever'l years.
"But come on down and help me make these pilgrims set guards. Do-ee
mind, now, the hull Sioux nation's just in ahead o' us, other side the
river! Yet these people didn't want to ford to the south side the
Platte; they wanted to stick north o' the river. Ef we had, we'd have
our ha'r dryin' by now. I tell ye, the tribes is out to stop the wagon
trains this spring. They say too many womern and children is comin', an'
that shows we want to take their land away fer keeps.
"From now on to Oregon--look out! The Cayuses cleaned out the Whitman
mission last spring in Oregon. Even the Shoshones is dancin'. The Crows
is out, the Cheyennes is marchin', the Bannocks is east o' the Pass, an'
ye kain't tell when ter expeck the Blackfoots an' Grow Vaws. Never was
gladder to see a man than I am to see Bill Jackson."
Banion gave the order. The Missouri wagons came on, filed through the
gap in order and with military exactness wheeled into a perfect park at
one side the main caravan.
As the outer columns swung in, the inner spread out till the lapped
wagons made a great oblong, Bridger watching them. Quickly the animals
were outspanned, the picket ropes put down and the loose horses driven
off to feed while the cattle were close herded. He nodded his approval.
"Who's yer train boss, Bill?" he demanded. "That's good work."
"Major Banion, of Doniphan's column in the war."
"Will he fight?"
News travels fast along a wagon train. Word passed now that there was a
big Sioux village not far ahead, on the other side of the river, and
that the caravan should be ready for a night attack. Men and women from
the earlier train came into the Westport camp and the leaders formulated
plans. More than four hundred families ate in sight of one another fires
Again on the still air of the Plains that night rose the bugle summons,
by now become familiar. In groups the wagon folk began to assemble at
the council fire. They got instructions which left them serious. The
camp fell into semi-silence. Each family returned to its own wagon. Out
in the dark, flung around in a wide circle, a double watch stood guard.
Wingate and his aids, Banion, Jackson, Bridger, the pick of the hardier
men, went out for all the night. It was to Banion, Bridger and Jackson
that most attention now was paid. Banion could not yet locate Woodhull
in the train.
The scouts crept out ahead of the last picket line, for though an
attack in mass probably would not come before dawn, if the Sioux really
should cross the river, some horse stealing or an attempted stampede
might be expected before midnight or soon after.
The night wore on. The fires of willow twigs and _bois des vaches_ fell
into pale coals, into ashes. The chill of the Plains came, so that the
sleepers in the great wagon corral drew their blankets closer about them
as they lay.
It was approaching midnight when the silence was ripped apart by the
keen crack of a rifle--another and yet another.
Then, in a ripple of red detonation, the rifle fire ran along the upper
front of the entire encampment.
"Turn out! Turn out, men!" called the high, clear voice of Banion,
riding back. "Barricade! Fill in the wheels!"
ARROW AND PLOW
The night attack on the great emigrant encampment was a thing which had
been preparing for years. The increasing number of the white men, the
lessening numbers of the buffalo, meant inevitable combat with all the
tribes sooner or later.
Now the spring hunt of the northern Plains tribes was on. Five hundred
lodges of the Sioux stood in one village on the north side of the
Platte. The scaffolds were red with meat, everywhere the women were
dressing hides and the camp was full of happiness. For a month the great
Sioux nation had prospered, according to its lights. Two hundred stolen
horses were under the wild herdsmen, and any who liked the meat of the
spotted buffalo might kill it close to camp from the scores taken out of
the first caravans up the Platte that year--the Mormons and other early
trailers whom the Sioux despised because their horses were so few.
But the Sioux, fat with _boudins_ and _depouille_ and marrowbones, had
waited long for the great Western train which should have appeared on
the north side of the Platte, the emigrant road from the Council Bluffs.
For some days now they had known the reason, as Jim Bridger had
explained--the wagons had forded the river below the Big Island. The
white men's medicine was strong.
The Sioux did not know of the great rendezvous at the forks of the Great
Medicine Road. Their watchmen, stationed daily at the eminences along
the river bluffs of the north shore, brought back scoffing word of the
carelessness of the whites. When they got ready they, too, would ford
the river and take them in. They had not heeded the warning sent down
the trail that no more whites should come into this country of the
tribes. It was to be war.
