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Now Dang It Ride!








From: The Heritage Of The Sioux

Indians are Indians, though they wear the green sweater and overalls of
civilization and set upon their black hair the hat made famous by John
B. Stetson. You may meet them in town and think them tamed to stupidity.
You may travel out upon their reservations and find them shearing sheep
or hoeing corn or plodding along the furrow, plowing their fields; or
you may watch them dancing grotesquely in their festivals, and still
think that civilization is fast erasing the savage instincts from their
natures. You will be partly right--but you will also be partly mistaken.
An Indian is always an Indian, and a Navajo Indian carries a thinner
crust of civilization than do some others; as I am going to illustrate.

As you have suspected, the Happy Family was not following the trail of
Ramon Chavez and his band. Ramon was a good many miles away in another
direction; unwittingly the Happy Family was keeping doggedly upon the
trail of a party of renegade Navajos who had been out on a thieving
expedition among those Mexicans who live upon the Rio Grande bottomland.
Having plenty of reasons for hurrying back to their stronghold, and
having plenty of lawlessness to account for, when they realized that
they were being followed by nine white men who had four packed horses
with them to provide for their needs on a long journey, it was no more
than natural that the Indians should take it for granted that they were
being pursued, and that if they were caught they would be taken back
to town and shut up in that evil place which the white men called their
jail.

When it was known that the nine men who followed had twice recovered the
trail after sheep and cattle had trampled it out, the renegades became
sufficiently alarmed to call upon their tribesmen for help. And that was
perfectly natural and sensible from their point of view.

Now, the Navajos are peaceable enough if you leave them strictly
alone and do not come snooping upon their reservation trying to arrest
somebody. But they don't like jails, and if you persist in trailing
their lawbreakers you are going to have trouble on your hands. The Happy
Family, with Luck and Applehead, had no intention whatever of molesting
the Navajos; but the Navajos did not know that, and they acted according
to their lights and their ideas of honorable warfare.

Roused to resistance in behalf of their fellows, they straightway
forsook their looms, where they wove rugs for tourists, and the silver
which they fashioned into odd bracelets and rings; and the flocks of
sheep whose wool they used in the rugs and they went upon a quiet,
crafty warpath against these persistent white men.

They stole their horses and started them well on the trail back to
Albuquerque--since it is just as well to keep within the white men's
law, if it may be done without suffering any great inconvenience. They
would have preferred to keep the horses, but they decided to start them
home and let them go. You could not call that stealing, and no one need
go to jail for it. They failed to realize that these horses might be so
thoroughly broken to camp ways that they would prefer the camp of the
Happy Family to a long trail that held only a memory of discomfort;
they did not know that every night these horses were given grain by the
camp-fire, and that they would remember it when feeding time came again.
So the horses, led by wise old Johnny, swung in a large circle when
their Indian drivers left them, and went back to their men.

Then the Navajos, finding that simple maneuver a failure--and too late
to prevent its failing without risk of being discovered and forced into
an open fight--got together and tried something else; something more
characteristically Indian and therefore more actively hostile. They rode
in haste that night to a point well out upon the fresh trail of their
fleeing tribesmen, where the tracks came out of a barren, lava-encrusted
hollow to softer soil beyond. They summoned their squaws and their
half-grown papooses armed with branches that had stiff twigs and
answered the purpose of brooms. With great care about leaving any
betraying tracks of their own until they were quite ready to leave a
trail, a party was formed to represent the six whom the Happy Family
bad been following. These divided and made off in different directions,
leaving a plain trail behind them to lure the white men into the traps
which would be prepared for them farther on.

When dawn made it possible to do so effectively, the squaws began
to whip out the trail of the six renegade Indians, and the chance
footprints of those who bad gone ahead to leave the false trail for the
white men to follow. Very painstakingly the squaws worked, and the young
ones who could be trusted. Brushing the sand smoothly across a hoofprint
here, and another one there; walking backward, their bodies bent, their
sharp eyes scanning every little depression, every faint trace of the
passing of their tribesmen; brushing, replacing pebbles kicked aside
by a hoof, wiping out completely that trail which the Happy Family bad
followed with such persistence, the squaws did their part, while their
men went on to prepare the trap.

