Ernest Thompson Seton.

The preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country online

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"What's that?"

"A horse. A real horse. A winner."

"What? Are you willing to sell Blazing Star?"

"No!" was the forceful answer. "Come and see."

And Kyle did see. His eye kindled as he watched the glorious creature in
the sun.

"By jinks! He's all right. He's better than Blazing Star."

"Not on your life!" said Jim, with sudden heat, "but he's what you are
after."

They walked casually up to the young rider. Kyle began:

"Say, young fellow, is that horse for sale?"

"Yo' the fo'th pah'ty to-day to ask that," was the softly cooed answer.
"No, he ain't fo' sale."

"Looks to me like a Kentucky blood," said Kyle. "Are you going to keep
him in this country or ride him back?"

"Wall, I'm h'yah to stay, and I guess he stays with me."

"What are you going to feed him on? You can't get timothy or beans or
oats out here. He couldn't keep up on prairie hay; and, if you did try
it, he'd get the loco weed."

This was a good shot and the rider had no ready answer, so Kyle
continued. "How old is he?"

"Fo' last spring and sound as a bell; hasn't a fault," was the reply.

"Why don't you swap him for something that can stand the country?" said
Kyle. Then, as the Southerner did not reply, Kyle continued: "I'll give
you two steady young saddle horses raised in the country and proof
against pinkeye and loco weed."

"If you add about a thousand dollars, I might consider it," was the
response.

That was the beginning of bargaining, and the end was that the
Kentuckian got two native saddle horses and two hundred and fifty
dollars cash. Cattleman Kyle got the beautiful Red Rover and Jim
Hartigan experienced just a twinge of jealousy as he saw the new
champion and heard his praises sung. Kyle's intention had been to keep
Red Rover and rejoice in the beauty and power of the new possession; but
the problem of how to win the next race made every other consideration
secondary.

It is well known that a skilful trainer can knock twenty-five seconds
off a horse's mile time; or even more, if he can be trained on clean
oats and timothy hay. There were oats, hay and skilful trainers in the
cavalry barracks at Fort Ryan. There were none of these things at Kyle's
ranch on the Big Cheyenne; hence, after much debate, Red Rover was
transferred, without profit or loss, to Captain Wayne and was
thenceforth the central figure and chiefest hope of the Fort Ryan
stables.

Naturally, one of the first things to be done was to get a gauge on Red
Rover's speed by a race with Blazing Star. It was only a race "for fun,"
and Jim gave his place to a lighter man; but he watched with an
eagerness not easily expressed in words, and his heart swelled with
joy - yes, into his very throat - when it was made clear, that, while Red
Rover was good, Blazing Star was better.

All these things were events of the first magnitude to the horseman's
world that centred at Fort Ryan. The love of horses is common to most
men, but it is dominant in the West, and rampant in the mounted soldier.
The general interest of officers and men grew into a very keen and
personal interest as the training went on, and touched fever heat when
it was definitely announced that on Treaty Day, September fifteenth,
there was to be a race for a purse of one hundred dollars, as a nominal
consideration, and betting to any extent on the side. Meanwhile, word
was sent to the Pine Ridge Agency that the whites were not discouraged
by their defeat in July, but would come again with their horse in the
Corn Feast time for a new race.

Then, one fine morning in early August, a long procession of Indians
appeared on the hills, singing their marching songs, trailing their
travois and tepee poles. They set up their camp not far from Fort Ryan;
and soon, Red Cloud, with a few who were near him, rode in to call on
Colonel Waller. The latter received them on the piazza of his quarters,
and, after a smoke, learned that they had come to accept the challenge
to race their horses. When and where should it be? It was arranged that
on the fifteenth of September they should meet at Fort Ryan, and that
the race should come off on the two-mile course at the Fort. After
smokes, compliments and the exchange of some presents, Red Cloud
withdrew to his camp.

The following day, as his trainer was putting Red Rover through his
paces around the course, there was a group of Indians on their horses at
the racetrack; silent, attentive, watching every move. At dawn, the day
after, the sentry reported that a band of mounted Indians were on the
racetrack. From his window the Colonel watched them through a telescope.
He saw them studying the ground; and then a naked youth, on a spirited
buckskin, galloped round. It was easy for the Colonel to note the time
by his stop-watch and thus have a rough idea of the pony's flat speed on
the two miles. He was not surprised one way or the other. The time was
considerably over four minutes, which merely proved it to be an
ordinarily good horse. But, of course, he knew nothing of the handling;
was this top speed? or was the driver holding the horse in? In ten
minutes the Indians were gone.

The next day, a party rode out from Cedar Mountain to see the Indian
camp; and, leading the light-hearted procession, were Belle Boyd on her
pony and the Preacher on Blazing Star. It was not easy to see Red Cloud.
He was much wrapped up in his dignity and declined to receive any one
under the rank of "Soldier High Chief" (Colonel). But they found much to
interest them in the Sioux camp, and at length, were rewarded by seeing
the war chief come forth, mount his horse, and ride, with others, toward
the Fort. Turning aside, at the racetrack, Belle and Jim saw Red Rover
come forth for his morning spin. The Red men drifted to the starting
point, and just as the racer went away an Indian boy on a buckskin
broncho dashed alongside and kept there round the track. Whether it was
a race or not no one could say, for each rider was jockeying, not
willing to win or lose, and it had the appearance of a prearranged dead
heat. One of the officers called out: "Say, boys, that's their same old
buckskin cayuse. What do you make of it?"

