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I'll Never Go Back

From: A Daughter Of The Sioux

A sharp affair indeed was that of this September day!--a fight long
talked of on the frontier if soon forgotten in "the States." Obedient to
his orders to push to the relief of the imperilled party on the Dry
Fork, Ray had made good time to Moccasin Ridge, even though saving
horses and men for the test of the later hours. Well he knew his march
would be watched by some of Stabber's band, but little did he dream at
starting that Indian strategy would take the unusual form of dropping
what promised to be a sure thing, leaving the people at the stage
station to the guardianship of less than a dozen braves, and launching
out with a big band to aid a little one in attack on one lone detachment
that might not come at all. But Lame Wolf reasoned that the people
penned at the stage station were in no condition to attempt escape. They
were safe whenever he chose to return to them, and Lame Wolf knew this
of Stabber--that he had long been a hanger-on about the military
reservations, that he had made a study of the methods of the white
chiefs, that he was able to almost accurately predict what their course
would be in such event as this, and that Stabber had recently received
accessions whose boast it was that they had information at first hand of
the white chief's plans and intentions. Stabber had sent swift runners
to Lame Wolf urging him to bring his warriors to aid him in surrounding
the first troops sent forth from Frayne. Stabber had noted, year after
year, that it was the almost invariable policy of our leaders to order a
small force at the start, and then, when that was crushed, to follow it
with the big one that should have been sent in the first place.
Kennedy's successful coming was known to Stabber quite as soon as it was
to Webb. It may well be that Stabber let him through, feeling confident
what the result would be, and then, despite a certain jealousy, not
confined entirely to savage rival leaders, Lame Wolf had confidence in
Stabber's judgment. Ray had expected long range flank fire, and possibly
occasional resistance in front; but, assured of Stabber's paucity in
numbers and believing Lame Wolf too busy to send Stabber substantial
aid, he thought a sharp lesson or two would clear his front of such
Indians as sought to check him, and so rode serenely forward, rejoicing
in his mission and in his game and devoted little command.

"Something beyond that second ridge," he had said to Field, in sending
him forward with the bulk of the platoon, and Field, who had been silent
and brooding, woke at the summons and, all animation at the scent of
danger, spurred swiftly ahead to join the advance and see for himself
what manner of hindrance awaited them, leaving the baker's dozen of his
platoon to trot steadily on under lead of its sergeant, while Ray, with
his trumpeter, followed mid way between his advance and Clayton's
platoon, intact, moving quietly at the walk and held in reserve.

Ordinarily Ray would himself have ridden to the far front and personally
investigated the conditions, but he was anxious that Field should
understand he held the full confidence of his temporary commander. He
wished Field to realize that now he had opportunity for honorable
distinction, and a chance to show what was in him and, having sent him
forward, Ray meant to rely on his reports and be ready to back, if
possible, his dispositions. Nothing so quickly demolishes prejudice in
garrison as prowess in the field. Not infrequently has an officer gone
forth under a cloud and returned under a crown. It is so much easier to
be a hero in a single fight than a model soldier through an entire
season--at least it was so in the old days.

But the moment Mr. Field dismounted and, leaving his horse with the
others along the slope, had gone crouching to the crest, he levelled his
glasses for one look, then turned excitedly and began rapid signals to
his followers. Presently a young trooper came charging down, making
straight for Ray. "The lieutenant's compliments," said he, "but there's
a dozen Sioux in sight, and he wishes to know shall he charge."

A dozen Sioux in sight! That was unusual. Ordinarily the Indian keeps in
hiding, lurking behind sheltering crests and ridges in the open country,
or the trees and underbrush where such cover is possible. A dozen in

"How far ahead, Murray?" asked the captain, as he shook free his rein
and started forward at the gallop. "Did you see them yourself?"