Years ago--yet not so many after all--the mothers of these squaws, and
their grandmothers, had walked backward and stooped with little branches
in their hands to wipe out the trail of their warriors and themselves to
circumvent the cunning of the enemy who pursued. So had they brushed
out the trail when their men had raided the ranchos of the first
daring settlers, and had driven off horses and cattle into the remoter
wilderness.

And these, mind you, were the squaws and bucks whom you might meet
any day on the streets in Albuquerque, padding along the pavement and
staring in at the shop windows, admiring silken gowns with marked-down
price tags, and exclaiming over flaxen-haired dolls and bright ribbon
streamers; squaws and bucks who brought rugs and blankets to sell,
and who would bargain with you in broken English and smile and nod
in friendly fashion if you spoke to them in Spanish or paid without
bickering the price they asked for a rug. You might see them in the
fifteen-cent store, buying cheap candy and staring in mute admiration at
all the gay things piled high on the tables. Remember that, when I tell
you what more they did out here in the wilderness. Remember that and do
not imagine that I am trying to take you back into the untamed days of
the pioneers.


Luck and the Happy Family--so well had the squaws done their
work--passed unsuspectingly over the wiped-out trail, circled at fault
on the far side of the rocky gulch for an hour or so and then found the
false trail just as the Indian decoys had intended that they should
do. And from a farther flat topped ridge a group of Indians with Dutch
hair-cuts and Stetson hats and moccasins (the two hall-marks of two
races) watched them take the false trail, and looked at one another and
grinned sourly.

The false trail forked, showing that the six had separated into two
parties of three riders, each aiming to pass--so the hoofprints would
lead one to believe--around the two ends of a lone hill that sat
squarely down on the mesa like a stone treasure chest dropped there by
the gods when the world was young.

The Happy Family drew rein and eyed the parting of the ways dubiously.

"Wonder what they did that for?" Andy Green grumbled, mopping his red
face irritatedly. "We've got trouble enough without having them split up
on us."

"From the looks, I should say we're overhauling the bunch," Luck
hazarded. "They maybe met on the other side of this butte somewhere.
And the tracks were made early this morning, I should say. How about it,
Applehead?"

"Well, they look fresher 'n what we bin follerin' before," Applehead
admitted. "But I don't like this here move uh theirn, and I'm tellin'
yuh so. The way--"

"I don't like anything about 'em," snapped Luck, standing in his
stirrups as though that extra three inches would let him see over the
hill. "And I don't like this tagging along behind, either. You take your
boys and follow those tracks to the right, Applehead. I and my bunch
will go this other way. And RIDE! We can't be so awfully much behind.
If they meet, we'll meet where they do. If they scatter, we'll have to
scatter too, I reckon. But get'em is the word, boys!"

"And where," asked Applehead with heavy irony, while he pulled at his
mustache, "do yuh calc'late we'll git t'gether agin if we go scatterin'
out?"

Luck looked at him and smiled his smile. "We aren't any of us
tenderfeet, exactly," he said calmly. "We'll meet at the jail when we
bring in our men, if we don't meet anywhere else this side. But if you
land your men, come back to that camp where we lost the horses. That's
one, place we KNOW has got grass and water both. If you come and don't
see any sign of us, wait a day before you start back to town. We'll do
the same. And leave a note anchored in the crack of that big bowlder by
the spring, telling the news. We'll do the same if we get there first
and don't wait for you." He hesitated, betraying that even in his
eagerness he too dreaded the parting of the ways. "Well, so long,
boys--take care of yourselves."

"Well, now, I ain't so dang shore--" Applehead began querulously.

