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First Sight Of The Foe

From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

Ray's gallant half hundred, as has been said, took the route for the
north at break of day. Before them spread the open prairie, apparently
level and unbroken for full five miles to the front and either flank,
the distant slopes and ridges bounding the level expanse growing more
distinct with every moment, and presently lighting up in exulting
radiance in response to the rosy blushes of the eastward sky. Scorning
the dusty stage road, the troop commander pointed to a distant height
just visible against the northward horizon, bade the leading guide march
straight on that; then gave the order "Right by Twos," that he might the
more readily note the gait and condition of every horse and the bearing
and equipment of his rider. There was still time to weed out weaklings
of either class should any such there be. Riding slowly along the left
flank, one after another, he carefully scanned every man and mount in
his little detachment, then, at quicker pace, passed around to the
eastward side of the column, and as critically, carefully studied them
from that point of view. A light of quiet satisfaction shone in his
fine, dark eyes as he finished, for, next to his wife and children,
that troop was Ray's supreme delight. The preliminary look-over by
lantern light had been all sufficient. This later inspection on the move
revealed not a steed amiss, not an item of equipment either misplaced or
lacking. "Steady as planets," barring the irrepressible tendency of some
young, high-spirited horse to dance a bit until quieted by the monotony
of the succeeding miles, at quick, light-hoofed walk, the sorrels
tripped easily along in precise, yet companionable couples. "One yard
from head to croup," said the drill book of the day, and, but for that,
the riders might have dropped their reins upon the pommel as practically
unnecessary. But, for the first hour or so, at least, the tendency
toward the rear of column was ever to crowd upon the file leaders, a
proceeding resented, not infrequently, in less disciplined commands than
Ray's, by well-delivered kicks, or at least such signs of equine
disapprobation as switching tail or set-back ears. But Ray's troop
horses moved like so many machines, so constant and systematic had been
their drill; and Ray's men rode in the perfection of uniform, so far as
armament and equipment were concerned. Each greatcoat, precisely rolled,
was strapped with its encircling poncho at the pommel. Each blanket, as
snugly packed, with the sidelines festooned upon the top, was strapped
at the cantle. Lariat and picket pin, coiled and secured, hung from the
near side of the pommel. The canteen, suspended from its snap hook, hung
at the off side. Saddle-bags, with extra horse shoes, nails, socks,
underwear, brushes and comb, extra packages of carbine and revolver
cartridges and minor impedimenta, equally distributed as to weight,
swung from the cantle and underneath the blanket roll. From the broad,
black leather carbine sling, over each trooper's left shoulder, the
hard-shooting brown barrelled little Springfield hung suspended, its
muzzle thrust, as was the fashion of the day, into the crude socket
imposed so long upon our frontier fighters by officials who had never
seen the West, save, as did a certain writer of renown, from a car
window, thereby limiting their horizon. Ray despised that socket as he
did the Shoemaker bit, but believed, with President Grant, that the best
means to end obnoxious laws was their rigorous enforcement. Each man's
revolver, a trusty brown Colt, hung in its holster at the right hip.
Each man was girt with ammunition belt of webbing, the device of an
old-time Yankee cavalryman that has been copied round the world, the
dull-hued copper cartridges bristling from every loop. Each man wore, as
was prescribed, the heavy, cumbrous cavalry boot of the day and
generation, but had stowed in his saddle-bags light moccasins and
leggings with which to replace them when, farther afield, their
clear-headed commander should give the word. Each man, too, wore the
gauntlets of Indian-tanned buckskin, a special pattern that Ray had been
permitted to use experimentally. Each man was clad in dark blue flannel
shirt and blouse, the latter soon probably to be stored with the big,
weighty boots in Truscott's saddle room at Beecher, with, probably too,
many of the light blue riding breeches, saddle-pieced with canvas--the
uniform at the start destined, in the case of veteran troopers, at
least, to be shed in favor of brown duck hunting trousers, or even,
among certain extremists, fringed, beaded and embroidered buckskin, than
which the present chronicler knows no more uncomfortable garb when
soaked by pelting rains or immersion in some icy mountain stream. Even
the brown campaign hats, uniformly "creased," as the fifty left the
ford, would soon be knocked out of all semblance to the prescribed
shape, and made at once comfortable and serviceable. Add to these items
the well-filled haversack and battered tin quart cup, (for on a forced
march of two or three days Captain Ray would have no pack mules,) and
the personal equipment of his men was complete. As for the mounts, each
sorrel tripped easily along under the sextuple folds of the saddle
blanket, and the black-skinned McClellan saddle tree, with its broad
horsehair cincha and hooded wooden stirrups, minus the useless skirts
and sweat leathers. Neither breast strap, crupper nor martingale
hampered the free movements of the sturdy, stocky little weight
carriers. The black, single-reined curb bridle, fastened as to the
throat latch by a light buckle, was slipped on over the headstall of the
so-called watering bridle, whose toggled and detachable snaffle bit was
generally "toted" from start to finish of a field scout in the saddle
bags,--a twist of the flexible lariat, Indian fashion, between the
complaisant jaws of his pet, being the troop's ready substitute. Add to
this that, full, free and unmutilated, in glossy waves the beautiful
manes and tails tossed in the upland breeze (for the heresies of
Anglomania never took root in the American cavalry) and you have Ray's
famous troop as it looked, fresh started from old Fort Frayne this
glorious autumn morning of 188-, and with a nod of approbation, and "It
couldn't be better, sergeant," to his devoted right hand man, the
veteran senior non-commissioned officer of the troop, Ray rang out the
command "At ease," and placed himself beside the silent young lieutenant
at the head of column.