"Yes, sir. Most of 'em were bunched by the roadside, jabbing with their
lances at something or other. Two or three were closer in. They must ha'
been watching us, for they only quit the ridge just before we came up.
Then they skedaddled." The vernacular of the civil war days, long since
forgotten except about the few Veteran Soldiers' Homes in the East, was
still in use at times in regiments like the ----th, which had served the
four years through with the Army of the Potomac. Old sergeants give the
tone to younger soldiers in all the customs of the service. The captain
and the two men now with him had caught up with Field's swift trotting
support by this time, and the eyes of the men kindled instantly at sight
of their leader speeding easily by, cool, confident and as thoroughly at
home as though it were the most ordinary skirmish drill. Those who have
never tried it, do not quite realize what it means to ride in closed
ranks and compact column, silent and unswerving, straight forward over
open fields toward some equally silent crest, that gives no sign of
hostile occupancy, and yet may suddenly blaze with vengeful fires and
spit its hissing lead into the faces of the advancing force. Even here
where the ridge was already gained by two or three of the advance,
proving, therefore, that the enemy could not be in possession, men saw
by the excitement manifest in the signals of the lieutenant, and indeed
of Sergeant Scott, who had spent fifteen years in the ranks, that
Indians must be close at hand. The crest was barely five hundred yards
in front of the section, and they were still "bunched," a splendid mark
if the foe saw fit by sudden dash to regain the ridge and pour in rapid
fire from their magazine rifles. Every ward of the nation, as a rule,
had his Winchester or Henry,--about a six to one advantage to the red
men over the sworn soldier of the government in a short range fight. The
lieutenant was a brave lad and all that, and could be relied on to "do
his share in a shindy," as the sergeant put it, but when it came to
handling the troop to the best advantage, giving them full swing when
they met the foe on even terms and a fair field, but holding them clear
of possible ambuscade, then "Captain Billy is the boss in the business,"
was the estimate of his men, and every heart beat higher at sight of
him. He would know just what to do for them, and knowing, would do it.

Even as he went loping by Ray had half turned, with something like a
smile in his dark eyes and a nod of his curly head to the sergeant
commanding, and a gesture of the gauntleted hand,--a horizontal sweep to
right and left, twice repeated,--had given the veteran his cue, and with
another moment Winsor had the dozen in line at open, yet narrow,
intervals, with carbines advanced and ready for business. They saw their
captain ride swiftly up the gentle slope until close to the crest, then
off he sprang, tossed his reins to the trumpeter and went hurrying
afoot to join the lieutenant. They saw him kneeling as though to level
his glasses and look fixedly forward; saw Field run back to his horse
and mount in a twinkling; saw him whirl about as though coming to place
himself at their head, yet rein in at once--his charger's fore feet
ploughing the turf at some word from their leader. Field was eager to
charge, but Ray had seen for himself and for his men, and Ray said, no.
Another moment and all at the front were again in saddle--Field back
with the advance, Ray coolly seated astride his pet sorrel,--scouting a
second ridge, far to the north, with his glasses, and sending, as
before, Scott and his three troopers straight on to the front, and
signalling to the flankers to continue the move. Ten seconds' study of
the position in the long, wide, shallow depression before him had
fathomed the scheme of the savage. The little knot of Indians,
jabbering, yelping, prodding and circling about some unseen object on
the turf, feigning ignorance of the soldiers' coming, was at the
old-time trick to get the foremost troopers to charge and chase, to draw
them on in all the dash and excitement of the moment, far ahead--three
miles, perhaps--of the main body, and so enable all the lurking band
behind that second curtain, the farther ridge, to come swooping down to
surround, overwhelm and butcher the luckless few, then be off to safe
distance long before the mass of the troop could possibly reach the

"No you don't, Stabber!" laughed Ray, as Field, not a little chagrined,
and the dozen at his back, came trotting within hearing distance. "That
dodge was bald-headed when I was a baby. Look, Field," he continued.
"They were jabbing at nothing there on the prairie. That was a fake
captive they were stabbing to death. See them all scooting away now.
They'll rally beyond that next ridge, and we'll do a little fooling of
our own."

And so, with occasional peep at feathered warriors on the far left
flank, and frequent hoverings of small parties on the distant front,
Ray's nervy half hundred pushed steadily on. Two experiments had
satisfied the Sioux that the captain himself was in command and they had
long since recognized the sorrels. They knew of old Ray was not to be
caught by time-worn tricks. They had failed to pick off the advance, or
the officers, as the troop approached the second ridge. Lame Wolf's big
band was coming fast, but only a dozen of his warriors, sent lashing
forward, had as yet reached Stabber. The latter was too weak in numbers
to think of fighting on even terms, and as Ray seemed determined to come
ahead, why not let him? Word was sent to Wolf not to risk showing south
of the Elk Tooth spur. There in the breaks and ravines would be a famous
place to lie in ambush, leaving to Stabber the duty of drawing the
soldiers into the net. So there in the breaks they waited while Ray's
long skirmish line easily manoeuvred the red sharp-shooters out of their
lair on the middle divide. Then, reforming column, the little command
bore straight away for the Elk.

But all these diversions took time. Twenty miles to the north of Frayne
stretched the bold divide between the Elk Fork, dry as a dead tooth much
of the year, and the sandy bottom of the Box Elder. Here and there
along the ridge were sudden, moundlike upheavals that gave it a
picturesque, castellated effect, for, unlike the general run of the
country, the Elk Tooth seemed to have a backbone of rock that shot forth
southeastward from the southern limit of the beautiful Big Horn range;
and, in two or three places, during some prehistoric convulsion of
nature, it had crushed itself out of shape and forced upward a mass of
gleaming rock that even in the course of centuries had not been
overgrown with grass. "Elk teeth" the Indians had called these odd
projections, and one of them, the middle one of the three most
prominent, was a landmark seen for many a mile except to the south and
west. Eagle Butte was the only point south of the Big Horn and in the
valley of the Platte from which it could be seen, and famous were these
two points in the old days of the frontier for the beacon fires that
burned or the mirror signals that flashed on their summits when the war
parties of the Sioux were afield.