And now the smoke signals said yet more whites were coming in from the
south! The head men rode out to meet their watchmen. News came back that
the entire white nation now had come into the valley from the south and
joined the first train.
Here then was the chance to kill off the entire white nation, their
women and their children, so there would be none left to come from
toward the rising sun! Yes, this would end the race of the whites
without doubt or question, because they all were here. After killing
these it would be easy to send word west to the Arapahoes and Gros
Ventres and Cheyennes, the Crows, the Blackfeet, the Shoshones, the
Utes, to follow west on the Medicine Road and wipe out all who had gone
on West that year and the year before. Then the Plains and the mountains
would all belong to the red men again.
The chiefs knew that the hour just before dawn is when an enemy's heart
is like water, when his eyes are heavy, so they did not order the
advance at once. But a band of the young men who always fought together,
one of the inner secret societies or clans of the tribe, could not wait
so long. First come, first served. Daylight would be time to look over
the children and to keep those not desired for killing, and to select
and distribute the young women of the white nation. But the night would
be best for taking the elk-dogs and the spotted buffalo.
Accordingly a band from this clan swam and forded the wide river,
crossed the island, and in the early evening came downstream back of a
shielding fringe of cottonwoods. Their scouts saw with amazement the
village of tepees that moved on wheels. They heard the bugle, saw the
white nation gather at the medicine fire, heard them chant their great
medicine song; then saw them disperse; saw the fires fall low.
They laughed. The white nation was strong, but they did not put out
guards at night! For a week the Sioux had watched them, and they knew
about that. It would be easy to run off all the herd and to kill a few
whites even now, beginning the sport before the big battle of to-morrow,
which was to wipe out the white nation altogether.
But when at length, as the handle of the Great Dipper reached the point
agreed, the line of the Sioux clansmen crawled away from the fringe of
trees and out into the cover of a little slough that made toward the
village of tepees on wheels, a quarter of a mile in front of the village
men arose out of the ground and shot into them. Five of their warriors
fell. Tall men in the dark came out and counted coup on them, took off
their war bonnets; took off even more below the bonnets. And there was a
warrior who rode this way and that, on a great black horse, and who had
a strange war cry not heard before, and who seemed to have no fear. So
said the clan leader when he told the story of the repulse.
Taken aback, the attacking party found cover. But the Sioux would charge
three times. So they scattered and crawled in again over a half circle.
They found the wall of tepees solid; found that the white nation knew
more of war than they had thought. They sped arrow after arrow, ball
after ball, against the circle of the white tepees, but they did not
break, and inside no one moved or cried out in terror; whereas outside,
in the grass, men rose up and fired into them and did not run back, but
came forward. Some had short rifles in their hands that did not need to
be loaded, but kept on shooting. And none of the white nation ran away.
And the elk-dogs with long ears, and the spotted buffalo, were no longer
outside the village in the grass, but inside the village. What men could
fight a nation whose warriors were so unfair as all this came to?
The tribesmen drew back to the cottonwoods a half mile.
"My heart is weak," said their clan leader. "I believe they are going
to shoot us all. They have killed twenty of us now, and we have not
taken a scalp."
"I was close," said a young boy whom they called Bull Gets Up or The
Sitting Bull. "I was close, and I heard the spotted buffalo running
about inside the village; I heard the children. To-morrow we can run
"But to-night what man knows the gate into their village? They have got
a new chief to-day. They are many as the grass leaves. Their medicine is
strong. I believe they are going to kill us all if we stay here." Thus
So they did not stay there, but went away. And at dawn Banion and
Bridger and Jackson and each of the column captains--others also--came
into the corral carrying war bonnets, shields and bows; and some had
things which had been once below war bonnets. The young men of this clan
always fought on foot or on horse in full regalia of their secret order,
day or night. The emigrants had plenty of this savage war gear now.
"We've beat them off," said Bridger, "an' maybe they won't ring us now.
