The Death Song Of The Sioux
From: A Daughter Of The Sioux
That was a gruesome night at Frayne. Just at tattoo the door leading to
the little cell room had been thrown open, and the sergeant of the guard
bade the prisoners come forth,--all warriors of the Ogalalla band and
foremost of their number was Eagle Wing, the battle leader. Recaptured
by Crabb and his men after a desperate flight and fight for liberty, he
had apparently been planning ever since a second essay even more
desperate. In sullen silence he had passed his days, showing no sign of
recognition of any face among his guards until the morning Kennedy
appeared--all malice forgotten now that his would-be slayer was a
helpless prisoner, and therefore did the Irishman greet him jovially.
"That man would knife you if he had half a chance," said the sergeant.
"Watch out for him!"
"You bet I'll watch out," said Kennedy, never dreaming that, despite all
search and vigilance, Moreau had managed to obtain and hide a knife.
In silence they had shuffled forth into the corridor. The heavy portal
swung behind them, confining the other two. Another door opened into the
guardroom proper, where stood the big, red hot stove and where waited
two blacksmiths with the irons. Once in the guard room every window was
barred, and members of the guard, three deep, blocked in eager curiosity
the doorway leading to the outer air. In the corridor on one side stood
three infantry soldiers, with fixed bayonets. On the other, facing them,
three others of the guard. Between them shuffled the Sioux, "Wing"
leading. One glance at the waiting blacksmiths was enough. With the
spring of a tiger, he hurled himself, head foremost and bending low,
straight at the open doorway, and split his way through the astonished
guards like center rush at foot ball, scattering them right and left;
then darted round the corner of the guard-house, agile as a cat.
And there was Kennedy confronting him! One furious lunge he made with
gleaming knife, then shot like an arrow, straight for the southward
bluff. It was bad judgment. He trusted to speed, to dim starlight, to
bad aim, perhaps; but the little Irishman dropped on one knee and the
first bullet tore through the muscles of a stalwart arm; the second,
better aimed, pierced the vitals. Then they were on him, men by the
dozen, in another instant, as he staggered and fell there, impotent and
They bore him to the cell again,--the hospital was too far,--and Waller
and his aides came speedily to do all that surgery could accomplish, but
he cursed them back. He raved at Ray, who entered, leading poor, sobbing
little Fawn Eyes, and demanded to be left alone with her. Waller went
out to minister to Kennedy, bleeding fast, and the others looked to Ray
for orders when the door was once more opened and Blake entered with
"By the general's order," said he, in brief explanation, and in an
instant she was on her knees beside the dying Sioux. There and thus they
left them. Waller said there was nothing to be done. The junior surgeon,
Tracy,--he whom she had so fascinated only those few weeks before,--bent
and whispered: "Call me if you need. I shall remain within hearing." But
there came no call. At taps the door was once more softly opened and
Tracy peered within. Fawn Eyes, rocking to and fro, was sobbing in an
abandonment of grief. Nanette, face downward, lay prone upon a stilled
and lifeless heart.
Flint and his escort duly went their way, and spread their story as they
camped at Laramie and "the Chug." The general tarried another week at
Frayne. There was still very much to keep him there; so, not until he
and "Black Bill" came down did we at other stations learn the facts. The
general, as usual, had little to say. The colonel talked for both.
A woful time, it seems, they had had with poor Nanette when at last it
became necessary to take her away from her dead brave. She raged and
raved at even her pleading aunt. Defiant of them all, from the general
down, and reckless of law or fact, she vowed it was all a conspiracy to
murder Moreau in cold blood. They gave him the knife, she declared,
although it later developed that she had tossed it through the open
window. They had given him the chance to escape--the sight of Kennedy,
"who had striven to kill him twice before," and then of the blacksmiths,
with their degrading shackles--all just to tempt him to make a dash for
freedom;--just as they had lured and murdered Crazy Horse--Crazy Horse,
his brave kinsman--not ten years before,--then had placed a dead shot on
the path to life and liberty--a man who killed him in cold blood, as
deliberately planned. These were her accusations, and that story took
strong hold in certain circles in the far East, where "love of truth"
inspired its widespread publication, but not its contradiction when the
facts became known. The same conditions obtain to-day in dealing with
affairs across the sea.
Nanette said many other things before her final breakdown; and Hay and
his sorrowing wife found their load of care far heaviest, for the strain
of Indian blood, now known to all, had steeled the soul of the girl
against the people at Fort Frayne, men and women both--against none so
vehemently as those who would have shown her sympathy--none so
malignantly as those who had suffered for her sake.
