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All This War-talk About Injuns








From: The Heritage Of The Sioux

Over his second cup of coffee the pale eyes of Big Medicine goggled
thoughtfully at the forbidding wall of lava rock that stretched before
them as far as he could see to left or right. There were places here and
there where he believed that a man could climb to the top with the aid
of his hands as well as his feet, but for the horses he was extremely
skeptical; and as for a certain big red automobile.... His eyes swung
from the brown rampart and rested grievedly upon the impassive face of
Luck, who was just then reaching forward to spear another slice of bacon
from the frying pan.

"Kinda looks to me, by cripes, as if we'd come to the end uh the trail,"
he observed in his usual full-lunged bellow, as though he had all his
life been accustomed to pitching his voice above some unending clamor.
"Yuh got any idee of how an autyMObile clumb that there rim-rock?"

Old Applehead, squatting on his heels across the little camp-fire,
leaned and picked a coal out of the ashes for his pipe and afterwards
cocked his eyes toward Big Medicine.

"What yuh calc'late yuh tryin' to do?" he inquired pettishly. "Start
up an argyment uh some kind? Cause if ye air, lemme tell yuh I got the
yer-ache from listenin' to you las' night."

Big Medicine looked at him as though he was going to spring upon him in
deadly combat--but that was only a peculiar facial trick of his. What
he did do was to pour that last swallow of hot, black coffee down his
throat and then laugh his big haw-haw-haw that could be heard half a
mile off.

"Y' oughta kep Applehead to home with the wimmin folks, Luck," he bawled
unabashed. "Night air's bad fer 'im, and the trail ain't goin' to be
smooth goin',--not if we gotta ride our hawses straight up, by cripes!"

"We haven't got to." Luck balanced his slice of bacon upon the
unscorched side of a bannock and glanced indifferently at the rim of
rock that was worrying the other. "I swung down here to make camp off
the trail But it's only a half mile or so over this rise that looks
level to you, to where the lava ledge peters out so we can ride over it
easier than we rode up off the river-flat in that loose sand. That ease
your mind any?"

"Helps some," Big Medicine admitted, his eyes going speculatively to the
rise that looked perfectly level. "I'm willin' to take your word fer
it, boss. But what's gittin' to worry me, by cripes, is all this here
war-talk about Injuns. Honest to grandma, I feel like as if I'd been
readin'--"

"Aw, it's jest a josh, Bud!" Happy Jack asserted boredly. "I betche
there ain't been a Injun on the fight here sence hell was a tradin'
post!"

"You think there hasn't?" Luck looked up quickly to ask. But old
Applehead rose up and shook an indignant finger at Happy Jack.

"There ain't, hey? Well, I calc'late that fer a josh, them thar Navvies
has got a right keen sense uh humor, and I've knowed men to laff
theirselves to death on their danged resavation--now I'm tellin' yuh I
It was all a josh mebby, when they riz up a year or two back 'cause one
uh their tribe was goin' t' be arrested er some darn thing! Ole General
Scott, he didn't call it no joke when he, went in thar to settle 'em
down, did he? I calc'late, mebby it was jest fer a josh them troops
waited on the aidge, ready to go in if he didn't git back a certain
time! 'N' that wasn't so fur back, shorely,--only two years. Why dang
your fool heart, I've laid out there in them hills myself and fit
off the Navvies--'n' I didn't see nothin' much to laugh at, now I'm
tellin' yuh! Time I went there after Jose Martinez--"

"Better get under way, boys," Luck interrupted, having heard many times
the details of that fight and capture. "We'll throw out a circle and
pick up the trail of that machine, or whatever they made their getaway
in. My idea is that they must have stached some horses out here
somewhere. I don't believe they'd take the risk of trying to get away
in a machine; that would hold them to the main trails, mostly. I know it
wouldn't be my way of getting outa reach. I'd want horses so I could get
into rough country, and I've doped it out that Ramon is too trail-wise
to bank very high on an automobile once he got out away from town.
Applehead, you and Lite and Pink and Weary form one party if it comes
to where we want to divide forces. Pack a complete camp outfit on the
sorrel and the black--you notice that's the way I had 'em packed first.
Keep their packs just as we started out, then you'll be ready to strike
out by yourselves whenever it seems best. Get me?"

"We get you, boss," Weary sang out cheerfully, and went to work
gathering up the breakfast things and putting them into two little piles
for the packs. Pink led up the black and the sorrel, and helped to pack
them with bedding and supplies for four, as Luck had ordered, while Lite
and Applehead saddled their horses and then came up to help throw the
diamond hitches on the packs.

