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A Fight With A Fury








From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

The noonday sun was staring hotly down, an hour later, on a stirring
picture of frontier warfare, with that clump of cottonwoods as the
central feature. Well for Ray's half hundred, that brilliant autumn
morning, that their leader had had so many a year of Indian campaigning!
He now seemed to know by instinct every scheme of his savage foe and to
act accordingly. Ever since the command had come in sight of the Elk
Tooth the conviction had been growing on Ray that Stabber must have
received many accessions and was counting on the speedy coming of
others. The signal smokes across the wide valley; the frequent essays to
tempt his advance guard to charge and chase; the boldness with which the
Indians showed on front and flank; the daring pertinacity with which
they clung to the stream bed for the sake of a few shots at the foremost
troopers, relying, evidently, on the array of their comrades beyond the
ridge to overwhelm any force that gave close pursuit; the fact that
other Indians opened on the advance guard and the left flankers, and
that a dozen, at least, tore away out of the sandy arroyo the moment
they saw the line start at the gallop;--all these had tended to convince
the captain that, now at last, when he was miles from home and succor,
the Sioux stood ready in abundant force to give him desperate battle.

To dart on in chase of the three warriors would simply result in the
scattering of his own people and their being individually cut off and
stricken down by circling swarms of their red foes. To gather his men
and attempt to force the passage of the Elk Tooth ridge meant certain
destruction of the whole command. The Sioux would be only to glad to
scurry away from their front and let them through, and then in big
circle whirl all about him, pouring in a concentric fire that would be
sure to hit some, at least, exposed as they would be on the open
prairie, while their return shots, radiating wildly at the swift-darting
warriors, would be almost as sure to miss. He would soon be weighted
down with wounded, refusing to leave them to be butchered; unable,
therefore, to move in any direction, and so compelled to keep up a
shelterless, hopeless fight until, one by one, he and his gallant
fellows fell, pierced by Indian lead, and sacrificed to the scalping
knife as were Custer's three hundred a decade before.

No, Ray knew too much of frontier strategy to be so caught. There stood
the little grove of dingy green, a prairie fortress, if one knew how to
use it. There in the sand of the stream bed, by digging, were they sure
to find water for the wounded, if wounded there had to be. There by the
aid of a few hastily thrown intrenchments he could have a little plains
fort and be ready to repel even an attack in force. Horses could be
herded in the depths of the sandy shallows. Men could be distributed in
big circle through the trees and along the bank; and, with abundant
rations in their haversacks and water to be had for the digging, they
could hold out like heroes until relief should come from the south.

Obviously, therefore, the cottonwood grove was the place, and thither at
thundering charge Field led the foremost line, while Ray waved on the
second, all hands cheering with glee at sight of the Sioux darting
wildly away up the northward slope. Ten men in line, far extended, were
sent right forward half way across the flats, ordered to drive the
Indians from the bottom and cripple as many as possible; but, if menaced
by superior numbers, to fall back at the gallop, keeping well away from
the front of the grove, so that the fire of its garrison might not be
"masked." The ten had darted after the scurrying warriors, full half way
to the beginning of the slope, and then, just as Ray had predicted, down
came a cloud of brilliant foemen, seeking to swallow the little ten
alive. Instantly their sergeant leader whirled them about and, pointing
the way, led them in wide circle, horses well in hand, back to the dry
wash, then down into its sandy depths. Here every trooper sprang from
saddle, and with the rein looped on the left arm, and from the shelter
of the straight, stiff banks, opened sharp fire on their pursuers, just
as Clayton's platoon, dismounting at the grove, sprang to the nearest
cover and joined in the fierce clamor of carbines. Racing down the
slope at top speed as were the Sioux, they could not all at once check
the way of their nimble mounts, and the ardor of the chase had carried
them far down to the flats before the fierce crackle began. Then it was
thrilling to watch them, veering, circling, sweeping to right or left,
ever at furious gallop, throwing their lithe, painted bodies behind
their chargers' necks, clinging with one leg and arm, barely showing so
much as an eyelid, yet yelping and screeching like so many coyotes, not
one of their number coming within four hundred yards of the slender
fighting line in the stream bed; some of them, indeed, disdaining to
stoop, riding defiantly along the front, firing wildly as they rode, yet
surely and gradually guiding their ponies back to the higher ground,
back out of harm's way; and, in five minutes from the time they had
flashed into view, coming charging over the mile away ridge, not a red
warrior was left on the low ground,--only three or four luckless ponies,
kicking in their last struggles or stiffening on the turf, while their
riders, wounded or unhurt, had been picked up and spirited away with the
marvellous skill only known to these warriors of the plains.

