Part 4 out of 6
"There is no other way you could. He may die. I promise you I'll never
see him after I'm married.
"And I'll promise you another thing"--her strained nerves now were
speaking truth for her--"if by any means I ever learn--if I ever
believe--that Major Banion is not what I now think him, I'll go on my
knees to him. I'll know marriage was wrong and love was right all the
"Fine, my dear! Much happiness! But unfortunately for Major Banion's
passing romance, the official records of a military court-martial and a
dishonorable discharge from the Army are facts which none of us can
doubt or deny."
"Yes, that's how it is. So that's why."
"What do you really mean then, Molly--you say, that's why?"
"That's why I'm going to marry you, Sam. Nine days from to-day, at the
Independence Rock, if we are alive. And from now till then, and always,
I'm going to be honest, and I'm going to pray God to give you power to
make me forget every other man in all the world except my--my--" But she
could not say the word "husband."
He said it for her, and perhaps then reached his zenith in
approximately unselfish devotion, and in good resolves at least.
The sun shone blinding hot. The white dust rose in clouds. The plague of
flies increased. The rattle and creak of wheel, the monotone of the
drivers, the cough of dust-afflicted kine made the only sounds for a
"You can't kiss me, Molly?"
He spoke not in dominance but in diffidence. The girl awed him.
"No, not till after, Sam; and I think I'd rather be left alone from now
till then. After--Oh, be good to me, Sam! I'm trying to be honest as a
woman can. If I were not that I'd not be worth marrying at all."
Without suggestion or agreement on his part she drew tighter the reins
on her mules. He sprang down over the wheel. The sun and the dust had
their way again; the monotony of life, its drab discontent, its
yearnings and its sense of failure once more resumed sway in part or all
of the morose caravan. They all sought new fortunes, each of these. One
day each must learn that, travel far as he likes, a man takes himself
with him for better or for worse.
THE BROKEN WEDDING
Banion allowed the main caravan two days' start before he moved beyond
Fort Laramie. Every reason bade him to cut entirely apart from that
portion of the company. He talked with every man he knew who had any
knowledge of the country on ahead, read all he could find, studied such
maps as then existed, and kept an open ear for advice of old-time men
who in hard experience had learned how to get across a country.
Two things troubled him: The possibility of grass exhaustion near the
trail and the menace of the Indians. Squaw men in from the north and
west said that the Arapahoes were hunting on the Sweetwater, and sure to
make trouble; that the Blackfeet were planning war; that the Bannacks
were east of the Pass; that even the Crows were far down below their
normal range and certain to harass the trains. These stories, not
counting the hostility of the Sioux and Cheyennes of the Platte country,
made it appear that there was a tacit suspense of intertribal hostility,
and a general and joint uprising against the migrating whites.
These facts Banion did not hesitate to make plain to all his men; but,
descendants of pioneers, with blood of the wilderness in their veins,
and each tempted by adventure as much as by gain, they laughed long and
loud at the thought of danger from all the Indians of the Rockies. Had
they not beaten the Sioux? Could they not in turn humble the pride of
any other tribe? Had not their fathers worked with rifle lashed to the
plow beam? Indians? Let them come!
Founding his own future on this resolute spirit of his men, Banion next
looked to the order of his own personal affairs. He found prices so high
at Fort Laramie, and the stock of all manner of goods so low, that he
felt it needless to carry his own trading wagons all the way to Oregon,
when a profit of 400 per cent lay ready not a third of the way across
and less the further risk and cost. He accordingly cut down his own
stocks to one wagon, and sold off wagons and oxen as well, until he
found himself possessed of considerably more funds than when he had
He really cared little for these matters. What need had he for a fortune
or a future now? He was poorer than any jeans-clad ox driver with a
sunbonnet on the seat beside him and tow-headed children on the flour
and bacon sacks, with small belongings beyond the plow lashed at the
tail gate, the ax leaning in the front corner of the box and the rifle
swinging in its loops at the wagon bows. They were all beginning life
again. He was done with it.
The entire caravan now had passed in turn the Prairies and the Plains.
In the vestibule of the mountains they had arrived in the most splendid
out-of-doors country the world has ever offered. The climate was
superb, the scenery was a constant succession of changing beauties new
to the eyes of all. Game was at hand in such lavish abundance as none of
them had dreamed possible. The buffalo ranged always within touch, great
bands of elk now appeared, antelope always were in sight. The streams
abounded in noble game fish, and the lesser life of the open was
threaded across continually by the presence of the great predatory
animals--the grizzly, the gray wolf, even an occasional mountain lion.
The guarding of the cattle herds now required continual exertion, and if
any weak or crippled draft animal fell out its bones were clean within
the hour. The feeling of the wilderness now was distinct enough for the
most adventurous. They fed fat, and daily grew more like savages in look
Wingate's wagons kept well apace with the average schedule of a dozen
miles a day, at times spurting to fifteen or twenty miles, and made the
leap over the heights of land between the North Platte and the
Sweetwater, which latter stream, often winding among defiles as well as
pleasant meadows, was to lead them to the summit of the Rockies at the
South Pass, beyond which they set foot on the soil of Oregon, reaching
thence to the Pacific. Before them now lay the entry mark of the
Sweetwater Valley, that strange oblong upthrust of rock, rising high
above the surrounding plain, known for two thousand miles as
At this point, more than eight hundred miles out from the Missouri, a
custom of unknown age seemed to have decreed a pause. The great rock was
an unmistakable landmark, and time out of mind had been a register of
the wilderness. It carried hundreds of names, including every prominent
one ever known in the days of fur trade or the new day of the wagon
trains. It became known as a resting place; indeed, many rested there
forever, and never saw the soil of Oregon. Many an emigrant woman, sick
well-nigh to death, held out so that she might be buried among the many
other graves that clustered there. So, she felt, she had the final
company of her kind. And to those weak or faint of heart the news that
this was not halfway across often smote with despair and death, and
they, too, laid themselves down here by the road to Oregon.
But here also were many scenes of cheer. By this time the new life of
the trail had been taken on, rude and simple. Frolics were promised when
the wagons should reach the Rock. Neighbors made reunions there.
Weddings, as well as burials, were postponed till the train got to
Here then, a sad-faced girl, true to her promise and true to some
strange philosophy of her own devising, was to become the wife of a
suitor whose persistency had brought him little comfort beyond the
wedding date. All the train knew that Molly Wingate Was to be married
there to Sam Woodhull, now restored to trust and authority. Some said
it was a good match, others shook their heads, liking well to see a maid
either blush or smile in such case as Molly's whereas she did neither.
At all events, Mrs. Wingate was two days baking cakes at the train
stops. Friends got together little presents for the bride. Jed, Molly's
brother, himself a fiddler of parts, organized an orchestra of a dozen
pieces. The Rev. Henry Doak, a Baptist divine of much nuptial diligence
en route, made ready his best coat. They came into camp. In the open
spaces of the valley hundreds of wagons were scattered, each to send
representatives to Molly Wingate's wedding. Some insisted that the
ceremony should be performed on the top of the Rock itself, so that no
touch of romance should lack.
Then approached the very hour--ten of the night, after duties of the day
were done. A canopy was spread for the ceremony. A central camp fire set
the place for the wedding feast. Within a half hour the bride would
emerge from the secrecy of her wagon to meet at the canopy under the
Rock the impatient groom, already clad in his best, already giving
largess to the riotous musicians, who now attuned instruments, now broke
out into rude jests or pertinent song.
But Molly Wingate did not appear, nor her father, nor her mother. A hush
fell on the rude assemblage. The minister of the gospel departed to the
Wingate encampment to learn the cause of the delay. He found Jesse
Wingate irate to open wrath, the girl's mother stony calm, the girl
herself white but resolute.
"She insists on seeing the marriage license, Mr. Doak," began Jesse
Wingate. "As though we could have one! As though she should care more
for that than her parents!"
"Quite so," rejoined the reverend man. "That is something I have taken
up with the happy groom. I have with all the couples I have joined in
wedlock on the trail. Of course, being a lawyer, Mr. Woodhull knows that
even if they stood before the meeting and acknowledged themselves man
and wife it would be a lawful marriage before God and man. Of course,
also we all know that since we left the Missouri River we have been in
unorganized territory, with no courts and no form of government, no
society as we understand it at home. Very well. Shall loving hearts be
kept asunder for those reasons? Shall the natural course of life be
thwarted until we get to Oregon? Why, sir, that is absurd! We do not
even know much of the government of Oregon itself, except that it is
The face of Molly Wingate appeared at the drawn curtains of her
transient home. She stepped from her wagon and came forward. Beautiful,
but not radiant, she was; cold and calm, but not blushing and uncertain.
Her wedding gown was all in white, true enough to tradition, though but
of delaine, pressed new from its packing trunk by her mother's hands.
Her bodice, long and deep in front and at back, was plain entirely,
save for a treasure of lace from her mother's trunk and her mother's
wedding long ago. Her hands had no gloves, but white short-fingered
mitts, also cherished remnants of days of schoolgirl belledom, did
service. Over white stockings, below the long and full-bodied skirt,
showed the crossed bands of long elastic tapes tied in an ankle bow to
hold in place her little slippers of black high-finished leather. Had
they seen her, all had said that Molly Wingate was the sweetest and the
most richly clad bride of any on all the long, long trail across the
land that had no law. And all she lacked for her wedding costume was the
bride's bouquet, which her mother now held out to her, gathered with
care that day of the mountain flowers--blue harebells, forget-me-nots of
varied blues and the blossom of the gentian, bold and blue in the
sunlight, though at night infolded and abashed, its petals turning in
and waiting for the sun again to warm them.
Molly Wingate, stout and stern, full bosomed, wet eyed, held out her one
little present to her girl, her ewe lamb, whom she was now surrendering.
But no hand of the bride was extended for the bride's bouquet. The voice
of the bride was not low and diffident, but high pitched, insistent.
"Provisional? Provisional? What is it you are saying, sir? Are you
asking me to be married in a provisional wedding? Am I to give all I
have provisionally? Is my oath provisional, or his?"
"Now, now, my dear!" began the minister.
Her father broke out into a half-stifled oath.
"What do you mean?"