This was especially true of Field. In the mad hope of "getting justice,"
as she termed it, for the dead, she had demanded speech of the general,
and, in presence of "Black Bill" and the surgeon, he had given her a
hearing. It proved fatal to her cause, for in her fury at what she
termed "the triumph of his foes," she lost all sense of right or reason,
and declared that it was Field who had warned Stabber's band and sent
them fleeing to unite with Lame Wolf,--Field who took the trader's
horses and rode by night with Kennedy to warn them it was Webb's
intention to surround the village at dawn and make prisoners of the men.
It was Field, she said, who furnished the money Moreau needed to
establish his claim to a gold mine in the Black Hills, the ownership of
which would make them rich and repay Field a dozen times over. It was
Field who sought to protect her kindred among the Sioux in hopes, she
said it boldly, of winning her. But the general had heard enough. The
door was opened and Ray and Blake were ushered in. The former briefly
told of the finding of her note in Field's room the night the adjutant
was so mysteriously missing. The note itself was held forth by the
inspector general and she was asked if she cared to have it opened and
read aloud. Her answer was that Field was a coward, a dastard to betray
a woman who had trusted him.
"Oh, he didn't," said Blake, drily. "'Twas just the other way. He
couldn't be induced to open his head, so his friends took a hand. You
got word of the outbreak through your Indian followers. You wrote to
Field and sent the note by Pete, bidding him join you at that godless
hour, telling him that you would provide the horses and that you must
ride to Stabber's camp to see Moreau for the last time, as he was going
at once to the Black Hills. You made Field believe he was your half
brother, instead of what he was. You brought Moreau back to the post and
took something, I can't say what, down to him from Mr. Hay's,--he
waiting for you on the flats below the trader's corral. You should have
worn your moccasins, as well as a divided skirt, that night instead of
French-heeled bottines. The rest--others can tell."
The others were Kennedy and the recaptured, half recalcitrant Pete; the
latter turned state's evidence. Kennedy told how he had wandered down
into the flats after "the few dhrinks" that made him think scornful of
Sioux; of his encounter with Eagle Wing, his rescue by Field and a girl
who spoke Sioux like a native. He thought it was little Fawn Eyes when
he heard her speak, and until he heard this lady; then he understood. He
had been pledged to secrecy by the lieutenant, and never meant to tell a
soul, but when he heard the lie the lady told about the lieutenant, it
ended any promise.
Then Pete, an abject, whining wretch, was ushered in, and his story,
when dragged out by the roots, was worst of all. Poor Mrs. Hay! She had
to hear it, for they sent for her; somebody had to restrain Nanette.
Pete said he had known Nanette long time, ever since baby. So had
Crapaud. Yes, and they had known Eagle Wing, Moreau, always--knew his
father and mother. Knew Nanette's father and mother. But Black Bill
interposed. No need to go into these particulars, as substantiating Mrs.
Hay and himself, said he. "The lady knows perfectly well that I know all
about her girlhood," so Pete returned to modern history. Eagle Wing, it
seems, came riding often in from Stabber's camp to see Nanette by night,
and "he was in heap trouble, always heap trouble, always want money,"
and one night she told Pete he must come with her, must never tell of
it. She had money, she said, her own, in the trader's safe, but the door
was too heavy, she couldn't open it, even though she had the key. She
had opened the store by the back door, then came to him to help her with
the rest. He pulled the safe door open, he said, and then she hunted and
found two big letters, and took them to the house, and next night she
opened the store again, and he pulled open the safe, and she put back
the letters and sent him to Mr. Field's back door with note, and then
over to saddle Harney and Dan, and "bring 'em out back way from stable."
Then later she told him Captain Blake had Eagle Wing's buckskin pouch
and letters, and they must get them or somebody would hang Eagle Wing,
and she kept them going, "all time going," meeting messengers from the
Sioux camps, or carrying letters. She fixed everything for the Sioux to
come and capture Hay and the wagon;--fixed everything, even to nearly
murdering the sentry on Number Six. Pete and Spotted Horse, a young
brave of Stabber's band, had compassed that attempted rescue. She would
have had them kill the sentry, if need be, and the reason they didn't
get Wing away was that she couldn't wait until the sentries had called
off. They might even then have succeeded, only her pony broke away, and
she clung to Eagle Wing's until he--he had to hit her to make her let
The wild girl, in a fury declared it false from end to end. The poor
woman, weeping by her side, bowed her head and declared it doubtless
Her story,--Mrs. Hay's,--was saddest of all. Her own father died when
she was very, very young. He was a French Canadian trader and traveller
who had left them fairly well to do. Next to her Indian mother, Mrs. Hay
had loved no soul on earth as she had her pretty baby sister. The girls
grew up together. The younger, petted and spoiled, fell in love with a
handsome, reckless young French half breed, Jean La Fleur; against all
warnings, became his wife, and was soon bullied, beaten and deserted.
