Now Dang It Ride!





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!"





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