Her mother's face went pale under its red bronze.
"I mean this," broke out the girl, still in the strained high tones that
betokened her mental state: "I'll marry no man in any halfway fashion!
Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't I think? How could I have forgotten?
Law, organization, society, convention, form, custom--haven't I got even
those things to back me? No? Then I've nothing! It was--it was those
things--form, custom--that I was going to have to support me. I've got
nothing else. Gone--they're gone, too! And you ask me to marry
him--provisionally--provisionally! Oh, my God! what awful thing was
this? I wasn't even to have that solid thing to rest on, back of me,
after it all was over!"
They stood looking at her for a time, trying to catch and weigh her real
intent, to estimate what it might mean as to her actions.
"Like images, you are!" she went on hysterically, her physical craving
for one man, her physical loathing of another, driving her well-nigh
mad. "You wouldn't protect your own daughter!"--to her stupefied
parents. "Must I think for you at this hour of my life? How near--oh,
how near! But not now--not this way! No! No!"
"What do you mean, Molly?" demanded her father sternly. "Come now,
we'll have no woman tantrums at this stage! This goes on! They're
waiting! He's waiting!"
"Let him wait!" cried the girl in sudden resolution. All her soul was in
the cry, all her outraged, self-punished heart. Her philosophy fell from
her swiftly at the crucial moment when she was to face the kiss, the
embrace of another man. The great inarticulate voice of her woman nature
suddenly sounded, imperative, terrifying, in her own ears--"Oh, Will
Banion, Will Banion, why did you take away my heart?" And now she had
been on the point of doing this thing! An act of God had intervened.
Jesse Wingate nodded to the minister. They drew apart. The holy man
nodded assent, hurried away--the girl sensed on what errand.
"No use!" she said. "I'll not!"
Stronger and stronger in her soul surged the yearning for the dominance
of one man, not this man yonder--a yearning too strong now for her to
"But Molly, daughter," her mother's voice said to her, "girls has--girls
does. And like he said, it's the promise, it's the agreement they both
make, with witnesses."
"Yes, of course," her father chimed in. "It's the consent in the
contract when you stand before them all."
"I'll not stand before them. I don't consent! There is no agreement!"
Suddenly the girl reached out and caught from her mother the pitiful
little bride's bouquet.
"Look!" she laughed. "Look at these!"
One by one, rapidly, she tore out and flung down the folded gentian
"Closed, closed! When the night came, they closed! They couldn't! They
couldn't! I'll not--I can't!"
She had the hand's clasp of mountain blossoms stripped down to a few
small flowers of varied blooms. They heard the coming of the groom, half
running. A silence fell over all the great encampment. The girl's father
made a half step forward, even as her mother sank down, cowering, her
hands at her face.
Then, without a word, with no plan or purpose, Molly Wingate turned,
sprang away from them and fled out into a night that was black indeed.
Truly she had but one thought, and that in negation only. Yonder came to
claim her a man suddenly odious to her senses. It could not be. His
kiss, his arms--if these were of this present time and place, then no
place in all the world, even the world of savage blackness that lay
about, could be so bad as this. At the test her philosophy had forsaken
her, reason now almost as well, and sheer terrified flight remained her
She was gone, a white ghost in her wedding gown, her little slippers
stumbling over the stones, her breath coming sobbingly as she ran. They
followed her. Back of them, at the great fire whose illumination
deepened the shadows here, rose a murmur, a rising of curious people, a
pressing forward to the Wingate station. But of these none knew the
truth, and it was curiosity that now sought answer for the delay in the
Molly Wingate ran for some moments, to some distance--she knew of
neither. Then suddenly all her ghastly nightmare of terror found climax
in a world of demons. Voices of the damned rose around her. There came a
sudden shock, a blow. Before she could understand, before she could
determine the shadowy form that rose before her in the dark, she fell
forward like the stricken creature.
THE DANCE IN THE DESERT
There was no wedding that night at the Independence Rock. The Arapahoes
saw to that. But there were burials the day following, six of them--two
women, a child, three men. The night attack had caught the company
wholly off guard, and the bright fire gave good illumination for shaft
"Put out the fires! Corral! Corral!"
Voices of command arose. The wedding guests rushed for the shelter of
their own wagons. Men caught up their weapons and a steady fire at the
unseen foe held the latter at bay after the first attack.
Indeed, a sort of panic seized the savages. A warrior ran back
exclaiming that he had seen a spirit, all in white, not running away
from the attack, but toward them as they lay in cover. He had shot an
arrow at the spirit, which then had vanished. It would be better to fall
back and take no more like chances.
For this reason the family of Molly Wingate, pursuing her closely as
they could, found her at last, lying face down in the grass, her arms
outspread, her white wedding gown red with blood. An arrow, its shaft
cracked by her fall, was imbedded in her shoulder, driven deep by the
savage bowman who had fired in fear at an object he did not recognize.
So they found her, still alive, still unmutilated, still no prisoner.
They carried the girl back to her mother, who reached out her arms and
laid her child down behind the barricaded wagon wheels.
"Bring me a candle, you!" she called to the nearest man. It chanced to
be Sam Woodhull.
Soon a woman came with a light.
"Go away now!" the mother commanded the disappointed man.
He passed into the dark. The old woman opened the bodice over the girl's
heart, stripped away the stained lace that had served in three weddings
on two sides of the Appalachians, and so got to the wound.
"It's in to the bone," she said. "It won't come out. Get me my scissors
out of my bag. It's hanging right 'side the seat, our wagon."
"Ain't there no doctor?" she demanded, her own heart weakening now. But
none could tell. A few women grouped around her.
"It won't come out of that little hole it went in," said stout Molly
Wingate, not quite sobbing. "I got to cut it wider."
Silence held them as she finished the shreds of the ashen shaft and
pressed to one side the stub of it. So with what tools she knew best she
cut into the fabric of her own weaving, out of her own blood and bone;
cut mayhap in steady snippings at her own heart, pulling and wrenching
until the flesh, now growing purple, was raised above the girl's white
breast. Both arms, in their white sleeves, lay on the trodden grass
motionless, and had not shock and strain left the victim unconscious the
pain must now have done so.
The sinew wrappings held the strap-iron head, wetted as they now were
with blood. The sighing surgeon caught the base of the arrowhead in
thumb and finger. There was no stanching of the blood. She wrenched it
free at last, and the blood gushed from a jagged hole which would have
meant death in any other air or in any patient but the vital young.
Now they disrobed the bride that was no bride, even as the rifle fire
died away in the darkness. Women brought frontier drafts of herbs held
sovereign, and laid her upon the couch that was not to have been hers
She opened her eyes, moaning, held out her arms to her mother, not to
any husband; and her mother, bloody, unnerved, weeping, caught her to
"My lamb! My little lamb! Oh, dear me! Oh, dear me!"
The wailing of others for their dead arose. The camp dogs kept up a
continual barking, but there was no other sound. The guards now lay out
in the dark. A figure came creeping toward the bridal tent.
"Is she alive? May I come in? Speak to me, Molly!"
"Go on away, Sam!" answered the voice of the older woman. "You can't
"But is she alive? Tell me!" His voice was at the door which he could
"Yes, more's the pity!" he heard the same voice say.
But from the girl who should then have been his, to have and to hold, he
heard no sound at all, nor could he know her frightened gaze into her
mother's face, her tight clutch on her mother's hand.
This was no place for delay. They made graves for the dead, pallets for
the wounded. At sunrise the train moved on, grim, grave, dignified and
silent in its very suffering. There was no time for reprisal or revenge.
The one idea as to safety was to move forward in hope of shaking off
But all that morning and all that day the mounted Arapahoes harassed
them. At many bends of the Sweetwater they paused and made sorties; but
the savages fell back, later to close in, sometimes under cover so near
that their tauntings could be heard.
Wingate, Woodhull, Price, Hall, Kelsey stationed themselves along the
line of flankers, and as the country became flatter and more open they
had better control of the pursuers, so that by nightfall the latter
began to fall back.
The end of the second day of forced marching found them at the Three
Crossings of the Sweetwater, deep in a cheerless alkaline desert, and on
one of the most depressing reaches of the entire journey. That night
such gloom fell on their council as had not yet been known.
"The Watkins boy died to-day," said Hall, joining his colleagues at the
guarded fire. "His leg was black where it was broke. They're going to
bury him just ahead, in the trail. It's not best to leave headboards
Wingate had fallen into a sort of apathy. For a time Woodhull did not
speak to him after he also came in.
"How is she, Mr. Wingate?" he asked at last. "She'll live?"
"I don't know," replied the other. "Fever. No one can tell. We found a
doctor in one of the Iowa wagons. He don't know."
Woodhull sat silent for a time, exclaimed at last, "But she will--she
must! This shames me! We'll be married yet."
"Better wait to see if she lives or dies," said Jesse Wingate
"I know what I wish," said Caleb Price at last as he stared moodily at
the coals, "and I know it mighty well--I wish the other wagons were up.
He did not finish. A nod or so was all the answer he got. A general
apprehension held them all.
"If Bridger hadn't gone on ahead, damn him!" exclaimed Kelsey at last.
"Or if Carson hadn't refused to come along, instead of going on east,"
assented Hall. "What made him so keen?"
Kelsey spoke morosely.
"Said he had papers to get through. Maybe Kit Carson'll sometime carry
news of our being wiped out somewhere."
"Or if we had Bill Jackson to trail for us," ventured the first speaker
again. "If we could send back word--"
"We can't, so what's the use?" interrupted Price. "We were all together,
and had our chance--once."
But buried as they were in their gloomy doubts, regrets, fears, they got
through that night and the next in safety. They dared not hunt, though
the buffalo and antelope were in swarms, and though they knew they now
were near the western limit of the buffalo range. They urged on, mile
after mile. The sick and the wounded must endure as they might.
Finally they topped the gentle incline which marked the heights of land
between the Sweetwater and the tributaries of the Green, and knew they
had reached the South Pass, called halfway to Oregon. There was no
timber here. The pass itself was no winding canon, but only a flat,
broad valley. Bolder views they had seen, but none of greater interest.