But Luck only grinned and waved his hand as he led the way to the south
on the trail that obviously had skirted the side of the square butte.
The four who went with him looked back and waved non-committal adieu;
and Big Medicine, once he was fairly away, shouted back to them to look
out for Navvies, and then laughed with a mirthless uproar that deceived
no one into thinking he was amused. Pink and Weary raised their voices
sufficiently to tell him where he could go, and settled themselves
dejectedly in their saddles again.

"Well, I ain't so darned sure, either," Lite Avery tardily echoed
Applehead's vague statement, in the dry way he had of speaking detached
sentiments from the mental activities that went on behind his calm,
mask-like face and his quiet eyes. "Something feels snaky around here
today."

Applehead looked at him with a glimmer of relief in his eyes, but he did
not reply to the foreboding directly. "Boys, git yore rifles where you
kin use 'em quick," he advised them grimly. "I kin smell shootin' along
this dang trail."

Pink's dimples showed languidly for a moment, and he looked a question
at Weary. Weary grinned answer and pulled his rifle from the "boot"
where it was slung under his right leg, and jerked the lever forward
until a cartridge slid with a click up into the chamber; let the hammer
gently down with his thumb and laid the gun across his thighs.

"She's ready for bear," he observed placidly.

"Well, now, you boys show some kinda sense," Applehead told them when
Pink had followed Weary's example. "Fellers like Happy and Bud, they
shore do show their ign'rance uh this here, dang country, when they up
'n' laff at the idee uh trouble--now I'm tellin' yuh!"

From the ridge which was no more than a high claw of the square butte,
four Indians in greasy, gray Stetsons with flat crowns nodded with grim
satisfaction, and then made baste to point the toes of their moccasins
down to where their unkempt ponies stood waiting. They were too far away
to, see the shifting of rifles to the laps of the riders, or perhaps
they would not have felt quite so satisfied with the steady advance of
the four who had taken the right-hand fork of the trail. They could not
even tell just which four men made up the party. They did not greatly
care, so long as the force of the white men was divided. They galloped
away upon urgent business of their own, elated because their ruse had
worked out as they had planned and hoped.

Applehead took a restrained pull at the canteen, cocked his eyes back at
the butte they had just passed, squinted ahead over the flat waste that
shimmered with heat to the very skyline that was notched and
gashed crudely with more barren hills, and then, screwing the top
absent-mindedly on the canteen-mouth, leaned and peered long at the
hoofprints they were following. Beside him Lite Avery, tall and lean to
the point of being skinny, followed his movements with quiet attention
and himself took to studying more closely the hoofprints in the sandy
soil.

Applehead looked up, gauged the probable direction the trail was taking,
and gave a grunt.

"You kin call me a fool," he said with a certain challenge in his tone,
"but this yere trail don't look good to me, somehow. These yere tracks,
they don't size up the same as they done all the way out here. 'N'
another thing, they ain't aimed t' meet up with the bunch that Luck's
trailin'. We're headed straight out away from whar Luck's headed. 'N'
any way yuh look at it, we're headed into country whar there ain't no
more water'n what the rich man got in hell. What would any uh Ramon's
outfit want to come away off in here fur? They ain't nothin' up in here
to call 'em."

"These," said Lite suddenly, "are different horse-tracks. They're
smaller, for one thing. The bunch we followed out from the red machine
rode bigger horses."

"And carried honey on one side and fresh meat on the other; and
one horse was blind in the right eye," enlarged Pink banteringly,
remembering the story of the Careful Observer in an old schoolreader of
his childhood days.

"Yes, how do you make that out, Lite? I never noticed any difference in
the tracks."

"The stride is a little shorter today for one thing." Lite looked around
and grinned at Pink, as though he too remembered the dromedary loaded
with honey and meat. "Ain't it, Applehead?"

"It shore is," Applehead testified, his face bent toward the hot ground.
"Ain't ary one uh the three that travels like they bin a travelin'--'n'
that shore means something, now I'm tellin' yuh!" He straightened and
stared worriedly ahead of them again. "Uh course, they might a picked up
fresh horses," he admitted. "I calc'late they needed 'em bad enough, if
they ain't been grainin' their own on the trip."