She lived but a little while, leaving to her more prosperous and
level-headed sister, now wedded to Mr. Hay, their baby daughter, also
named Nanette, and by her the worthy couple had done their very best.
Perhaps it would have been wiser had they sent the child away from all
association with the Sioux, but she had lived eight years on the Laramie
in daily contact with them, sharing the Indian sports and games, loving
their free life, and rebelling furiously when finally taken East. "She"
was the real reason why her aunt spent so many months of each succeeding
year away from her husband and the frontier. One of the girl's playmates
was a magnificent young savage, a son of Crow Killer, the famous chief.
The father was killed the day of Crazy Horse's fierce assault on the
starving force of General Crook at Slim Buttes in '76, and good, kind
missionary people speedily saw promise in the lad, put him at school and
strove to educate him. The rest they knew. Sometimes at eastern schools,
sometimes with Buffalo Bill, but generally out of money and into
mischief, Eagle Wing went from one year to another, and Nanette,
foolishly permitted to meet him again in the East, had become
infatuated. All that art and education, wealth, travel and luxury
combined could do, was done to wean her from her passionate adoration of
this superb young savage. There is no fiercer, more intense, devotion
than that the Sioux girl gives the warrior who wins her love. She
becomes his abject slave. She will labor, lie, steal, sin, suffer, die,
gladly die for him, if only she believes herself loved in turn, and
this did Nanette more than believe, and believing, slaved and studied
between his irregular appearances that she might wheedle more money from
her aunt to lavish on her brave. When discovered meeting him in secret
and by night, she was locked in her third story room and thought secure,
until the day revealed her gone by way of the lightning rod. They had to
resort to more stringent measures, but time and again she met him,
undetected until too late, and when at last her education was declared
complete, she had amazed her aunt by expressing willingness to go to
Frayne, when the good woman thought the objectionable kinsman abroad
with Buffalo Bill. Until too late, Mrs. Hay knew nothing of his having
been discharged and of his preceding them to the West. Then Nanette
begged her for more money, because he was in dreadful trouble;--had
stabbed a police officer at Omaha, whose people, so Moreau said, agreed
not to prosecute him if one thousand dollars could be paid at once.
Hay's patience had been exhausted. He had firmly refused to contribute
another cent to settle Moreau's scrapes, even though he was a distant
kinsman of his wife, and they both were fond of his little sister Fawn
Eyes. It had never occurred to Mrs. Hay that Nan could steal from or
plot against her benefactors, but that was before she dreamed that
Nanette had become the Indian's wife. After that, anything might happen.
"If she could do that for love of Moreau," said she, "there was
nothing she could not do."
And it would seem there was little short of deliberate murder she had
not done for her Sioux lover, who had rewarded her utter self-sacrifice
by a savage blow with a revolver butt. "Poor Nanette!" sobbed Mrs. Hay,
and "Poor Nanette!" said all Fort Frayne, their distrust of her buried
and forgotten as she lay, refusing herself to everyone; starving herself
in dull, desperate misery in her lonely room. Even grim old "Black
Bill," whom she had recognized at once,--Bill, who had been the first to
confirm Blake's suspicions as to her identity,--had pity and compassion
for her. "It's the way of the blood," said Blake. "She is
"'Bred out of that bloody strain
That haunted us in our familiar paths.'"
"She could do no different," said the general, "having fixed her love on
him. It's the strain of the Sioux. We call her conduct criminal:--they
call it sublime."
And one night, while decision in Nanette's case was still pending, and,
still self-secluded, she hid within the trader's home, refusing speech
with anyone but little Fawn Eyes, a sleighing party set out from Frayne
for a spin by moonlight along the frozen Platte. Wagon bodies had been
set on runners, and piled with hay. The young people from officers' row,
with the proper allowance of matrons and elders, were stowed therein,
and tucked in robes and furs, Esther Dade among them, gentle and
responsive as ever, yet still very silent. Field, in his deep mourning,
went nowhere. He seemed humiliated beyond words by his connection with
this most painful affair. Even the general failed to cheer and reassure
him. He blamed himself for everything and shrank even from his friends.
They saw the dim glow of the student lamp in his quarters, as they
jingled cheerily away. They were coming homeward, toward ten o'clock.
The moon was shining brilliantly along the bold heights of the southern
bank, and, insensibly, chat and laughter gradually ceased as they came
again in sight of the twinkling lights of Frayne, and glanced aloft at a
new-made scaffolding, standing black against the sky at the crest of
Fetterman Bluff. "Eagle Wing roosts high," said a thoughtless youngster.