A couple of rods nearer the rock wall Happy Jack was grumbling, across
the canvas pack of a little bay, at Big Medicine, who was warning
him against leaving his hair so long as a direct temptation to
scalp-lifting. Luck bad already mounted and ridden out a little way,
where he could view the country behind them with his field glasses,
to make sure that in the darkness they had not passed by anything that
deserved a closer inspection. He came back at a lope and motioned to
Andy and the Native Son.

"That red automobile is standing back about half a mile," he announced
hurriedly. "Empty and deserted, looks like. We'll go back and take a
look at it. The rest of you can finish packing and wait here till we
come back. No use making extra travel for your horses. They'll get all
they need, the chances are."

The red automobile was empty of everything but the upholstering and a
jack in the toolbox. The state license number was gone, and the serial
number on the engine had been hammered into illegibility. What tracks
there were had been blown nearly full of the white sand of that
particular locality There was nothing to be learned there, except the
very patent fact that the machine bad been abandoned for some reason.
Luck took a look at the engine and saw nothing wrong with it. There was
oil and there was "gas"--a whole tank full. Andy and Miguel, riding
an ever-widening circle around the machine while Luck was looking for
evidence of a breakdown, ran across a lot of hoofprints that seemed to
head straight away past the rim-rock and on to the hills.

They picked up the trail of the hoofprints and followed it. When they
returned to the others they found the boys all mounted and waiting
impatiently like hounds on the leash eager to get away on the chase. Six
horses there were, and even old Applehead, who was in a bad humor that
morning and seemed to hate agreeing with anyone, admitted that probably
the four who had committed the robbery and left town in the machine had
been met out here by a man who brought horses for them and one extra
pack horse. This explained the number in the most plausible manner, and
satisfied everyone that they were on the right trail.

Riding together--since they were on a plain trail and there was nothing
to be gained by separating--they climbed to the higher mesa, crossed the
ridge of the three barren hills that none of them but Applehead had ever
passed, and went on and on and on as the hoofprints led them, straight
toward the reservation.

They discussed the robbery from every angle--they could think of, and
once or twice someone hazarded a guess at Annie-Many-Ponies' reason
for leaving and her probable destination. They wondered how old Dave
Wiswell, the dried little cattleman of The Phantom Herd, was making out
in Denver, where he had gone to consult a specialist about some kidney
trouble that had interfered with his riding all spring. Weary suggested
that maybe Annie-Many-Ponies had taken a notion to go and visit old
Dave, since the two were old friends.

It was here that Applehead unwittingly put into words the vague
suspicion which Luck had been trying to stifle and had not yet faced as
a definite idea.

"I calc'late we'll likely find that thar squaw putty tol'ble close to
whar we find Bill Holmes," Applehead remarked sourly. "Her goin'
off same, day they stuck up that bank don't look to me like no
happenstance--now I'm tellin' yuh! 'N' if I was shurf, and was ast to
locate that squaw, I'd keep right on the trail uh Bill Holmes, jest as
we're doin' now."

"That isn't like Annie," Luck said sharply to, still the conviction in
his own mind. "Whatever faults she may have, she's been loyal to me, and
honest. Look how she stuck last winter, when she didn't have anything at
stake, wasn't getting any salary, and yet worked like a dog to help
make the picture a success. Look how she got up in the night when the
blizzard struck, and fed our horses and cooked breakfast of her own
accord, just so I could get out early and get my scenes. I've known
her since she was a dirty-faced papoose, and I never knew her to lie
or steal. She wasn't in on that robbery--I'll bank on that, and she
wouldn't go off with a thief. It isn't like Annie."

"Well," said Big Medicine, thinking of his own past, "the best uh women
goes wrong when some knot-headed man gits to lovemakin'. They'll do
things fer the wrong kinda man, by cripes, that they wouldn't do fer no
other human on earth. I've knowed a good woman to lie and steal--fer
a man that wasn't fit, by cripes, to tip his hat to 'er in the street!
Women," he added pessimistically, "is something yuh can't bank on, as
safe as yuh can on a locoed horse!" He kicked his mount unnecessarily
by way of easing the resentment which one woman had managed to instil
against the sex in general.

"That's where you're darned right, Bud," Pink attested with a sudden
bitterness which memory brought. "I wouldn't trust the best woman that
ever lived outa my sight, when you come right down to cases."

"Aw, here!" Andy Green, thinking loyally of his Rosemary, swung his
horse indignantly toward the two. "Cut that out, both of you! Just
because you two got stung, is no reason why you've got to run down all
the rest of the women. I happen to know one--"

"Aw, nobody was talking about Rosemary," Big Medicine apologized
gruffly. "She's different; any fool knows that."