As has been said, Ray's senior subaltern was on detached service. His
junior, Mr. Clayton, had joined but the year before, and this threw Mr.
Field in command of the leading platoon and to the side of the leading
guide. Now, as the senior officer took the head of column and Mr.
Clayton fell back to the rear, the silence of the first mile of march
was broken and, though sitting erect in saddle and forbidden to lounge
or "slouch," the troop began its morning interchange of chaff and
comment. Every mother's son of them rejoiced to be once more afield with
a chance of stirring work ahead.

"It's time to throw out our advance, Field," said Ray, in kindly,
cordial tone, as he scanned the low divide still some miles ahead and
reined in beside the stern-faced young soldier. "Send Sergeant Scott
forward with three men and the same number on each flank--corporals in

He had more than liked Webb's adjutant. He had been his stanchest
friend and supporter among the troop and company commanders, and was
eager to befriend him now. He had expressed no wish to have him sent on
the hurried move, but well he knew the post commander's reasons and
approved his course. Still, now that Field was being removed, for the
time at least, from the possibility of an entangling alliance that might
prove disastrous, in every way in his power Ray meant to show the
mortified, indeed sorely angered, officer that his personal regard for
him had suffered no change whatever. If he could succeed in winning
Field's confidence it might well be that he could bring him to see that
there were good and sufficient grounds for the post commander's
action--that for Field's own good, in fact, it was a most desirable
move. The soul of loyalty and square dealing himself, Ray had never for
a moment dreamed that anything other than a foolish escapade had
occurred--a ride by moonlight, perhaps, demanded of her devotee by a
thoughtless, thoroughbred coquette, whose influence over the young
fellow was beginning to mar his usefulness, if not indeed his future
prospects. Just what to think of Nanette Flower Ray really did not know.
Marion, his beloved better half, was his unquestioned authority in all
such matters, and it was an uncommon tenet of that young matron never to
condemn until she had cause. Instinctively she shrank from what she had
seen of Miss Flower, even though her woman's eye rejoiced in the
elegance of Miss Flower's abundant toilets; and, conscious of her
intuitive aversion, she would utter no word that might later prove
unjust. Oddly enough, that instinctive aversion was shared by her
closest friend and neighbor, Mrs. Blake; but, as yet, the extent of
their condemnation had found vent only in the half whimsical, half
petulant expression on part of the younger lady--Blake's beautiful wife,
"I wish her name weren't--so near like mine," for "Nan" had been her pet
name almost from babyhood. Vaguely conscious were they both, these lords
of creation, Messrs. Blake and Ray, that the ladies of their love did
not approve of Miss Flower, but Ray had ridden forth without ever asking
or knowing why, and so, unknowing, was ill prepared to grapple with the
problem set before him. It is easier to stem a torrent with a shingle
than convince a lover that his idol is a shrew.

Without a word of reply, Field reined out of column, glanced along the
double file of his platoon, nodded a signal "Fall out" to Sergeant
Scott, and the men nearest him at the front, merely said "Advance
guard," and then proceeded to choose his corporals and men for flankers.
No need to tell Scott what to do! He had been leading scouts in Arizona
long ere Field had even dreamed of West Point. In five minutes, riding
at easy lope, carbines advanced, three little parties of four troopers
each were spreading far out to the front and flank, guarding the little
column against the possibility of sudden assault from hidden foe. Here
upon the level prairie one would think such precaution needless, but
every acre of the surface was seamed and gullied by twisting little
water courses, dry as a chip at the moment, and some of them so deep as
to afford cover even for the biggest pony of the wild warriors of the
plains. Then, to the front, the barrier ridges, streaked with deep
winding ravines, were now billowing against the northward sky, and once
among those tangled land waves no chances could be taken now that it was
known that the Sioux had declared for war, and that Stabber's band was
out to join their red brethren in the oft recurring outbreak. Until
their lands were criss-crossed by the railways and their mountain haunts
re-echoed to the scream of the iron horse, next to nothing would start
an Indian war: it took so long to reach the scene with troops in
sufficient numbers to command their respect.