Now they would set foot on Oregon, passing from one great series of
waterways to another and even vaster, leading down to the western
sea--the unknown South Sea marked as the limits of their possessions by
the gallants of King Charles when, generations earlier, and careless of
all these intervening generations of toil and danger, they had paused
at the summit of Rockfish Gap in the Appalachians and waved a gay hand
each toward the unknown continent that lay they knew not how far to the
But these, now arrived halfway of half that continent, made no merriment
in their turn. Their wounded and their sick were with them. The blazing
sun tried them sore. Before them also lay they knew not what.
And now, coming in from the northeast in a vast braided tracing of
travois poles and trampling hoofs, lay a trail which fear told them was
that of yet another war party waiting for the white-topped wagons. It
led on across the Pass. It could not be more than two days old.
"It's the Crows!" exclaimed Sam Woodhull, studying the broad trail.
"They've got their women and children with them."
"We have ours with us," said Caleb Price simply.
Every man who heard him looked back at the lines of gaunt cattle, at the
dust-stained canvas coverings that housed their families. They were far
afield from home or safety.
"Call Wingate. Let's decide what to do," exclaimed Price again. "We'll
have to vote."
They voted to go on, fault of any better plan. Some said Bridger's post
was not far ahead. A general impatience, fretful, querulous, manifested
itself. Ignorant, many of these wanted to hurry on to Oregon, which for
most meant the Williamette Valley, in touch with the sea, marked as the
usual end of the great trek. Few knew that they now stood on the soil of
the Oregon country. The maps and journals of Molly Wingate were no more
forthcoming, for Molly Wingate no more taught the evening school, but
lay delirious under the hothouse canvas cover that intensified the rays
of the blazing sun. It was life or death, but by now life-and-death
issue had become no unusual experience.
It was August, midsummer, and only half the journey done. The heat was
blinding, blistering. For days now, in the dry sage country, from the
ford of the North Fork of the Platte, along the Sweetwater and down the
Sandy, the white alkali dust had sifted in and over everything. Lips
cracked open, hands and arms either were raw or black with tan. The
wagons were ready to drop apart. A dull silence had fallen on the
people; but fatuously following the great Indian trail they made camp at
last at the ford of the Green River, the third day's march down the
Pacific Slope. No three days of all the slow trail had been harder to
endure than these.
"Play for them, Jed," counseled Caleb Price, when that hardy youth,
leaving his shrunken herd, came in for his lunch that day at the ford.
"Yes, but keep that fiddle in the shade, Jed, or the sun certainly will
pop it open."
Jed's mother, her apron full of broken bits of sagebrush, turned to see
that her admonishment was heeded before she began her midday coffee
fire. As for Jed himself, with a wide grin he crouched down at the side
of the wagon and leaned against a wheel as he struck up a lively air,
roaring joyously to his accompaniment:
_Git out o' the way, old Dan Tucker,
You're too late to git yore supper!_
Unmindful of the sullen apathy of men and women, the wailing of children
stifling under the wagon tops, the moans of the sick and wounded in
their ghastly discomfort, Jed sang with his cracked lips as he swung
from one jig to the next, the voice of the violin reaching all the
wagons of the shortened train.
"Choose yore pardners!" rang his voice in the joyous jesting of youth.
And--marvel and miracle--then and there, those lean brown folk did take
up the jest, and laughingly gathered on the sun-seared sands. They
formed sets and danced--danced a dance of the indomitable, at high noon,
the heat blinding, the sand hot under feet not all of which were shod.
Molly Wingate, herself fifty and full-bodied, cast down her firewood,
caught up her skirt with either hand and made good an old-time jig to
the tune of the violin and the roaring accompaniment of many voices and
of patted hands. She paused at length, dropping her calico from between
her fingers, and hastened to a certain wagon side as she wiped her face
with her apron.
"Didn't you hear it, Molly?" she demanded, parting the curtain and
"Yes, I did. I wanted--I almost wanted to join. Mother, I almost wanted
to hope again. Am I to live? Where are we now?"
"By a right pretty river, child, and eena'most to Oregon. Come, kiss
your mother, Molly. Let's try."
Whereupon, having issued her orders and set everyone to work at
something after her practical fashion, the first lady of the train went
frizzling her shaved buffalo meat with milk in the frying pan; grumbling
that milk now was almost at the vanishing point, and that now they
wouldn't see another buffalo; but always getting forward with her meal.
This she at last amiably announced.
"Well, come an' git it, people, or I'll throw it to the dogs."
Flat on the sand, on blankets or odds and ends of hide, the emigrants
sat and ate, with the thermometer--had they had one--perhaps a hundred
and ten in the sun. The men were silent for the most part, with now and
then a word about the ford, which they thought it would be wise to make
at once, before the river perchance might rise, and while it still would
not swim the cattle.
"We can't wait for anyone, not even the Crows," said Wingate, rising and
ending the mealtime talk. "Let's get across."
Methodically they began the blocking up of the wagon bodies to the
measurement established by a wet pole.
"Thank the Lord," said Wingate, "they'll just clear now if the bottom
is hard all the way."
One by one the teams were urged into the ticklish crossing. The line of
wagons was almost all at the farther side when all at once the rear
guard came back, spurring.
"Corral! Corral!" he called.
He plunged into the stream as the last driver urged his wagon up the
bank. A rapid dust cloud was approaching down the valley.
"Indians!" called out a dozen voices. "Corral, men! For God's sake,
They had not much time or means to make defense, but with training now
become second nature they circled and threw the dusty caravan into the
wonted barricade, tongue to tail gate. The oxen could not all be driven
within, the loose stock was scattered, the horses were not on picket
lines at that time of day; but driving what stock they could, the boy
herders came in at a run when they saw the wagons parking.
There was no time to spare. The dust cloud swept on rapidly. It could
not spell peace, for no men would urge their horses at such pace under
such a sun save for one purpose--to overtake this party at the ford.
"It's Bill Jackson!" exclaimed Caleb Price, rifle in hand, at the
river's edge. "Look out, men! Don't shoot! Wait! There's fifty Indians
back of him, but that's Jackson ahead. Now what's wrong?"
The riddle was not solved even when the scout of the Missouri train,
crowded ahead by the steady rush of the shouting and laughing savages,
raised his voice as though in warning and shouted some word,
unintelligible, which made them hold their fire.
The wild cavalcade dashed into the stream, crowding their prisoner--he
was no less--before them, bent bows back of him, guns ready.
They were stalwart, naked men, wide of jaw, great of chest, not a woman
or child among them, all painted and full armed.
"My God, men!" called Wingate, hastening under cover. "Don't let them
in! Don't let them in! It's the Crows!"
"How, cola!" exclaimed the leader of the band of Indians, crowding up to
the gap in the corral where a part of the stock had just been driven in.
He grinned maliciously and made the sign for "Sioux"--the edge of the
hand across the throat.
But men, rifles crosswise, barred him back, while others were hurrying,
strengthening the barricade. A half dozen rifles, thrust out through
wheels or leveled across wagon togues, now covered the front rank of the
Crows; but the savages, some forty or fifty in number, only sat their
horses laughing. This was sport to them. They had no doubt at all that
they would have their will of this party of the whites as soon as they
got ready, and they planned further strategy. To drive a prisoner into
camp before killing him was humorous from their point of view, and
practical withal, like driving a buffalo close to the village before
But the white men were not deceived by the trading-post salutation.
"He's a liar!" called out the voice of Jackson. "They're not
Sioux--they're Crows, an' out for war! Don't let 'em in, boys! For
God's sake, keep 'em out!"
It was a brave man's deed. The wonder was his words were not his last,
for though the Crows did not understand all his speech, they knew well
enough what he meant. One brave near him struck him across the mouth
with the heavy wooden stock of his Indian whip, so that his lips gushed
blood. A half dozen arrows turned toward him, trembling on the strings.
But the voice of their partisan rose in command. He preferred a parley,
hoping a chance might offer to get inside the wagon ring. The loose
stock he counted safe booty any time they liked. He did not relish the
look of the rifle muzzles at a range of twenty feet. The riders were now
piled in almost against the wheels.
"Swap!" exclaimed the Crow leader ingratiatingly, and held out his hand.
"Don't believe him! Don't trust him, men!"
Again Jackson's voice rose. As the savages drew apart from him, to hold
him in even better bow range, one young brave, hideously barred in
vermilion and yellow, all the time with an arrow at the prisoner's back,
the men in the wagon corral now saw that Jackson's hands were tied
behind his back, so that he was helpless. But still he sat his own
horse, and still he had a chance left to take.
"Look out!" he called high and clear. "Get away from the hole! I'm
Before anyone fully caught his meaning he swung his horse with his legs,
lifted him with his heels and made one straight, desperate plunge for
the gap, jostling aside the nearest two or three of his oppressors.
It was a desperate man's one hope--no hope at all, indeed, for the odds
were fifty to one against him. Swift as was his movement, and unprepared
as his tormentors were for it, just as the horse rose to his leap over
the wagon tongue, and as the rider flung himself low on his neck to
escape what he knew would come, a bow twanged back of him. They all
heard the zhut! of the arrow as it struck. Then, in a stumbling heap,
horse and rider fell, rolled over, as a sleet of arrows followed
Jackson rolled to one side, rose to his knees. Molly Wingate chanced to
be near. Her scissors, carefully guarded always, because priceless, hung
at her neck. Swiftly she began to saw at the thong which held Jackson's
wrists, bedded almost to the bone and twisted with a stick. She severed
the cord somehow and the man staggered up. Then they saw the arrow
standing out at both sides of his shoulder, driven through the muscles
with the hasty snap of the painted bowman's shot.
"Cut it--break it!" he demanded of her; for all the men now were at the
edge, and there was no one else to aid. And staunch Molly Wingate, her
eyes staring again in horror, took the bloody stem and tried to break it
off, in her second case of like surgery that week. But the shaft was
flexible, tough and would not break.
"A knife--quick! Cut it off above the feather!"
He himself caught the front of the shaft and pushed it back, close to
the head. By chance she saw Jed's knife at his belt as he kneeled, and
drew it. Clumsily but steadily she slashed into the shaft, weakened it,
broke it, pushed the point forward. Jackson himself unhesitatingly
pulled it through, a gush of blood following on either side the
shoulder. There was no time to notice that. Crippled as he was, the man
only looked for weapons. A pistol lay on the ground and he caught it up.