"We didn't see any signs of their horses being turned loose anywhere
along," Lite pointed out with a calm confidence that he was right.

Still, they followed the footprints even though they were beginning
to admit with perfect frankness their uneasiness. They were swinging
gradually toward one of those isolated bumps of red rockridges which you
will find scattered at random through certain parts of the southwest.
Perhaps they held some faint hope that what lay on the other side of the
ridge would be more promising, just as we all find ourselves building
air-castles upon what lies just over the horizon which divides present
facts from future possibilities. Besides, these flat-faced ledges
frequently formed a sharp dividing line between barren land and fertile,
and the hoofprints led that way; so it was with a tacit understanding
that they would see what lay beyond the ridge that they rode forward.

Suddenly Applehead, eyeing the rocks speculatively, turned his head
suddenly to look behind and to either side like one who seeks a way of
escape from sudden peril.

"Don't make no quick moves, boys," he said, waving one gloved band
nonchalantly toward the flat land from which they were turning, "but
foller my lead 'n' angle down into that draw off here. Mebbe it's deep
enough to put us outa sight, 'n' mebbe it ain't. But we'll try it."

"What's up? What did yuh see?" Pink and Weary spoke in a duet, urging
their horses a little closer.

"You fellers keep back thar 'n' don't act excited!" Applehead eyed them
sternly over his shoulder. "I calc'late we're just about t' walk into
a trap." He bent--on the side away from the ridge--low over his horse's
shoulder and spoke while he appeared to be scanning the ground. "I seen
gun-shine up among them rocks, er I'm a goat. 'N' if it's Navvies, you
kin bet they got guns as good as ours, and kin shoot mighty nigh as
straight as the best of us--except Lite, uh course, that's a expert." He
pointed aimlessly at the ground and edged toward the draw.

"Ef they think we're jest follerin' a stray track, they'll likely
hold off till we git back in the trail 'n' start comin' on agin," he
explained craftily, still pointing at the ground ahead of him and still
urging his horse to the draw. "Ef they suspicion 't we're shyin' off
from the ridge, they'll draw a fine bead 'n' cut loose. I knowed it,"
he added with a lugubrious complacency. "I told ye all day that I could
smell trouble a-comin'; I knowed dang well 't we'd stir up a mess uh
fightin' over here. I never come onto this dang res'vation yit, that I
didn't have t' kill off a mess uh Navvies before I got offen it agin.

"Now," he said when they reached the edge of the sandy depression that
had been gouged deeper by freshets and offered some shelter in case of
attack, "you boys jest fool around here on the aidge 'n' foller me down
here like you was jest curiouslike over what I'm locatin'. That'll
keep them babies up there guessin' till we're all outa sight MEBBY!" He
pulled down the corners of his mouth till his mustache-ends dropped a
full inch, and lifted himself off his horse with a bored deliberation
that was masterly in its convincingness. He stood looking at the ground
for a moment and then began to descend leisurely into the draw, leading
his horse behind him.

"You go next, Pink," Weary said shortly, and with his horse began
edging him closer to the bank until Pink, unless he made some unwise
demonstration of unwillingness, was almost forced to ride down the steep
little slope.

"Don't look towards the ridge, boys," Applehead warned from below.
"Weary, you come on down here next. Lite kin might' nigh shoot the dang
triggers offen their guns 'fore they kin pull, if they go t' work 'n'
start anything."

So Weary, leaving Lite up there grinning sheepishly over the compliment,
rode down because he was told to do so by the man in command. "You seem
to forget that Lite's got a wife on his hands," he reproved as he went.

"Lite's a-comin' right now," Applehead retorted, peering at the ridge
a couple of hundred yards distant. "Git back down the draw 's fur's
yuh kin b'fore yuh take out into the open agin. I'll wait a minute 'n'
see--"

"Ping-NG-NG!" a bullet, striking a rock on the edge of the draw fifty
feet short of the mark, glanced and went humming over the hot waste.