It was the sight of puffs of smoke sailing skyward from the crest of the
middle tooth that caught Ray's attention the moment he reached the
second ridge. A moment more had been devoted to recalling some of his
eager men who, from the extreme right of the swinging skirmish line, had
broken away in pursuit of certain intentional laggards. Then a dozen of
the Indians, finding themselves no longer followed, gathered at
comparatively safe distance across the prairie, and, while in eager
consultation, found time for taunting, challenging and occasionally
firing at the distant and angering troopers, whom Sergeant Scott had
sharply ordered back, and Ray, after calm survey of these fellows
through his glass, had then levelled it at the trio of buttes along the
distant ridge and turned to Field, sitting silent and disappointed by
his side.

"There, Field," said the captain. "Take this glass and look at those
signal smokes--Stabber has more men now at his call than he had when he
started, and more yet are coming. They were just praying you would
charge with a handful of men. They would have let you through, then
closed around and cut you off. Do you see, boy?"

Field touched his hat brim. "You know them best, sir," was the brief
answer. "What I wanted was a chance at those fellows hanging about our
front and calling us names."

"You'll get it, I'm thinking, before we're an hour older. They know
whither we're bound and mean to delay us all they can. Ah, Clayton," he
added, as the junior lieutenant rode up to join them, while his platoon
dismounted to reset saddles behind the screen of the skirmish line. "Men
look full of fight, don't they? There, if anywhere, is where we'll get
it. I've just been showing Field those signal smokes. Mount and follow
when we're half way down to that clump of cottonwoods yonder. We must
reach those people at the stage station to-night, and I may have to give
these beggars a lesson first. Watch for my signal and come ahead lively
if I turn toward you and swing my hat. All ready, Field. Shove ahead."

And this was the last conference between the three officers that
eventful morning. As once again the advance guard pushed cautiously
forward toward the banks of the arroyo in the bottom, Ray turned to
Field. "Skirmish work suits you better than office duty, Field. You look
far livelier than you did yesterday. Don't you begin to see that the
major was right in sending you out with us?" And the dark eyes of the
trained and experienced soldier shone kindly into the face of the
younger man.

"I'm glad to be with you, Captain Ray," was the prompt answer. "It
isn't--my being sent, but the way I was sent, or the--cause for which
I was sent that stings me. I thought then, and I think now, that if you
had been post commander it wouldn't have been done. I don't know yet
what charge has been laid at my door----"

"There was no time to talk of reasons, Field," interposed Ray, though
his keen eyes were fixed on the distant ridge ahead, beyond which the
last of the Indians had now disappeared. The outermost troopers, with
Sergeant Scott, were within a few hundred yards of the little clump of
cottonwoods that marked the site of a water hole. To the right and left
of it curved and twisted the dry water course between its low, jagged,
precipitous banks. Behind the advance, full four hundred yards, rode the
skirmish line from the first platoon, a dozen strong. Far out to the
east and west the flankers moved steadily northward, keenly watching the
slopes beyond them and scanning the crooked line of the arroyo ahead.
Not a sign at the moment could be seen of the painted foe, yet every man
in the troop well knew they swarmed by dozens behind the buttes and
ridges ahead. Ray and Field, riding easily along in rear of the line,
with only the trumpeter within earshot, relaxed in no measure the
vigilance demanded by the situation, yet each was deeply concerned in
the subject of the talk.

"There was no time. We had to start at once," continued Ray. "Wait until
you are back at the old desk, Field, and you'll find the major is, and
was, your stanch friend in this matter--"

"I'll never go back to it, captain!" broke in Field, impetuously. "If
ordered to resume duty as adjutant, come what may, I shall refuse."

But before Ray could interpose again there came sudden and stirring
interruption. From a point far down the "swale," from behind the low
bank of the stream bed, three rifle shots rang out on the crisp morning
air. The horse of the leading flanker, away out to the right, reared and
plunged violently, the rider seeming vainly to strive to check him.
Almost instantly three mounted warriors were seen tearing madly away
northeastward out of the gully, their feathers streaming in the wind.
Field spurred away to join his men. Ray whirled about in saddle, and
swung his broad-brimmed scouting hat high above his head, in signal to
Clayton; then shouted to Field. "Forward to the cottonwoods. Gallop!" he
cried. "We need them first of all!"

Next: A Fight With A Fury

Previous: Bad News From The Front

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