Then Ray and his men had time to breathe and shout laughing comment and
congratulation. Not one, as yet, was hit or hurt. They were secure for
the time in a strong position, and had signally whipped off the first
assault of the Sioux.

Loudly, excitedly, angrily these latter were now conferring again far
up the slope to the north. At least an hundred in one concourse, they
were having hot discussion over the untoward result of the dash. Others,
obedient to orders from the chief, were circling far out to east and
west and crossing the valley above and below the position of the
defence. Others, still, were galloping back to the ridge, where, against
the sky line, strong bodies of warriors could be plainly seen, moving
excitedly to and fro. Two little groups slowly making their way to the
crest gave no little comfort to the boys in blue. Some, at least, of the
charging force had been made to feel the bite of the cavalry weapon, and
were being borne to the rear.

But no time was to be wasted. Already from far up the stream bed two or
three Indians were hazarding long-range shots at the grove, and Ray
ordered all horses into a bend of the "wash," where the side lines were
whipped from the blanket straps and the excited sorrels securely
hoppled. Then, here, there and in a score of places along the bank and
again at the edge of the cottonwoods, men had been assigned their
stations and bidden to find cover for themselves without delay. Many
burrowed in the soft and yielding soil, throwing the earth forward in
front of them. Others utilized fallen trees or branches. Some two or
three piled saddles and blanket rolls into a low barricade, and all,
while crouching about their work, watched the feathered warriors as they
steadily completed their big circle far out on the prairie. Bullets came
whistling now fast and frequently, nipping off leaves and twigs and
causing many a fellow to duck instinctively and to look about him,
ashamed of his dodge, yet sure of the fact that time had been in the
days of the most hardened veteran of the troop when he, too, knew what
it was to shrink from the whistle of hostile lead. It would be but a
moment or two, they all understood, before the foe would decide on the
next move; then every man would be needed.

Meantime, having stationed Field on the north front, with orders to note
every movement of the Sioux, and having assigned Clayton to the minor
duty of watching the south front and the flanks, Ray was moving cheerily
among his men, speeding from cover to cover, suggesting here, helping
there, alert, even joyous in manner. "We couldn't have a better roost,
lads," he said. "We can stand off double their number easy. We can hold
out a week if need be, but you bet the major will be reaching out after
us before we're two days older. Don't waste your shots. Coax them close
in. Don't fire at a galloping Indian beyond three hundred yards. It's
waste of powder and lead."

Cheerily, joyously they answered him, these his comrades, his soldier
children, men who had fought with him, many of their number, in a dozen
fields, and men who would stand by him, their dark-eyed little captain,
to the last. Even the youngest trooper of the fifty seemed inspired by
the easy, laughing confidence of the lighter hearts among their number,
or the grim, matter of fact pugnacity of the older campaigners. It was
significant, too, that the Indians seemed so divided in mind as to the
next move. There was loud wrangling and much disputation going on in
that savage council to the north. Stabber's braves and Lame Wolf's
followers seemed bitterly at odds, for old hands in the fast-growing
rifle pits pointed out on one side as many as half a dozen of the
former's warriors whom they recognized and knew by sight, while Ray,
studying the shifting concourse through his glasses, could easily see
Stabber himself raging among them in violent altercation with a tall,
superbly built and bedizened young brave, a sub-chief, apparently, who
for his part, seemed giving Stabber as good as he got. Lame Wolf was not
in sight at all. He might still be far from the scene, and this tall
warrior be acting as his representative. But whoever or whatever he was
he had hearty following. More than three-fourths of the wrangling
warriors in the group seemed backing him. Ray, after a few words to
Sergeant Winsor, crawled over beside his silent and absorbed young
second in command, and, bringing his glasses to bear, gazed across a low
parapet of sand long and fixedly at the turbulent throng a thousand
yards away.

"It's easy to make out Stabber," he presently spoke. "One can almost
hear that foghorn voice of his. But who the mischief is that red villain
opposing him? I've seen every one of their chiefs in the last five
years. All are men of forty or more. This fellow can't be a big chief.
He looks long years younger than most of 'em, old Lame Wolf, for
instance, yet he's cheeking Stabber as if he owned the whole outfit."
Another long stare, then again--"Who the mischief can he be?"