"Well, now, that shows they got a lookout up high, 't seen me watchin'
that way. But it's hard t' git the range shootin' down, like that,"
Applehead remarked, pulling his horse behind a higher part of the bank.

Close beside him Lite's rifle spoke, its little steelshod message flying
straight as a homing honeybee for the spitting flash he had glimpsed up
there among the rocks. Whether he did any damage or not, a dozen rifles
answered venomously and flicked up tiny spurts of sand in the close
neighborhood of the four.

"If they keep on trying," Lite commented drily, "they might make a
killing, soon as they learn how to shoot straight."

"'S jest like them dang Injuns!" Applehead grumbled, shooing the three
before him down the draw. "Four t' our one--it takes jest about that big
a majority 'fore they feel comftable about buildin' up a fight. Lead
yore bosses down till we're outa easy shootin' distance, boys, 'n' then
we'll head out fer where Luck ought t' be. If they fixed a trap fer us,
they've fixed another fer him, chances is, 'n! the sooner us fellers git
t'gether the better show we'll all of us have. You kin see, the way they
worked it to split the bunch, that they ain't so dang anxious t' tie
into us when we're t'gether--'n' that's why we can't git t' Luck a dang
bit too soon, now I'm tellin' yuh!"

Weary and Pink were finding things to say, also, but old Applehead went
on with his monologue just as though they were listening. Lite showed
a disposition to stop and take issue with the shooters who kept up a
spiteful firing from the ridge. But Applehead stopped him as he was
leveling his rifle.

"If yuh shoot," he pointed out, "they'll know jest where we air and how
fast we're gittin' outa here. If yuh don't, unless their lookout kin
see us movin' out, they got t' do a heap uh guessin' in the next few
minutes. They only got one chancet in three uh guessin' right, 'cause
we might be camped in one spot, 'n' then agin we might be crawlin' up
closer, fer all they kin tell."

If they were guessing, they must have guessed right; for presently the
four heard faint yells from behind them, and Applehead crawled up the
bank to where he could look out across the level. What he saw made him
slide hastily to the bottom again.

"They've clumb down and straddled their ponies," he announced grimly.
"An' about a dozen is comin' down this way, keepin' under cover all they
kin. I calc'late mebby we better crawl our bosses 'n' do some ridin'
ourselves, boys." And he added grimly, "They ain't in good shootin'
distance yit, 'n' they dassent show theirselves neither. We'll keep in
this draw long as we kin. They're bound t' come careful till they git us
located."

The footing was none the best, but the horses they rode had been running
over untracked mesa-land since they were bandy-legged colts. They loped
along easily, picking automatically the safest places whereon to set
their feet, and leaving their riders free to attend to other important
matters which proved their true value as horses that knew their
business.

Soon the draw shallowed until they found themselves out in the open,
with the square-topped mountain five miles or so ahead and a little to
the left; a high, untraversable sandstone ledge to their right, and what
looked like plain sailing straight ahead past the mountain.

Applehead twisted his body in the saddle and gave a grunt. "Throw some
lead back at them hombres, Lite," he snapped. "And make a killin' if yuh
kin. It'll make 'em mad, but it'll hold 'em back fer a spell."

Lite, the crack rifle-shot of Luck's company and the man who had taught
Jean Douglas to shoot with such wonderful precision, wheeled his horse
short around and pulled him to a stand, lined up his rifle sights and
crooked his finger on the trigger. And away back there among the Indians
a pony reared, and then pitched forward.

"I sure do bate to shoot down a horse," Lite explained shamefacedly,
"but I never did kill a man--"

"We-ell, I calc'late mebby yuh will, 'fore you're let out from this yere
meetin'," Applehead prophesied drily. "Now, dang it, RIDE!"





Next: Annie-many-ponies Waits

Previous: One Put Over On The Bunch



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