But for the packs and bales that had been thrown against the wheels, the
inmates of the corral would all have fallen under the rain of arrows
that now slatted and thudded in. But they kept low, and the Indians were
so close against the wagons that they could not see under the bodies or
through the wheels. The chocks had not yet been taken out from under the
boxes, so that they stood high. Against such a barricade cavalry was
helpless. There was no warrior who wanted to follow Jackson's example of
For an instant there came no order to fire. The men were reaching into
the wagons to unsling their rifles from the riding loops fastened to the
bows. It all was a trample and a tumult and a whirl of dust under
thudding hoofs outside and in, a phase which could last no more than an
instant. Came the thin crack of a squirrel rifle from the far corner of
the wagon park. The Crow partisan sat his horse just a moment, the
expression on his face frozen there, his mouth slowly closing. Then he
slid off his horse close to the gap, now; piled high with goods and
A boy's high quaver rose.
"You can't say nothing this time! You didn't shoot at all now!"
An emigrant boy was jeering at his father.
But by that time no one knew or cared who shot. The fight was on. Every
rifle was emptied in the next instant, and at that range almost every
shot was fatal or disabling. In sudden panic at the powder flare in
their faces, the Crows broke and scattered, with no time to drag away
The fight, or this phase of it, was over almost before it was begun. It
all was one more repetition of border history. Almost never did the
Indians make a successful attack on a trading post, rarely on an
emigrant train in full corral. The cunning of the Crow partisan in
driving in a prisoner as a fence had brought him close, yes--too close.
But the line was not yet broken.
Firing with a steady aim, the emigrants added to the toll they took. The
Crows bent low and flogged their horses. Only in the distant willow
thickets did they pause. They even left their dead.
There were no wounded, or not for long. Jackson, the pistol in his hand,
his face gray with rage and pain, stepped outside the corral. The Crow
chief, shot through the chest, turned over, looked up dully.
"How, cola!" said his late prisoner, baring his teeth.
And what he did with this brave he did with all the others of the
wounded able to move a hand. The debt to savage treachery was paid,
savagely enough, when he turned back to the wagons, and such was the
rage of all at this last assault that no voice was raised to stay his
"There's nothing like tobacker," asserted Jackson coolly when he had
reentered the corral and it came to the question of caring for his arrow
wound. "Jest tie on a good chaw o' tobacker on each side o' that hole
an' 'twon't be long afore she's all right. I'm glad it went plumb
through. I've knowed a arrerhead to pull off an' stay in when the sinew
wroppin's got loose from soakin'.
"Look at them wrists," he added, holding up his hands. "They twisted
that rawhide clean to the bone, damn their skins! Pertendin' to be
friends! They put me in front sos't you'd let 'em ride up clost--that's
the Crow way, to come right inter camp if they can, git in close an'
play friends. But, believe me, this ain't but the beginnin'. They'll be
back, an' plenty with 'em. Them Crows ain't west of the Pass fer only
one thing, an' that's this wagon train."
They gathered around him now, plying him with questions. Sam Woodhull
was among those who came, and him Jackson watched narrowly every moment,
his own weapon handy, as he now described the events that had brought
"Our train come inter the Sweetwater two days back o' you all," he said.
"We seed you'd had a fight but had went on. We knowed some was hurt,
fer we picked up some womern fixin's--tattin', hit were--with blood on
hit. And we found buryin's, the dirt different color."
They told him now of the first fight, of their losses, of the wounded;
told him of the near escape of Molly Wingate, though out of courtesy to
Woodhull, who stood near, they said nothing of the interrupted wedding.
The old mountain man's face grew yet more stern.
"That gal!" he said. "Her shot by a sneakin' Rapa-hoe? Ain't that a
shame! But she's not bad--she's comin' through?"
Molly Wingate, who stood ready now with bandages, told him how alike the
two arrow wounds had been.
"Take an' chaw tobacker, ma'am," said he. "Put a hunk on each side,
do-ee mind, an' she'll be well."
"Go on and tell us the rest," someone demanded.
"Not much to tell that ye couldn't of knew, gentlemen," resumed the
scout. "Ef ye'd sont back fer us we'd of jined ye, shore, but ye didn't
"How could we send, man?" demanded Woodhull savagely. "How could we know
where you were, or whether you'd come--or whether you'd have been of any
use if you had?"
"Well, we knew whar you-all was, 't any rate," rejoined Jackson. "We was
two days back o' ye, then one day. Our captain wouldn't let us crowd in,
fer he said he wasn't welcome an' we wasn't needed.
"That was ontel we struck the big Crow trail, with you all a follerin'
o' hit blind, a-chasin' trouble as hard as ye could. Then he sont me on
ahead to warn ye an' to ask ef we should jine on. We knowed the Crows
was down atter the train.
"I laid down to sleep, I did, under a sagebrush, in the sun, like a
fool. I was beat out an' needed sleep, an' I thought I was safe fer a
leetle while. When I woke up it was a whoop that done hit. They was
around me, laughin', twenty arrers p'inted, an' some shot inter the
ground by my face. I taken my chance, an' shook hands. They grabbed me
an' tied me. Then they made me guide them in, like ye seen. They maybe
didn't know I come from the east an' not from the west.
"Their village is on some creek above here. I think they're on a visit
to the Shoshones. Eight hundred men they are, or more. Hit's more'n what
it was with the Sioux on the Platte, fer ye're not so many now. An' any
time now the main band may come. Git ready, men. Fer me, I must git back
to my own train. They may be back twenty mile, or thirty. Would ary man
want to ride with me? Would ye, Sam Woodhull?"
The eyes of his associates rested on Woodhull.
"I think one man would be safer than two," said he. "My own place is
here if there's sure to be a fight."
"Mebbe so," assented Jackson. "In fack, I don't know as more'n one'd git
through if you an' me both started." His cold gray eye was fixed on
Woodhull carelessly. "An' ef hit was the wrong man got through he'd
never lead them Missouri men for'rerd to where this fight'll be.
"An' hit'll be right here. Look yan!" he added.
He nodded to the westward, where a great dust cloud arose.
"More is comin'," said he. "Yan's Bannack's like as not, er even the
Shoshones, all I know, though they're usual quiet. The runners is out
atween all the tribes. I must be on my way."
He hurried to find his own horse, looked to its welfare, for it, too,
had an arrow wound. As he passed a certain wagon he heard a voice call
to him, saw a hand at the curtained front.
"Miss Molly! Hit's you! Ye're not dead no ways, then?"
"Come," said the girl.
He drew near, fell back at sight of her thin face, her pallor; but again
she commanded him.
"I know," said she. "He's--he's safe?"
"Yes, Miss Molly, a lot safer'n any of us here."
"You're going back to him?"
"Yes. When he knows ye're hurt he'll come. Nothin'll stop him, oncet I
"Wait!" she whispered. "I heard you talk. Take him this." She pushed
into his hand a folded paper, unsealed, without address. "To him!" she
said, and fell back on the blankets of her rude pallet.
At that moment her mother was approaching, and at her side walked
Woodhull, actuated by his own suspicions about Jackson. He saw the
transaction of the passed note and guessed what he could not know. He
tapped Jackson on the shoulder, drew him aside, his own face pale with
"I'm one of the officers of this train," said he. "I want to know what's
in that note. We have no truck with Banion, and you know that. Give it
Jackson calmly tucked the paper into the fire bag that hung at his belt.
"Come an' take it, Sam, damn ye!" said he. "I don't know what's in hit,
an' won't know. Who it's to ain't none o' yore damn business!"
"You're a cursed meddler!" broke out Woodhull. "You're a spy in our
camp, that's all you are!"
"So! Well, cussed meddler er not, I'm a cussed shore shot. An' I advise
ye to give over on all this an' mind yore business. Ye'll have plenty to
do by midnight, an' by that time all yore womern an' children, all yore
old men an' all yore cowards'll be prayin' fer Banion an' his men to
come. That there includes you somewhere's, Sam. Don't temp' me too much
ner too long. I'll kill ye yit ef ye do! Git on away!"
They parted, each with eye over shoulder. Their talk had been aside and
none had heard it in full. But when Woodhull again joined Mrs. Wingate
that lady conveyed to him Molly's refusal to see him or to set a time
for seeing him. Bitterly angered, humiliated to the core, he turned
back to the men who were completing the defenses of the wagon park.
"I kain't start now afore dark," said Jackson to the train command.
"They're a-goin' to jump the train. When they do come they'll surround
ye an' try to keep ye back from the water till the stock goes crazy. Lay
low an' don't let a Injun inside. Hit may be a hull day, er more, but
when Banion's men come they'll come a-runnin'--allowin' I git through to
"Dig in a trench all the way aroun'," he added finally. "Put the womern
an' children in hit an' pile up all yer flour on top. Don't waste no
powder--let 'em come up clost as they will. Hold on ontel we come."
At dusk he slipped away, the splash of his horse's feet in the ford
coming fainter and fainter, even as the hearts of some felt fainter as
his wise and sturdy counsel left them. Naught to do now but to wait.
They did wait--the women and children, the old, the ill and the wounded
huddled shivering and crying in the scooped-out sand, hardest and
coldest of beds; the men in line against the barricade, a circle of
guards outside the wagon park. But midnight passed, and the cold hours
of dawn, and still no sign came of an attack. Men began to believe the
dust cloud of yesterday no more than a false alarm, and the leaders were
of two minds, whether to take Jackson's counsel and wait for the
Missourians, or to hook up and push on as fast as possible to Bridger's
fort, scarce more than two hard days' journey on ahead. But before this
breakfast-hour discussion had gone far events took the decision out of
"Look!" cried a voice. "Open the gate!"
The cattle guards and outposts who had just driven the herd to water
were now spurring for shelter and hurrying on the loose stock ahead of
them. And now, from the willow growth above them, from the trail that
led to the ford and from the more open country to the westward there
came, in three great detachments, not a band or a body, but an army of
the savage tribesmen, converging steadily upon the wagon train.