"The general let them have their way to the last. What's that?" he
added, with sudden stop.
The sleigh had as suddenly been reined in. The driver, an Irish trooper,
crossed himself, for, on the hush of the breathless winter night, there
rose and fell--shrill, quavering, now high, now low, in mournful minor,
a weird, desolate, despairing chant, the voice of a heart-broken woman,
and one and all they knew at once it was Nanette, after the manner of
her mother's people, alone on the lofty height, alone in the wintry
wilderness, sobbing out her grief song to the sleeping winds, mourning
to the last her lost, her passionately loved brave.
Then, all on a sudden, it ceased. A black form started from under the
scaffolding to the edge of the bluff. Then again, weird, wild, uncanny,
a barbaric, almost savage strain burst from the lips of the girl.
"Mother of Heavin!" cried the driver. "Can no one shtop that awful keen.
It's her death song she's singin'!"
Two young officers sprang from the sleigh, but at the instant another
cry arose. Another form, this one of horse and rider, appeared at the
crest, silhouetted with the girl's against the stars. They saw the rider
leap from saddle, almost within arms' length of the singer; saw her
quickly turn, as though, for the first time, aware of an intruder. Then
the wailing song went out in sudden scream of mingled wrath, hatred and
despair, and, like the Sioux that she was at heart, the girl made one
mad rush to reach the point of bluff where was a sheer descent of over
eighty feet. A shriek of dread went up from the crowded sleigh; a cry of
rejoicing, as the intruder sprang and clasped her, preventing her
reaching the precipice. But almost instantly followed a moan of anguish,
for slipping at the crest, together, firmly linked, they came rolling,
sliding, shooting down the steep incline of the frozen bluff, and
brought up with stunning force among the ice blocks, logs and driftwood
at the base.
They bore them swiftly homeward,--Field senseless and sorely
shaken,--Nanette's fierce spirit slowly drifting away from the bruised
and broken tenement held there, so pityingly, in the arms of Esther
Dade. Before the Christmas fires were lighted in the snowbound, frontier
fort, they had laid all that was mortal of the brave, deluded girl in
the little cemetery of Fort Frayne, her solemn story closed, on earth,
Nearly two years later, with the old regiment still serving along the
storied Platte, they were talking of her one moonlit evening at the
flagstaff. The band, by this time a fixture at Frayne, had been playing
delightfully, and some of the girls and young gallants had been waltzing
on the Rays' veranda. A few new faces were there. Two faces, well known,
were missing,--those of Esther Dade and Beverly Field. The latter had
never been the same man since the tragic events that followed so closely
on the heels of the Lame Wolf campaign. Wounds had slowly healed.
Injuries, physical, were well nigh forgotten; but, mentally, he had been
long a sufferer. For months after the death of Nanette, even when
sufficiently restored to be on duty, he held shrinkingly aloof from post
society. Even Webb, Blake and Ray were powerless to pull him out of his
despond. He seemed to feel,--indeed he said so, that his brief
entanglement with that strange, fascinating girl had clouded his soldier
name for all time. To these stanch friends and advisers he frankly told
the whole story, and they, in turn, had told it to the general, to the
colonel commanding the regiment and to those whose opinions they most
valued; but Field could speak of it to none others. Frankly he admitted
that from the moment he met the girl he fell under the influence of a
powerful fascination. Within twenty-four hours of his return from the
Laramie trip they were riding together, and during that ride she asked
to be taken to Stabber's village, and there had talked long with that
magnificent young Sioux. Later, Field surprised her in tears, and then
she told him a pitiful tale. Eagle Wing had been educated, she said, by
her aunt and uncle,--was indeed their nephew and her own cousin. He had
been wild and had given them much trouble, and her aunt was in bitter
distress over his waywardness. It was to plead with him that she,
Nanette, had gone. "Moreau" had been taught mining and mineralogy, it
seems, and declared that he had "located" a most promising mine in the
Black Hills. He could buy off every claim if he had a thousand dollars,
and the mine might be worth millions. Hay pooh-poohed the story. Mrs.