And at this moment the situation was grave in the extreme. There had
been bad blood and frequent collision between the cattlemen, herders,
"hustlers,"--especially hustlers,--and the hunting parties of the Sioux
and the Northern Cheyenne, who clung to the Big Horn Range and the
superb surrounding country with almost passionate love and with jealous
tenacity. There had been aggression on both sides, then bloodshed, then
attempts on part of frontier sheriffs to arrest accused or suspected red
men, and equally determined and banded effort to prevent arrest of
accused and identified whites. By due process of law, as administered in
the days whereof we write, the Indian was pretty sure to get the worst
of every difference, and therefore, preferred, not unnaturally, his own
time-honored methods of settlement. In accordance therewith, had they
scalped the sheriff's posse that had shot two of their young braves who
had availed themselves of a purposely given chance to escape, and then
in their undiscriminating zeal, the Sioux had opened fire from ambush on
Plodder's hunting parties and the choppers at the wood camp, who
defended themselves as best they could, to the end that more men, red
and white, were killed. The Indians rallied in force and closed in about
Fort Beecher, driving the survivors to shelter within its guarded lines,
and then, when Plodder needed every man of his force to keep the foe at
respectful distance, so that his bullets could not reach the quarters
occupied by the women and children at the post, there reached him by
night a runner from the stage station far over to the southeast, on a
dry fork of the Powder, saying that the north and south bound stages had
taken refuge there, with only ten men, all told, to stand off some fifty
warriors, and therefore imploring assistance. Not daring to send a
troop, Plodder called for volunteers to bear despatches to Major Webb,
at Frayne, and Pat Kennedy, with half a dozen brave lads, had promptly
stepped forward. Kennedy had managed to slip through the encircling
Sioux by night, and to reach Fort Frayne after a daring and almost
desperate ride. Then Ray was ordered forth, first to raise the siege at
the stage station, then, either to hold that important relay ranch or go
on to reinforce Plodder as his judgment and the situation might dictate.

He knew enough of the stout adobe walls of the corral on the Dry Fork,
and of the grit of the few defenders, to feel reasonably sure that,
with ammunition, provisions and water in plenty, they could easily hold
out a week if need be against the Sioux, so long as they fought on the
defensive and the Indians were not strongly reinforced. He reasoned that
Stabber and his people were probably gone to strengthen the attack, and
that having an hour's start at least, and riding faster, they would get
there somewhat ahead of him. But one of his own old sergeants, a veteran
of twenty years in the cavalry, was now stationmaster on the Dry Fork,
and all the Sioux from the Platte to Paradise couldn't stampede old Jim
Kelly. Many a forced march had Ray made in the past, and well he knew
that the surest way to bring his horses into action, strong and sound at
the finish, was to move "slow and steady" at the start, to move at the
walk until the horses were calm and quiet, was his rule. Then on this
bright September day would come the alternating trot and lope, with
brief halts to reset saddles; then, later still, the call upon his
willing men and mounts for sustained effort, and by sunset he and they
could count on riding in, triumphant, to the rescue, even though Stabber
himself should seek to bar the way.

And that Stabber meant to watch the road, if not to block it, became
evident before the head of column began the gradual ascent of Moccasin
Ridge, from whose sharp crest the little band could take their last
look, for the time, at least, at the distant walls of Frayne. Somewhere
toward seven-thirty Corporal Connors' foremost man, far out on the left
flank, riding suddenly over a low divide, caught sight of a bonneted
warrior bending flat over his excited pony and lashing that nimble,
fleet-footed creature to mad gallop in the effort to reach the cover of
the projecting point of bluff across the shallow ravine that cut in
toward the foothills. Stone, the trooper, lifted his campaign hat on
high once, and then lowered his arm to the horizontal, hat in hand,
pointing in the direction the darting savage was seen, and thus, without
a syllable having been spoken at the front, word was passed in to Ray
that one Indian had been sighted far out to the northwest.

"They may try to hold us among the breaks of the Mini Pusa," said he, to
his still unreconciled second in command. Field had been civil,
respectful, but utterly uncommunicative in his replies to the captain's
repeated cordialities. Any attempt to even remotely refer to the causes
that led to his being ordered out with the detachment had been met with
chilling silence. Now, however, the foe had been seen and could be
counted on to resist if his rallied force much exceeded that of the
troop, or to annoy it by long-range fire if too weak to risk other
encounter. The command halted one moment at the crest to take one long,
lingering look at the now far-distant post beyond the Platte; then,
swinging again into saddle, moved briskly down into the long, wide
hollow between them and the next divide, well nigh three miles across,
and as they reached the low ground and traversed its little draining
gully, a muttered exclamation "Look there!" from the lips of the first
sergeant, called their attention again to the far left front. Stone,
the trooper who had reported the first Indian, had turned his horse over
to the second man, as had the corporal on that flank, and together they
were crouching up along the eastward face of a billowing hillock, while,
straight to the front Sergeant Scott, obedient to a signal from his left
hand man, was speeding diagonally along the rise to the north, for all
three advance troopers had halted and two were cautiously dismounting.
Ray watched one moment, with kindling eyes, then turned to his young
chief of platoons:

"Take your men, Field, and be ready to support. There's something behind
that second ridge!"

Next: Blood Will Tell

Previous: A Grave Discovery

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