They came slowly, not in a wild charge, not yelling, but chanting. The
upper and right-hand bodies were Crows. Their faces were painted black,
for war and for revenge. The band on the left were wild men, on active
half-broke horses, their weapons for the most part bows and arrows. They
later found these to be Bannacks, belonging anywhere but here, and in
any alliance rather than with the Crows from east of the Pass.
Nor did the latter belong here to the south and west, far off their own
great hunting range. Obviously what Carson, Bridger, Jackson had said
was true. All the tribes were in league to stop the great invasion of
the white nation, who now were bringing their women and children and
this thing with which they buried the buffalo. They meant extermination
now. They were taking their time and would take their revenge for the
dead who lay piled before the white man's barricade.
The emigrants rolled back a pair of wagons, and the cattle were crowded
through, almost over the human occupants of the oblong. The gap was
closed. All the remaining cargo packages were piled against the wheels,
and the noncombatants sheltered in that way. Shovels deepened the trench
here or there as men sought better to protect their families.
And now in a sudden _melee_ of shouts and yells, of trampling hoofs and
whirling colors, the first bands of the Crows came charging up in the
attempt to carry away their dead of yesterday. Men stooped to grasp a
stiffened wrist, a leg, a belt; the ponies squatted under ghastly
But this brought them within pistol range. The reports of the white
men's weapons began, carefully, methodically, with deadly accuracy.
There was no panic. The motionless or the struggling blotches ahead of
the wagon park grew and grew. A few only of the Crows got off with
bodies of their friend's or relatives. One warrior after another
dropped. They were used to killing buffalo at ten yards. The white
rifles killed their men now regularly at a hundred. They drew off, out
Meantime the band from the westward was rounding up and driving off
every animal that had not been corralled. The emigrants saw themselves
in fair way to be set on foot.
Now the savage strategy became plain. The fight was to be a siege.
"Look!" Again a leader pointed.
Crouched now, advancing under cover of the shallow cut-bank, the
headdresses of a score of the Western tribesmen could be seen. They sank
down. The ford was held, the water was cut off! The last covering fringe
of willows also was held. On every side the black-painted savages sat
their ponies, out of range. There could be no more water or grass for
the horses and cattle, no wood for the camp.
There was no other concerted charge for a long time. Now and then some
painted brave, chanting a death song, would ride slowly toward the wagon
park, some dervish vow actuating him or some bravado impelling him. But
usually he fell.
It all became a quiet, steady, matter-of-fact performance on both sides.
This very freedom from action and excitement, so different from the
gallant riding of the Sioux, was more terrifying than direct attack _en
masse_, so that when it came to a matter of shaken morale the whites
were in as bad case as their foes, although thus far they had had no
casualty at all.
There lacked the one leader, cool, calm, skilled, experienced, although
courage did not lack. Yet even the best courage suffers when a man hears
the wailing of his children back of him, the groans of his wife. As the
hours passed, with no more than an occasional rifle shot or the zhut! of
an arrow ending its high arc, the tension on the nerves of the
beleaguered began to manifest itself.
At midday the children began to cry for water. They were appeased with
milk from the few cows offering milk; but how long might that last, with
the cattle themselves beginning to moan and low?
"How far are they back?"
It was Hall, leader of the Ohio wagons. But none could tell him where
the Missouri train had paused. Wingate alone knew why Banion had not
advanced. He doubted if he would come now.
"And this all was over the quarrel between two men," said Caleb Price to
his friend Wingate.
"The other man is a thief, Cale," reiterated Wingate. "He was
court-martialed and broke, dishonorably discharged from the Army. He was
under Colonel Doniphan, and had control of subsistence in upper Mexico
for some time. He had the regimental funds. Doniphan was irregular. He
ran his regiment like a mess, and might order first this officer, then
that, of the line or staff, to take on his free-for-all quartermaster
trains. But he was honest. Banion was not. He had him broken. The
charges were filed by Captain Woodhull. Well, is it any wonder there is
no love lost? And is it any wonder I wouldn't train up with a thief, or
allow him to visit in my family? By God! right now I wouldn't; and I
didn't send for him to help us!"
"So!" said Caleb Price. "So! And that was why the wedding--"
"Yes! A foolish fancy of a girl. I don't know what passed between her
and Banion. I felt it safer for my daughter to be married, as soon as
could be, to another man, an honest man. You know how that came out. And
now, when she's as apt to die as live, and we're all as apt to, you
others send for that renegade to save us! I have no confidence that he
will come. I hope he will not. I'd like his rifles, but I don't want
"Well," said Caleb Price, "it is odd how his rifles depend on him and
not on the other man. Yet they both lived in the same town."
"Yes, one man may be more plausible than another."
"Yes? I don't know that I ever saw a man more plausible with his fists
than Major Banion was. Yes, I'll call him plausible. I wish some of
us--say, Sam Woodhull, now--could be half as plausible with these Crows.
Difference in men, Jess!" he concluded. "Woodhull was there--and now
he's here. He's here--and now we're sending there for the other man."
"You want that other man, thief and dishonest as he is?"
"By God! yes! I want his rifles and him too. Women, children and all,
the whole of us, will die if that thief doesn't come inside of another
Wingate flung out his arms, walked away, hands clasped behind his back.
He met Woodhull.
"Sam, what shall we do?" he demanded. "You're sort of in charge now.
You've been a soldier, and we haven't had much of that."
"There are fifteen hundred or two thousand of them," said Woodhull
slowly--"a hundred and fifty of us that can fight. Ten to one, and they
mean no quarter."
"But what shall we do?"
"What can we but lie close and hold the wagons?"
"Which means only the Missouri men!"
"There's no one else. We don't know that they're alive. We don't know
that they will come."
"But one thing I do know"--his dark face gathered in a scowl--"if he
doesn't come it will not be because he was not asked! That fellow
carried a letter from Molly to him. I know that. Well, what do you-all
think of me? What's my standing in all this? If I've not been shamed and
humiliated, how can a man be? And what am I to expect?"
"If we get through, if Molly lives, you mean?"
"Yes. I don't quit what I want. I'll never give her up. You give me
leave to try again? Things may change. She may consider the wrong she's
done me, an honest man. It's his hanging around all the time, keeping in
her mind. And now we've sent for him--and so has she!"
They walked apart, Wingate to his wagon.
"How is she?" he asked of his wife, nodding to Molly's wagon.
"Better some ways, but low," replied his stout helpmate, herself
haggard, dark circles of fatigue about her eyes. "She won't eat, even
with the fever down. If we was back home where we could get things!
Jess, what made us start for Oregon?"
"What made us leave Kentucky for Indiana, and Indiana for Illinois? I
don't know. God help us now!"
"It's bad, Jesse."
"Yes, it's bad." Suddenly he took his wife's face in his hands and
kissed her quietly. "Kiss Little Molly for me," he said. "I wish--I
"I wish them other wagons'd come," said Molly Wingate. "Then we'd see!"
THE FIGHT AT THE FORD
Jackson, wounded and weary as he was, drove his crippled horse so hard
all the night through that by dawn he had covered almost fifty miles,
and was in sight of the long line of wagons, crawling like a serpent
down the slopes west of the South Pass, a cloud of bitter alkali dust
hanging like a blanket over them. No part of the way had been more
cheerless than this gray, bare expanse of more than a hundred miles, and
none offered less invitation for a bivouac. But now both man and horse
were well-nigh spent.
Knowing that he would be reached within an hour or so at best, Jackson
used the last energies of his horse in riding back and forth at right
angles across the trail, the Plains sign of "Come to me!" He hoped it
would be seen. He flung himself down across the road, in the dust, his
bridle tied to his wrist. His horse, now nearly gone, lay down beside
him, nor ever rose again. And here, in the time a gallop could bring
them up, Banion and three of his men found them, one dead, the other
The voice of Banion was anxious as he lightly shook the shoulder of the
prone man, half afraid that he, too, had died. Stupid in sleep, the
scout sprang up, rifle in hand.
"Hold, Bill! Friends! Easy now!"
The old man pulled together, rubbed his eyes.
"I must of went to sleep agin," said he. "My horse--pshaw now, pore
critter, do-ee look now!"
In rapid words he now told his errand. They could see the train
accelerating its speed. Jackson felt in the bag at his belt and handed
Banion the folded paper. He opened the folds steadily, read the words
again and again.
"'Come to us,'" is what it says. He spoke to Jackson.
"Ye're a damned liar, Will," remarked Jackson.
"I'll read it all!" said Banion suddenly.
"'Will Banion, come to me, or it may be too late. There never was any
wedding. I am the most wicked and most unhappy woman in the world. You
owe me nothing! But come! M.W.'
"That's what it says. Now you know. Tell me--you heard of no wedding
back at Independence Rock? They said nothing? He and she--"
"Ef they was ever any weddin' hit was a damned pore sort, an' she says
thar wasn't none. She'd orto know."
"Can you ride, Jackson?"
"Span in six fast mules for a supply wagon, such as kin gallop. I'll
sleep in that a hour or so. Git yore men started, Will. We may be too
late. It's nigh fifty mile to the ford o' the Green."
It came near to mutiny when Banion ordered a third of his men to stay
back with the ox teams and the families. Fifty were mounted and ready in
five minutes. They were followed by two fast wagons. In one of these
rolled Bill Jackson, unconscious of the roughness of the way.
On the Sandy, twenty miles from the ford, they wakened him.
"Now tell me how it lies," said Banion. "How's the country?"
Jackson drew a sketch on the sand.
"They'll surround, an' they'll cut off the water."
"Can we ford above and come in behind them?"
"We mout. Send half straight to the ford an' half come in behind,
through the willers, huh? That'd put 'em atween three fires. Ef we driv'
'em on the wagons they'd get hell thar, an' ef they broke, the wagons
could chase 'em inter us again. I allow we'd give 'em hell. Hit's the
Crows I'm most a-skeered of. The Bannacks--ef that's who they was--'ll
At sunset of that day the emigrants, now half mad of thirst, and half
ready to despair of succor or success, heard the Indian drums sound and
the shrilling of the eagle-bone whistles. The Crows were chanting again.
Whoops arose along the river bank.
"My God! they're coming!" called out a voice.