"Well, I've got a six-gun here that'll talk for another one," silent
Lite Avery spoke up suddenly. "One that would tip the scales on the
woman's side for goodness if the rest of the whole sex was bad."

"Oh, thunder!" Pink cried, somewhat redder than the climbing sun alone
would warrant. "I'll take it back. I didn't mean THEM--you know darned
well I didn't mean them--nor lots of other women I know. What I meant
was--"

"What you meant was Annie," Luck broke in uncompromisingly. "And I'm not
condemning her just because things look black. You don't know Indians
the way I know them. There's some things an Indian will do, and then
again there's some things they won't do. You boys don't know it--but
yesterday morning when we left the ranch, Annie-Many-Ponies made me the
peace-sign. And after that she went into her tent and began to sing the
Omaha. It didn't mean anything to you--Old Dave is the only one that
would have sabed, and he wasn't there. But it meant enough to me that
I came pretty near riding back to have a pow-wow with Annie, even if we
were late. I wish I had. I'd have less on my conscience right now."

"Fur's I kin see," Applehead dissented impatiently, "you ain't got
no call to have nothin' on your conscience where that thar squaw is
concerned. You treated her a hull lot whiter'n what she deserved--now
I'm tellin' ye! 'N' her traipsin' around at nights 'n'--"

"I tell you, you don't know Indians!" Luck swung round in the saddle
so that he could face Applehead. "You don't know the Sioux, anyway. She
wouldn't have made me that peace-sign if she'd been double-crossing me,
I tell you. And she wouldn't have sung the Omaha if she was going to
throw in with a thief that was trying to lay me wide open to suspicion.
I've been studying things over in my mind, and there's something in this
affair I can't sabe. And until you've got some proof, the less you say
about Annie-Many-Ponies the better I'll be pleased."

That, coming from Luck in just that tone and with just that look in his
eyes, was tantamount to an ultimatum, and it was received as one. Old
Applehead grunted and chewed upon a wisp of his sunburned mustache that
looked like dried cornsilk after a frost. The Happy Family exchanged
careful glances and rode meekly along in silence. There was not a man
of them but believed that Applehead was nearer right than Luck, but they
were not so foolish as to express that belief.

After a while Big Medicine began bellowing tunelessly that old ditty,
once popular but now half forgotten:

"Nava, Nava, My Navaho-o
I have a love for you that will grow-ow!"

Which stirred old Applehead to an irritated monologue upon the theme of
certain persons whose ignorance is not blissful, but trouble-inviting.
Applehead, it would seem from his speech upon the subject, would be a
much surprised ex-sheriff--now a deputy--if they were not all captured
and scalped, if not worse, the minute their feet touched the forbidden
soil of these demons in human form, the Navajo Indians.

"If they were not too busy weaving blankets for Fred Harvey," Luck
qualified with his soft Texan drawl and the smile that went with it.
"You talk as if these boys were tourists."

"Yes," added Andy Green maliciously, "here comes a war-party now, boys.
Duck behind a rock, Applehead, they're liable to charge yuh fer them
blankets!"

The Happy Family laughed uproariously, to the evident bewilderment of
the two Indians who, swathed in blankets and with their hair knotted and
tied with a green ribbon and a yellow, drove leisurely toward the group
in an old wagon that had a bright new seat and was drawn by a weazened
span of mangy-looking bay ponies. In the back of the wagon sat a young
squaw and two papooses, and beside them were stacked three or four
of the gay, handwoven rugs for which the white people will pay many
dollars.

"Buenas dias," said the driver of the wagon, who was an oldish Indian
with a true picture-postal face. And: "Hello," said the other, who was
young and wore a bright blue coat, such as young Mexicans affect.

"Hello, folks," cried the Happy Family genially, and lifted their
hats to the good-looking young squaw in the wagon-bed, who tittered in
bashful appreciation of the attention.

"Mama! They sure are wild and warlike," Weary commented drily as he
turned to stare after the wagon.

"Us little deputies had better run home," Pink added with mock alarm.

"By cripes, I know now what went with Applehead's hair!" bawled Big
Medicine. "Chances is, it's weaved into that red blanket the old buck is
wearin'--Haw-haw-haw!"

"Laff, dang ye, laff!" Applehead cried furiously. "But do your laffing
where I can't hear ye, fer I'm tellin' ye right now I've had enough of
yore dang foolishness. And the next feller that makes a crack is goin'
to wisht he hadn't now I'm tellin' ye!"

This was not so much an ultimatum as a declaration of war--and the Happy
Family suddenly found themselves all out of the notion of laughing at
anything at all.





Next: The Wild-goose Chase

Previous: Deputies All



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