No answer at his side, and Ray, with the lenses still at his eyes, took
no note for the moment that Field remained so silent. Out at the front
the excitement increased. Out through the veil of surging warriors, the
loud-voiced, impetuous brave twice burst his way, and seemed at one and
the same time, in his superb poise and gesturings, to be urging the
entire body to join him in instant assault on the troops, and hurling
taunt and anathema on the besieged. Whoever he was, he was in a
veritable fury. As many as half of the Indians seemed utterly carried
away by his fiery words, and with much shouting and gesticulation and
brandishing of gun and lance, were yelling approbation of his views and
urging Stabber's people to join them. More furious language followed and
much dashing about of excited ponies.

"Have you ever seen that fellow before?" demanded Ray, of brown-eyed
Sergeant Winsor, who had spent a lifetime on the plains, but Winsor was
plainly puzzled.

"I can't say for the life of me, sir," was the answer. "I don't know him
at all--and yet--"

"Whoever he is, by Jove," said Ray, "he's a bigger man this day than
Stabber, for he's winning the fight. Now, if he only leads the dash as
he does the debate, we can pick him off. Who are our best shots on this
front?" and eagerly he scanned the few faces near him. "Webber's tiptop
and good for anything under five hundred yards when he isn't excited,
and Stoltz, he's a keen, cool one. No! not you, Hogan," laughed the
commander, as a freckled faced veteran popped his head up over a nearby
parapet of sand, and grinned his desire to be included.

"I've never seen the time you could hit what you aimed at. Slip out of
that hole and find Webber and tell him to come here--and you take his
burrow." Whereupon Hogan, grinning rueful acquiescence in his
commander's criticism, slid backwards into the stream bed and, followed
by the chaff of the three or four comrades near enough to catch the
words, went crouching from post to post in search of the desired
marksman.

"You used to be pretty sure with the carbine in the Tonto Basin when we
were after Apaches, sergeant," continued Ray, again peering through the
glasses. "I'm mistaken in this fellow if he doesn't ride well within
range, and we must make an example of him. I want four first class shots
to single him out."

"The lieutenant can beat the best I ever did, sir," said Winsor, with a
lift of the hand toward the hat brim, as though in apology, for Field,
silent throughout the brief conference, had half risen on his hands and
knees and was edging over to the left, apparently seeking to reach the
shelter of a little hummock close to the bank.

"Why, surely, Field," was the quick reply, as Ray turned toward his
junior. "That will make it complete."



But a frantic burst of yells and war whoops out at the front put sudden
stop to the words. The throng of warriors that had pressed so close
about Stabber and the opposing orator seemed all in an instant to split
asunder, and with trailing war bonnet and followed by only two or three
of his braves, the former lashed his way westward and swept angrily out
of the ruck and went circling away toward the crest, while, with loud
acclamation, brandishing shield and lance and rifle in superb barbaric
tableau, the warriors lined up in front of the victorious young leader
who, sitting high in his stirrups, with one magnificent red arm
uplifted, began shouting in the sonorous tongue of the Sioux some urgent
instructions. Down from the distant crest came other braves as though to
meet and ask Stabber explanation of his strange quitting the field. Down
came a dozen others, young braves mad for battle, eager to join the
ranks of this new leader, and Ray, who had turned on Field once more,
fixed his glasses on that stalwart, nearly stark naked, brilliantly
painted form, foremost of the Indian array and now at last in full and
unimpeded view.

"By the gods of war!" he cried. "I never saw that scoundrel before, but
if it isn't that renegade Red Fox--Why, here, Field! Take my glass and
look. You were with the commissioners' escort last year at the Black
Hills council. You must have seen him and heard him speak. Isn't this
Red Fox himself?"

And to Ray's surprise the young officer's eyes were averted, his face
pale and troubled, and the answer was a mere mumble--"I didn't meet
Fox--there, captain."

He never seemed to see the glass held out to him until Ray almost thrust
it into his hand and then persisted with his inquiry.

"Look at him anyhow. You may have seen him somewhere. Isn't that Red
Fox?"

And now Ray was gazing straight at Field's half hidden face. Field, the
soul of frankness hitherto, the lad who was never known to flinch from
the eyes of any man, but to answer such challenge with his own,--brave,
fearless, sometimes even defiant. Now he kept the big binocular fixed on
the distant hostile array, but his face was white, his hand unsteady and
his answer, when it came, was in a voice that Ray heard in mingled pain
and wonderment. Could it be that the lad was unnerved by the sight? In
any event, he seemed utterly unlike himself.

"I--cannot say, sir. It was dark--or night at all events,--the only time
I ever heard him."





Next: The Ordeal By Fire

Previous: I'll Never Go Back



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