There was a stir of uneasiness along the line, an ominous thing. And
then the savage hosts broke from their cover, more than a thousand men,
ready to take some loss in their hope that the whites were now more
helpless. In other circumstances it must have been a stirring spectacle
for any who had seen it. To these, cowering in the sand, it brought
But before the three ranks of the Crows had cleared the cover the last
line began to yell, to whip, to break away. Scattering but continuous
rifle fire followed them, war cries arose, not from savages, but white
men. A line of riders emerged, coming straight through to the second
rank of the Crow advance. Then the beleaguered knew that the Missourians
"Banion, by God!" said a voice which few stopped to recognize as
He held his fire, his rifle resting so long through the wagon wheel that
Caleb Price in one swift motion caught it away from him.
"No harm, friend," said he, "but you'll not need this just now!"
His cold eye looked straight into that of the intending murderer.
The men in the wagon park rose to their work again. The hidden Bannacks
began to break away from their lodgment under the river bank. The sound
of hoofs and of shouts came down the trail. The other wing of the
Missourians flung off and cleared the ford before they undertook to
cross, their slow, irregular, deadly rifle fire doing its work among
the hidden Bannacks until they broke and ran for their horses in the
cottonwoods below. This brought them partly into view, and the rifles of
the emigrants on that side bore on them till they broke in sheer terror
and fled in a scattered _sauve qui peut_.
The Crows swerved under the enfilading fire of the men who now crossed
the ford. Caught between three fires, and meeting for their first time
the use of the revolver, then new to them, they lost heart and once more
left their dead, breaking away into a mad flight west and north which
did not end till they had forded the upper tributaries of the Green and
Snake, and found their way back west of the Tetons to their own country
far east and north of the Two-go-tee crossing of the Wind River
Mountains; whence for many a year they did not emerge again to battle
with the white nation on the Medicine Road. At one time there were forty
Crow squaws, young and old, with gashed breasts and self-amputated
fingers, given in mourning over the unreturning brave.
What many men had not been able to do of their own resources, less than
a fourth their number now had done. Side by side Banion, Jackson, a half
dozen others, rode up to the wagon gap, now opened. They were met by a
surge of the rescued. Women, girls threw themselves upon them, kissing
them, embracing them hysterically. Where had been gloom, now was
rejoicing, laughter, tears.
The leaders of the emigrants came up to Banion and his men, Wingate in
advance. Banion still sat his great black horse, coldly regarding them.
"I have kept my promise, Captain Wingate," said he. "I have not come
until you sent for me. Let me ask once more, do I owe you anything now?"
"No, sir, you do not," replied the older man.
"And do you owe me anything?"
Wingate did not answer.
"Name what you like, Major Banion," said a voice at his shoulder--Caleb
Banion turned to him slowly.
"Some things have no price, sir," said he. "For other things I shall ask
a high price in time. Captain Wingate, your daughter asked me to come.
If I may see her a moment, and carry back to my men the hope of her
recovery, we shall all feel well repaid."
Wingate made way with the others. Banion rode straight through the gap,
with no more than one unseeing glance at Woodhull, near whom sat
Jackson, a pistol resting on his thigh. He came to the place under a
wagon where they had made a hospital cot for Molly Wingate. It was her
own father and mother who lifted her out as Will Banion sprang down, hat
in hand, pale in his own terror at seeing her so pale.
"No, don't go!" said the girl to her parents. "Be here with us--and
She held out her arms and he bent above her, kissing her forehead gently
and shyly as a boy.
"Please get well, Molly Wingate," said he. "You are Molly Wingate?"
"Yes. At the end--I couldn't! I ran away, all in my wedding clothes,
Will. In the dark. Someone shot me. I've been sick, awfully sick, Will."
"Please get well, Molly Wingate! I'm going away again. This time, I
don't know where. Can't you forget me, Molly Wingate?"
"I'm going to try, Will. I did try. Go on ahead, Will," she added. "You
know what I mean. Do what I told you. I--why, Will!"
"My poor lamb!" said the strong voice of her mother, who gathered her in
her arms, looking over her shoulder at this man to whom her child had
made no vows. But Banion, wet eyed, was gone once more.
Jackson saw his leader out of the wagon gap, headed for a camping spot
far apart. He stumbled up to the cot where Molly lay, her silent parents
still close by.
"Here, Miss Molly, gal," said he, holding out some object in his hand.
"We both got a arrer through the shoulder, an' mine's a'most well
a'ready. Ain't nothin' in the world like a good chaw o' tobackers to put
on a arrer cut. Do-ee, now!"
THE FAMILIES ARE COMING!
The Missourians camped proudly and coldly apart, the breach between the
two factions by no means healed, but rather deepened, even if honorably
so, and now well understood of all.
Most men of both parties now knew of the feud between Banion and
Woodhull, and the cause underlying it. Woman gossip did what it might. A
half dozen determined men quietly watched Woodhull. As many continually
were near Banion, although for quite a different reason. All knew that
time alone must work out the answer to this implacable quarrel, and that
the friends of the two men could not possibly train up together.
After all, when in sheer courtesy the leaders of the Wingate train came
over to the Missouri camp on the following day there came nearer to
being a good understanding than there ever had been since the first
break. It was agreed that all the wagons should go on together as far as
Fort Bridger, and that beyond that point the train should split into two
or perhaps three bodies--a third if enough Woodhull adherents could be
found to make him up a train. First place, second and third were to be
cast by lot. They all talked soberly, fairly, with the dignity of men
used to good standing among men. These matters concluded, and it having
been agreed that all should lie by for another day, they resolved the
meeting into one of better fellowship.
Old Bill Jackson, lying against his blanket roll, fell into
"Times past," said he, "the Green River Rendyvous was helt right in
here. I've seed this place spotted with tepees--hull valley full o'
Company men an' free trappers an' pack-train people--time o' Ashley an'
Sublette an' my Uncle Jackson an' all them traders. That was right here
on the Green. Ever'body drunk an' happy, like I ain't now. Mounting men
togged out, new leggin's an' moccasins their womern had made, warriors
painted up a inch o' their lives, an' women with brass wire an' calico
all they wanted--maybe two-three thousand people in the Rendyvous.
"But I never seed the grass so short, an' I never seed so much fightin'
afore in all my life as I have this trip. This is the third time we're
jumped, an' this time we're lucky, shore as hell. Pull on through to
Bridger an' fix yer wagons afore they tumble apart. Leave the grass fer
them that follows, an' git on fur's you kin, every wagon. We ain't
likely to have no more trouble now. Pile up them braves in one heap fer
a warnin' to any other bunch o' reds that may come along to hide around
the wagon ford. New times has come on the Green."
"Can you travel, Jackson?" asked Hall of Ohio. "You've had a hard time."
"Who? Me? Why shouldn't I? Give me time to pick up some o' them bows
an' arrers an' I'm ready to start. I noticed a right fine horn bow one
o' them devils had--the Crows allus had good bows. That's the
yaller-an'-red brave that was itchin' so long to slap a arrer through my
ribs from behind. I'd like to keep his bow fer him, him not needin' it
Before the brazen sun had fully risen on the second day these late
peaceful farmers of Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, were
plodding along once more beside their sore-footed oxen; passing out
unaided into a land which many leading men in the Government, North and
South, and quite aside from political affiliations, did not value at
five dollars for it all, though still a thousand miles of it lay ahead.
"Oh, then, Susannah!" roared Jed Wingate, trudging along beside Molly's
wagon in the sand. "Don't you cry fer me--I'm going through to Oregon,
with my banjo on my knee!"
Fair as a garden to the sun-seared eyes of the emigrants seemed the
mountain post, Fort Bridger, when its rude stockade separated itself
from the distortions of the desert mirage, whose citadels of silence,
painted temples fronted with colossal columns, giant sphinxes, vast
caryatids, lofty arches, fretwork facades, fantastically splendid
castles and palaces now resolved themselves into groups of squat pole
structures and a rude stock corral.
The site of the post itself could not better have been chosen. Here the
flattened and dividing waters of the Black's Fork, icy cold and fresh
from the Uintah Mountains to the southward, supported a substantial
growth of trees, green now and wonderfully refreshing to desert-weary
"The families are coming!"
Bridger's clerk, Chardon, raised the new cry of the trading post.
"Broke an' hungry, I'll bet!" swore old Jim Bridger in his beard.
But he retired into his tepee and issued orders to his Shoshone squaw,
who was young and pretty. Her name, as he once had said, was Dang Yore
Eyes--and she was very proud of it. Philosophical withal, though
smarting under recent blows of her white lord, she now none the less
went out and erected once more in front of the tepee the token Bridger
had kicked down--the tufted lance, the hair-fringed bull-neck shield,
the sacred medicine bundle which had stood in front of Jeem's tepee in
the Rendezvous on Horse Creek, what time he had won her in a game of
hands. Whereupon the older squaw, not young, pretty or jealous, abused
him in Ute and went out after wood. Her name was Blast Your Hide, and
she also was very proud of her white name. Whereafter both Dang Yore
Eyes and Blast Yore Hide, female, and hence knowing the moods of man,
wisely hid out for a while. They knew when Jeem had the long talk with
the sick white squaw, who was young, but probably needed bitter bark of
the cottonwood to cure her fever.
Painted Utes and Shoshones stood about, no more silent than the few
local mountaineers, bearded, beaded and fringed, who still after some
mysterious fashion clung to the old life at the post. Against the
newcomers, profitable as they were, still existed the ancient antipathy
of the resident for the nonresident.
"My land sakes alive!" commented stoical Molly Wingate after they had
made some inquiries into the costs of staples here. "This store ain't no
place to trade. They want fifty dollars a sack for flour--what do you
think of that? We got it for two dollars back home. And sugar a dollar a
tin cup, and just plain salt two bits a pound, and them to guess at the
pound. Do they think we're Indians, or what?"
"It's the tenth day of August, and a thousand miles ahead," commented
Caleb Price. "And we're beyond the buffalo now."
"And Sis is in trouble," added Jed Wingate. "The light wagon's got one
hind spindle half in two, and I've spliced the hind ex for the last
Jackson advanced an idea.