Get the cookin' done, Cap'n Banion, an' let's roll out. But for your
wagon park they'd have cleaned us."
The whites had by no means escaped scathless. A dozen arrows stood sunk
into the sides of the wagons inside the park, hundreds had thudded into
the outer sides, nearest the enemy. One shaft was driven into the hard
wood of a plow beam. Eight oxen staggered, legs wide apart, shafts fast
in their bodies; four lay dead; two horses also; as many mules.
This was not all. As the fighting men approached the wagons they saw a
group of stern-faced women weeping around something which lay covered by
a blanket on the ground. Molly Wingate stooped, drew it back to show
them. Even Bridger winced.
An arrow, driven by a buffalo bow, had glanced on the spokes of a wheel,
risen in its flight and sped entirely across the inclosure of the
corral. It had slipped through the canvas cover of a wagon on the
opposite side as so much paper and caught fair a woman who was lying
there, a nursing baby in her arms, shielding it, as she thought, with
her body. But the missile had cut through one of her arms, pierced the
head of the child and sunk into the bosom of the mother deep enough to
kill her also. The two lay now, the shaft transfixing both; and they
were buried there; and they lie there still, somewhere near the Grand
Island, in one of a thousand unknown and unmarked graves along the Great
Medicine Road. Under the ashes of a fire they left this grave, and drove
six hundred wagons over it, and the Indians never knew.
The leaders stood beside the dead woman, hats in hand. This was part of
the price of empire--the life of a young woman, a bride of a year.
The wagons all broke camp and went on in a vast caravan, the
Missourians now at the front. Noon, and the train did not halt. Banion
urged the teamsters. Bridger and Jackson were watching the many signal
"I'm afeard o' the next bend," said Jackson at length.
The fear was justified. Early in the afternoon they saw the outriders
turn and come back to the train at full run. Behind them, riding out
from the concealment of a clump of cottonwoods on the near side of the
scattering river channels, there appeared rank after rank of the Sioux,
more than two thousand warriors bedecked in all the savage finery of
their war dress. They were after their revenge. They had left their
village and, paralleling the white men's advance, had forded on ahead.
They came out now, five hundred, eight hundred, a thousand, two thousand
strong, and the ground shook under the thunder of the hoofs. They were
after their revenge, eager to inflict the final blow upon the white
The spot was not ill chosen for their tactics. The alkali plain of the
valley swung wide and flat, and the trail crossed it midway, far back
from the water and not quite to the flanking sand hills. While a few
dashed at the cattle, waving their blankets, the main body, with
workman-like precision, strung out and swung wide, circling the train
and riding in to arrow range.
The quick orders of Banion and his scouts were obeyed as fully as time
allowed. At a gallop, horse and ox transport alike were driven into a
hurried park and some at least of the herd animals inclosed. The
riflemen flanked the train on the danger side and fired continually at
the long string of running horses, whose riders had flung themselves
off-side so that only a heel showed above a pony's back, a face under
his neck. Even at this range a half dozen ponies stumbled, figures
crawled off for cover. The emigrants were stark men with rifles. But the
circle went on until, at the running range selected, the crude wagon
park was entirely surrounded by a thin racing ring of steel and fire
stretched out over two or three miles.
The Sioux had guns also, and though they rested most on the bow, their
chance rifle fire was dangerous. As for the arrows, even from this
disadvantageous station these peerless bowmen sent them up in a high arc
so that they fell inside the inclosure and took their toll. Three men,
two women lay wounded at the first ride, and the animals were plunging.
The war chief led his warriors in the circle once more, chanting his own
song to the continuous chorus of savage ululations. The entire fighting
force of the Sioux village was in the circle.
The ring ran closer. The Sioux were inside seventy-five yards, the dust
streaming, the hideously painted faces of the riders showing through,
red, saffron, yellow, as one after another warrior twanged a bow under
his horse's neck as he ran.
But this was easy range for the steady rifles of men who kneeled and
fired with careful aim. Even the six-shooters, then new to the Sioux,
could work. Pony after pony fell, until the line showed gaps; whereas
now the wagon corral showed no gap at all, while through the wheels, and