Hay could not persuade him. Then "Moreau" became threatening. He would
join the hostiles, he swore, if his aunt would not help him. Indeed, and
here Field's young face burned with shame, Nanette told him that she
understood that he, Field, was an only son who might inherit wealth in
days to come, and could draw upon his father now for any reasonable sum;
and, within the week of his meeting her, he was on the point of offering
everything she needed, but that he disbelieved the Indian's story. Then,
one night, there came a note begging him to meet her at once. She had a
dreadful message, she said, from "Moreau." The fellow had frequently
been prowling about the trader's during the dark hours, and now she was
afraid of him, yet must see him, and see him at once, even if she had to
ride to Stabber's camp. Field's eyes were blinded and he went. Hay's
horses were ready beyond the corral, and she rode astride on one of
Hay's own saddles. They found "Moreau" awaiting them at the ford, and
there was a scene Field could not understand, for they spoke in the
Sioux language. That night it was that, all in tears at the Indian's
obduracy, she owned that he was her own brother, not merely a cousin,
and together they had all gone back toward Frayne. "Moreau" was to wait
on the flats until she could return to the house. She had been striving
to get him to make certain promises, she said, contingent on her giving
him something from her own means. Field said he remonstrated with her to
the utmost, but she told him no woman with Sioux blood in her veins ever
deserted a brother--or lover. And so she had returned with a packet,
presumably of money, and there they found the Indian clinched with
Kennedy. Kennedy was rescued in the nick of time, and pledged to
silence. The Indian rode away triumphant. Nanette climbed back to her
window, exhausted, apparently, by her exertions, and Field started for
his quarters, only to find the entire garrison astir. The rest they
Asked how she came to know of the money in the trader's safe, he said no
secret had been made of it by either Hay or him. She had asked him
laughingly about his quarrel with Wilkins, and seemed deeply interested
in all the details of subaltern life. Either Hay or he, fortunately,
could have made good the missing sum, even had most of it not been found
amongst Stabber's plunder. Field had never seen her again until the
night the general took him to confront her at the Hays', and, all too
late, had realized how completely she had lured and used him. In pride,
honor, self-respect, he had been sorely wounded, and, even when assured
that the general attached no blame to him, and that his name was no
longer involved, he would have resigned his commission and quit the
service had it not been for these soldiers three, Webb, Blake and Ray.
They made him see that, all the more because his father's death had left
him independent--sole master of quite a valuable property--he must stick
to the sword and live down the possible stain.
And stay he did, refusing even a chance to go abroad the following
spring, and devoting himself assiduously to his duties, although he
shrank from society. They made him sometimes spend a quiet evening at
Ray's or Blake's, where twice Miss Dade was found. But that young lady
was quick to see that her hostess had been scheming, as loving women
will. And then, when he went hoping to see her, yet half afraid, she
came no more. They could not coax her. The early spring had taken him
forth on long campaign. The ensuing fall had taken her to the far
distant East, for gallant old Dade was breaking down. The doctors sent
him on prolonged sick leave. Then was Fort Frayne indeed a desolate post
to Beverly Field, and when midwinter came, and with it the news that
Dade had but little while to live, he took counsel with Ray, and a
month's leave, not much of which was spent in the South. The old
regiment was represented at the sad and solemn little ceremony when the
devoted husband, father and fellow soldier was laid at rest.
Nor was Field a happier man when he rejoined from leave, and they all
thought they knew why. Letters came, black-bordered, with Esther's
superscription, sometimes, but only for Mrs. Blake or Mrs. Ray. There
was never one for Field. And so a second summer came and went and a
second September was ushered in, and in the flood of the full moonlight
there was again music and dancing at Fort Frayne, but not for Field, not
for Esther Dade. They were all talking of Nanette, Daughter of the
Dakotas, and Esther, Daughter of the Regiment, as they called her in her
father's Corps, and the mail came late from Laramie, and letters were
handed round as tattoo sounded, and Mrs. Blake, eagerly scanning a
black-bordered page, was seen suddenly to run in doors, her eyes
brimming over with tears.
Later that night Hogan tapped at Field's front door and asked would the
lieutenant step over to Mrs. Ray's a minute, and he went.
"Read that," said Mrs. Ray, pointing to a paragraph on the third page of
the black-bordered missive that had been too much for Mrs. Blake. And he
"Through it all Esther has been my sweetest comfort, but now I must
lose her, too. Our means are so straitened that she has made me
see the necessity. Hard as it is, I must yield to her for the help
that it may bring. She has been studying a year and is to join the
staff of trained nurses at St. Luke's the first of October."
For a moment there was silence in the little army parlor. Field's hands
were trembling, his face was filled with trouble. She knew he would
speak his heart to her at last, and speak he did:--
"All these months that she has been studying I've been begging and
pleading, Mrs. Ray. You know what I went for last winter,--all to no
purpose. I'm going again now, if I have to stay a patient at St. Luke's
to coax her out of it."
But not until Christmas came the welcome "wire:"
Patient discharged. Nurse finally accepts new engagement.
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