"At Fort Hall," he said, "I've seed 'em cut a wagon in two an' make a
two-wheel cart out'n hit. They're easier to git through mountains that
"Now listen to that, Jesse!" Mrs. Wingate commented. "It's getting down
to less and less every day. But I'm going to take my bureau through, and
my wheat, and my rose plants, if I have to put wheels on my bureau."
The men determined to saw down three wagons of the train which now
seemed doubtful of survival as quadrupeds, and a general rearrangement
of cargoes was agreed. Now they must jettison burden of every
dispensable sort. Some of the sore-necked oxen were to be thrown into
the loose herd and their places taken for a time by cows no longer
A new soberness began to sit on all. The wide reaches of desert with
which they here were in touch appalled their hearts more than anything
they yet had met. The grassy valley of the Platte, where the great
fourfold tracks of the trail cut through a waving sea of green belly
deep to the oxen, had seemed easy and inviting, and since then hardship
had at least been spiced with novelty and change. But here was a new and
forbidding land. This was the Far West itself; silent, inscrutable,
unchanged, irreducible. The mightiness of its calm was a smiting thing.
The awesomeness of its chill, indifferent nights, the unsparing ardors
of its merciless noons, the measureless expanses of its levels, the cold
barrenness of its hills--these things did not invite as to the bosom of
a welcoming mother; they repelled, as with the chill gesture of a
stranger turning away outcasts from the door.
"Here resolution almost faints!" wrote one.
A general requisition was made on the scant stores Bridger had hurried
through. To their surprise, Bridger himself made no attempt at frontier
"Chardon," commanded the moody master of the post to his head clerk,
"take down your tradin' bar an' let my people in. Sell them their flour
an' meal at what it has cost us here--all they want, down to what the
post will need till my partner Vasquez brings in more next fall, if he
ever does. Sell 'em their flour at four dollars a sack, an' not at
fifty, boy. Git out that flag I saved from Sublette's outfit, Chardon.
Put it on a pole for these folks, an' give it to them so's they kin
carry it on acrost to Oregon. God's got some use for them folks out yan
or hit wouldn't be happenin' this way. I'm goin' to help 'em acrost. Ef
I don't, old Jim Bridger is a liar!"
That night Bridger sat in his lodge alone, moodily smoking. He heard a
shaking at the pegs of the door flap.
"Get out!" he exclaimed, thinking that it was his older associate, or
else some intruding dog.
His order was not obeyed. Will Banion pulled back the flap, stooped and
"How!" exclaimed Bridger, and with fist smitten on the blankets made the
sign to "Sit!" Banion for a time also smoked in silence, knowing the
moody ways of the old-time men.
"Ye came to see me about her, Miss Molly, didn't ye?" began Bridger
after a long time, kicking the embers of the tepee fire together with
the toe of his moccasin.
"How do you know that?"
"I kin read signs."
"Yes, she sent me."
"That was at Laramie. She told me to come on with you then. I could
"Pore child, they mout 'a' killed her! She told me she'd git well,
though--told me so to-day. I had a talk with her." His wrinkled face
broke into additional creases. "She told me more!"
"I've no wonder."
"Ner me. Ef I was more young and less Injun I'd love that gal! I do,
anyhow, fer sake o' what I might of been ef I hadn't had to play my game
the way the cards said fer me.
"She told me she was shot on her weddin' night, in her weddin'
clothes--right plum to the time an' minute o' marryin, then an' thar.
She told me she thanked God the Injun shot her, an' she wished to God
he'd killed her then an' thar. I'd like such fer a bride, huh? That's
one hell of a weddin', huh? Why?"
Banion sat silent, staring at the embers.
"I know why, or part ways why. Kit an' me was drunk at Laramie. I kain't
remember much. But I do ree-colleck Kit said something to me about you
in the Army, with Donerphan in Mayheeco. Right then I gits patriotic.
'Hooray!' says I. Then we taken another drink. After that we fell to
arguin' how much land we'd git out o' Mayheeco when the treaty was
signed. He said hit war done signed now, or else hit warn't. I don't
ree-colleck which, but hit was one or t'other. He had papers. Ef I see
Kit agin ary time now I'll ast him what his papers was. I don't
"All that, ye see, boy," he resumed, "was atter I was over to the wagons
at Laramie, when I seed Miss Molly to say good-by to her. I reckon maybe
I was outside o' sever'l horns even then."
"And that was when you gave her the California nugget that Kit Carson
had given you!" Banion spoke at last.
"Oh, ye spring no surprise, boy! She told me to-day she'd told you then;
said she'd begged you to go on with me an' beat all the others to
Californy; said she wanted you to git rich; said you an' her had parted,
an' she wanted you to live things down. I was to tell ye that.
"Boy, she loves ye--not me ner that other man. The Injun womern kin love
a dozen men. The white womern kain't. I'm still fool white enough fer to
believe that. Of course she'd break her promise not to tell about the
gold. I might 'a' knowed she'd tell the man she loved. Well, she didn't
wait long. How long was hit afore she done so--about ten minutes? Boy,
she loves ye. Hit ain't no one else."
"I think so. I'm afraid so."
"Why don't ye marry her then, damn ye, right here? Ef a gal loves a man
he orto marry her, ef only to cure her o' bein' a damn fool to love any
man. Why don't you marry her right now?"
"Because I love her!"
Bridger sat in disgusted silence for some time.
"Well," said he at last, "there's some kinds o' damned fools that kain't
be cured noways. I expect you're one o' them. Me, I hain't so
highfalutin'. Ef I love a womern, an' her me, somethin's goin' to
happen. What's this here like? Nothin' happens. Son, it's when nothin'
happens that somethin' else does happen. She marries another
man--barrin' 'Rapahoes. A fool fer luck--that's you. But there mightn't
always be a Injun hidin' to shoot her when she gits dressed up agin an'
the minister is a-waitin' to pernounce 'em man an' wife. Then whar air
He went on more kindly after a time, as he reached out a hard, sinewy
"Such as her is fer the young man that has a white man's full life to
give her. She's purty as a doe fawn an' kind as a thoroughbred filly. In
course ye loved her, boy. How could ye a-help hit? An' ye was willin' to
go to Oregon--ye'd plow rather'n leave sight o' her? I don't blame ye,
boy. Such as her is not supported by rifle an' trap. Hit's the home
smoke, not the tepee fire, for her. I ask ye nothin' more, boy. I'll not
ask ye what ye mean. Man an' boy, I've follered the tepee smokes--blue
an' a-movin' an' a-beckonin' they was--an' I never set this hand to no
plow in all my life. But in my heart two things never was wiped
out--the sight o' the white womern's face an' the sight o' the flag
with stars. I'll help ye all I can, an' good luck go with ye. Work hit
out yore own way. She's worth more'n all the gold Californy's got
This time it was Will Banion's hand that was suddenly extended.
"Take her secret an' take her advice then," said Bridger after a time.
"Ye must git in ahead to Californy. Fust come fust served, on any beaver
water. Fer me 'tis easy. I kin hold my hat an' the immigrints'll throw
money into hit. I've got my fortune here, boy. I can easy spare ye what
ye need, ef ye do need a helpin' out'n my plate. Fer sake o' the finest
gal that ever crossed the Plains, that's what we'll do! Ef I don't, Jim
Bridger's a putrefied liar, so help me God!"
Banion made no reply at once, but could not fail of understanding.
"I'll not need much," said he. "My place is to go on ahead with my men.
I don't think there'll be much danger now from Indians, from what I
hear. At Fort Hall I intend to split off for California. Now I make you
this proposition, not in payment for your secret, or for anything else:
If I find gold I'll give you half of all I get, as soon as I get out or
as soon as I can send it."
"What do ye want o' me, son?"
"Six mules and packs. All the shovels and picks you have or can get for
me at Fort Hall. There's another thing."
"An' what is that?"
"I want you to find out what Kit Carson said and what Kit Carson had. If
at any time you want to reach me--six months, a year--get word through
by the wagon trains next year, in care of the District Court at Oregon
City, on the Willamette."
"Why, all right, all right, son! We're all maybe talkin' in the air, but
I more'n half understand ye. One thing, ye ain't never really intendin'
to give up Molly Wingate! Ye're a fool not to marry her now, but ye're
reckonin' to marry her sometime--when the moon turns green, huh? When
she's old an' shriveled up, then ye'll marry her, huh?"
Banion only looked at him, silent.
"Well, I'd like to go on to Californy with ye, son, ef I didn't know I'd
make more here, an' easier, out'n the crazy fools that'll be pilin' in
here next year. So good luck to ye."
"Kit had more o' that stuff," he suddenly added. "He give me some more
when I told him I'd lost that fust piece he give me. I'll give ye a
piece fer sample, son. I've kep' hit close."
He begun fumbling in the tobacco pouch which he found under the head of
his blanket bed. He looked up blankly, slightly altering the name of his
"Well, damn her hide!" said he fervently. "Ye kain't keep nothin' from
'em! An' they kain't keep nothin' when they git hit."
A MATTER OF FRIENDSHIP
Once more the train, now permanently divided into two, faced the desert,
all the men and many women now afoot, the kine low-headed, stepping
gingerly in their new rawhide shoes. Gray, grim work, toiling over the
dust and sand. But at the head wagon, taking over an empire foot by
foot, flew the great flag. Half fanatics? That may be. Fanatics, so
called, also had prayed and sung and taught their children, all the way
across to the Great Salt Lake. They, too, carried books. And within one
hour after their halt near the Salt Lake they began to plow, began to
build, began to work, began to grow and make a country.
The men at the trading post saw the Missouri wagons pull out ahead. Two
hours later the Wingate train followed, as the lot had determined.
Woodhull remained with his friends in the Wingate group, regarded now
with an increasing indifference, but biding his time.
Bridger held back his old friend Jackson even after the last train
pulled out. It was mid afternoon when the start was made.
"Don't go just yet, Bill," said he. "Ride on an' overtake 'em. Nothin'
but rattlers an' jack rabbits now fer a while. The Shoshones won't hurt
'em none. I'm powerful lonesome, somehow. Let's you an' me have one more
"That sounds reas'nble," said Jackson. "Shore that sounds reas'nble to
They drank of a keg which the master of the post had hidden in his
lodge, back of his blankets; drank again of high wines diluted but
uncolored--the "likker" of the fur trade.
They drank from tin cups, until Bridger began to chant, a deepening
sense of his old melancholy on him.
"Good-by!" he said again and again, waving his hand in general vagueness
to the mountains.
"We was friends, wasn't we, Bill?" he demanded again and again; and
Jackson, drunk as he, nodded in like maudlin gravity. He himself began
to chant. The two were savages again.
"Well, we got to part, Bill. This is Jim Bridger's last Rendyvous. I've
rid around an' said good-by to the mountings. Why don't we do it the way
the big partisans allus done when the Rendyvous was over? 'Twas old Mike
Fink an' his friend Carpenter begun hit, fifty year ago. Keel-boat men
on the river, they was. There's as good shots left to-day as then, an'
as good friends. You an' me has seed hit; we seed hit at the very last
meetin' o' the Rocky Mountain Company men, before the families come. An
'nary a man spilled the whiskey on his partner's head."
"That's the truth," assented Jackson. "Though some I wouldn't trust
"Would ye trust me, Bill, like I do you, fer sake o' the old times, when
friends was friends?"
"Shore I would, no matter how come, Jim. My hand's stiddy as a rock,
even though my shootin' shoulder's a leetle stiff from that Crow arrer."
Each man held out his firing arm, steady as a bar.
"I kin still see the nail heads on the door, yan. Kin ye, Bill?"
"Plain! It's a waste o' likker, Jim, fer we'd both drill the cups."
"Are ye a-skeered?"
"I told ye not."
"Chardon!" roared Bridger to his clerk. "You, Chardon, come here!"
The clerk obeyed, though he and others had been discreet about remaining
visible as this bout of old-timers at their cups went on. Liquor and
gunpowder usually went together.
"Chardon, git ye two fresh tin cups an' bring 'em here. Bring a piece o'
charcoal to spot the cups. We're goin' to shoot 'em off each other's
heads in the old way. You know what I mean"
Chardon, trembling, brought the two tin cups, and Bridger with a burnt
ember sought to mark plainly on each a black bull's-eye. Silence fell on
the few observers, for all the emigrants had now gone and the open space
before the rude trading building was vacant, although a few faces
peered around corners. At the door of the tallest tepee two native women
sat, a young and an old, their blankets drawn across their eyes,
accepting fate, and not daring to make a protest.
"How!" exclaimed Bridger as he filled both cups and put them on the
ground. "Have ye wiped yer bar'l?"
"Shore I have. Let's wipe agin."
Each drew his ramrod from the pipes and attached the cleaning worm with
its twist of tow, kept handy in belt pouch in muzzle-loading days.
"Clean as a whistle!" said Jackson, holding out the end of the rod.
"So's mine, pardner. Old Jim Bridger never disgraced hisself with a
"Ner me," commented Jackson. "Hold a hair full, Jim, an' cut nigh the
top o' the tin. That'll be safer fer my skelp, an' hit'll let less
whisky out'n the hole. We got to drink what's left. S'pose'n we have a
"Atter we both shoot we kin drink," rejoined his friend, with a
remaining trace of judgment. "Go take stand whar we marked the scratch.
Chardon, damn ye, carry the cup down an' set hit on his head, an' ef ye
spill a drop I'll drill ye, d'ye hear?"
The _engage's_ face went pale.
"But Monsieur Jim--" he began.
"Don't 'Monsieur Jim' me or I'll drill a hole in ye anyways! Do-ee-do
what I tell ye, boy! Then if ye crave fer to see some ol'-time shootin'
come on out, the hull o' ye, an' take a lesson, damn ye!"
"Do-ee ye shoot first, Bill," demanded Bridger. "The light's soft, an'
we'll swap atter the fust fire, to git hit squar for the hindsight, an'
no shine on the side o' the front sight."
"No, we'll toss fer fust," said Jackson, and drew out a Spanish dollar.
"Tails fer me last!" he called as it fell. "An' I win! You go fust,
"Shore I will ef the toss-up says so," rejoined his friend. "Step off
the fifty yard. What sort o' iron ye carryin', Bill?"
"Why do ye ask? Ye know ol' Mike Sheets in Virginia never bored a
better. I've never changed."
"Ner I from my old Hawken. Two good guns, an' two good men, Bill, o' the
ol' times--the ol' times! We kain't say fairer'n this, can we, at our
time o' life, fer favor o' the old times, Bill? We got to do somethin',
so's to kind o' git rested up."
"No man kin say fairer," said his friend.
They shook hands solemnly and went onward with their devil-may-care
test, devised in a historic keel-boat man's brain, as inflamed then by
alcohol as their own were now.
Followed by the terrified clerk, Bill Jackson, tall, thin and grizzled,
stoical as an Indian, and too drunk to care much for consequences, so
only he proved his skill and his courage, walked steadily down to the
chosen spot and stood, his arms folded, after leaning his own rifle
against the door of the trading room. He faced Bridger without a tremor,
his head bare, and cursed Chardon for a coward when his hand trembled as
he balanced the cup on Jackson's head.
"Damn ye," he exclaimed, "there'll be plenty lost without any o' your
"Air ye all ready, Bill?" called Bridger from his station, his rifle
cocked and the delicate triggers set, so perfect in their mechanism that
the lightest touch against the trigger edge would loose the hammer.
"All ready!" answered Jackson.
The two, jealous still of the ancient art of the rifle, which nowhere in
the world obtained nicer development than among men such as these, faced
each other in what always was considered the supreme test of nerve and
skill; for naturally a man's hand might tremble, sighting three inches
above his friend's eye, when it would not move a hair sighting center
between the eyes of an enemy.
Bridger spat out his tobacco chew and steadily raised his rifle. The man
opposite him stood steady as a pillar, and did not close his eyes. The
silence that fell on those who saw became so intense that it seemed
veritably to radiate, reaching out over the valley to the mountains as
in a hush of leagues.
For an instant, which to the few observers seemed an hour, these two
figures, from which motion seemed to have passed forever, stood frozen.
Then there came a spurt of whitish-blue smoke and the thin dry crack of
the border rifle.
The hand and eye of Jim Bridger, in spite of advancing years, remained
true to their long training. At the rifle crack the tin cup on the head
of the statue-like figure opposite him was flung behind as though by the
blow of an invisible hand. The spin of the bullet acting on the liquid
contents, ripped apart the seams of the cup and flung the fluid wide.
Then and not till then did Jackson move.
He picked up the empty cup, bored center directly through the black
spot, and turning walked with it in his hand toward Bridger, who was
wiping out his rifle once more.
"I call hit mighty careless shootin'," said he, irritated. "Now lookee
what ye done to the likker! Ef ye'd held a leetle higher, above the
level o' the likker, like I told ye, she wouldn't o' busted open
thataway now. It's nacherl, thar warn't room in the cup fer both the
likker an' the ball. That's wastin' likker, Jim, an' my mother told me
when I was a boy, 'Willful waste makes woeful want!'"
"I call hit a plum-center shot," grumbled Bridger. "Do-ee look now!
Maybe ye think ye kin do better shoot'in yerself than old Jim Bridger!"
"Shore I kin, an' I'll show ye! I'll bet my rifle aginst yourn--ef I
wanted so sorry a piece as yourn--kin shoot that clost to the mark an'
not spill no likker a-tall! An' ye can fill her two-thirds full an' put
yer thumb in fer the balance ef ye like."
"I'll just bet ye a new mule agin yer pony ye kain't: do nothin' o' the
sort!" retorted Bridger.
"All right, I'll show ye. O' course, ye got to hold still."
"Who said I wouldn't hold still?"
"Nobody. Now you watch me."
He stooped at the little water ditch which had been led in among the
buildings from the stream and kneaded up a little ball of mud. This he
forced into the handle of the tin cup, entirely filling it, then washed
off the body of the cup.
"I'll shoot the fillin' out'n the handle an' not out'n the cup!" said
he. "Mud's cheap, an' all the diff'runce in holdin' is, ef I nicked the
side o' yer haid it'd hurt ye 'bout the same as ef what I nicked the
center o' hit. Ain't that so? We'd orto practice inderstry an' 'conomy,
Jim. Like my mother said, 'Penny saved is er penny yearned.' 'Little
drops o' water, little gains o' sand,' says she, 'a-makes the mighty
o-o-ocean, an the plea-ea-sant land.'"
"I never seed it tried," said Bridger, with interest, "but I don't see
why hit hain't practical. Whang away, an ef ye spill the whisky shootin'
to one side, or cut har shootin' too low, your _caballo_ is mine--an' he
With no more argument, he in turn took up his place, the two changing
positions so that the light would favor the rifleman. Again the
fear-smitten Chardon adjusted the filled cup, this time on his master's
"Do-ee turn her sideways now, boy," cautioned Bridger. "Set the han'le
sideways squar', so she looks wide. Give him a fa'r shot now, fer I'm
interested in this yere thing, either way she goes. Either I lose ha'r
er a mule."
But folding his arms he faced the rifle without batting an eye, as
steady as had been the other in his turn.
Jackson extended his long left arm, slowly and steadily raising the
silver bead up from the chest, the throat, the chin, the forehead of his
friend, then lowered it, rubbing his sore shoulder.
"Tell him to turn that han'le squar' to me, Jim!" he called. "The damn
fool has got her all squegeed eroun' to one side."
Bridger reached up a hand and straightened the cup himself.
"How's that?" he asked.
"All right! Now hold stiddy a minute."
Again the Indian women covered their faces, sitting motionless. And at
last came again the puff of smoke, the faint crack of the rifle, never
loud in the high, rarefied air.
The straight figure of the scout never wavered. The cup still rested on
his head. The rifleman calmly blew the smoke from his barrel, his eye on
Bridger as the latter now raised a careful hand to his head. Chardon
hastened to aid, with many ejaculations.
The cup still was full, but the mud was gone from inside the handle as
though poked out with a finger! "That's what I call shootin', Jim," said
Jackson, "an' reas'nable shootin' too. Now spill half o' her where
she'll do some good, an' give me the rest. I got to be goin' now. I
don't want yer mule. I fust come away from Missouri to git shet o'