It was the white jockey who replied: "If that's their speeder, it's a
cinch. I could have run away at any time."

A senior officer spoke up: "I kept tabs on it, and it's just the same
time practically as the Colonel took on his stop watch yesterday. We've
got them this time."

What the Indians learned was not revealed. But, next morning, Red Cloud
called upon the Colonel. He smoked a long while before he made clear
what he was after. "Did the Colonel want a fair race, or not?"

"Why certainly a fair race."

"Then send to Red Cloud a load of the white man's grass that has a tail
like a rat; and give him also some of the long white seed, a pile as
high as a man's knees, so that the pony might eat and be strong, and
make good race."

The Colonel's eyes twinkled. "Ho, ho!" he thought, "the crafty old
villain has been learning something."

Now though the Colonel of a frontier post has ample power, it would have
been very unwise of him to sell any stores to the Indian; he might,
however, without risk of censure, have given him the asked-for supply,
had he deemed it advisable. But why should he help the enemy's horse? So
he shook his head and said he was "not allowed to sell government
stores." And Red Cloud turned away, with an expression of scorn.

The next day, a minor chief tried to buy some oats from the stable man;
but, being refused, went off in silence; and, two days later, the Indian
Camp was gone.

The news soon spread abroad that the famous buckskin cayuse had been up
to go over the track, and that Red Rover had played with him. "It was a
cinch," they could win any money they liked; and then the betting became
crazy. The Indians have no idea of anything but an even bet, but that
was good enough. The day of the race there were to be fifty thousand
government dollars distributed among them; and every white man, soldier
or civilian, who could raise a little cash, was putting it up on a
certainty of doubling.

The days and all they held were a terrible strain on Jim Hartigan. How
he itched to be in it! Not once, but many times, he rode to Fort Ryan to
see Red Rover training; and more than once he rode around the track to
pace the Rover. His face, his very soul, glowed as he watched the noble
animal, neck and neck with his own fair steed. "The only horse that ever
had made Blazing Star let out."

Then, near the end, in very pride - he could not help it - he put Blazing
Star to it and let them see that while Red Rover might be good, he was
only second best after all.

"It wasn't racing," he explained to Belle, "it was just speeding up a
little. Sure, I want the white man's horse to win over that Indian pony.
It would never do to have the broncho win."

There seemed no probability of that; but there was one group of
interested white men who were not quite so satisfied. Cattleman Kyle and
all the ranchers on the Cheyenne wanted a sure thing; and there was no
way to make sure, but by a trial race that was a real race. So they used
the old-time trick of the white man who wishes to get ahead of the
Indian: they hired another Indian to help them.

There had always been war and hatred between the Crows and the Sioux.
The war was over for the present; but the Crows were very ready to help
any one against their former enemies. Enlisted by the ranchers the Crow
spies reported that the Sioux were training their horse not ten miles
away in a secluded secret canyon of the Yellowbank, a tributary of the
Cheyenne River. And thither by night, with all possible secrecy, went
Kyle with a dozen more. Among them was Hartigan. Why? Partly because
they wanted him along, for his knowledge of horses and jockeys, and
chiefly because he himself was mad to go, when he heard of it. The whole
colour of the adventure, the mere fact of its being an adventure, were
overpowering to his untamed twenty-five-year-old spirit.

They hid their horses in a distant valley; then, in the early dawn, they
followed their dusky guide to a little butte, where they made themselves
as comfortable as possible to await the sunrise.

"Well," said Jim, "considering I'm freezing to death an' mortal hungry,
and sitting on a bunch of cactus, and playing pick-pocket with another
man's secrets and ashamed of myself, I'm having a divil of a fine time!"
And they chattered and their teeth chattered, till a dog barked far
below, and they heard the coyotes singing back their long soft call; and
in the growing light they discovered an Indian tepee, with smoke issuing
from the vent hole. Near by was a rude corral. The smoke increased - then
grew less; soon sparks flew out; the light in the sky grew brighter; the
music of the coyotes died away; and, in a little while, the glory of the
sun was over the world.

Now they saw an old woman go forth to the corral and, following her, a
youth. Unfastening the rude gate, they entered; and the boy presently
rode forth on a beautiful buckskin pony, well made and spirited. Yes,
the very same one they had seen on the race track at Fort Ryan. They saw
him ridden to water; then, after a short canter, back to the corral.
Here they watched the old woman rub and scrub him down from head to
foot, while the boy brought in a truss of very good-looking hay from
some hidden supply. The old woman went carefully over the bundle,
throwing away portions of it. "She throw away all bad medicine plants,"
said the Crow. After half an hour, another Indian came forth from the
lodge and brought a bag of something for the pony. They could not see
what it was, but the Crow Indian said it was "white man's corn, the
little sharp kind that makes a horse's legs move very fast."

"Bedad, there's no mistaking that," said Hartigan; "they're training on
oats; an' that hay is too green for prairie grass and not green enough
for alfalfa. I wonder if they haven't managed to get some timothy for
their 'hope of the race!'"

The first important fact was that the cattlemen had discovered the
training ground of the Indian racer; the second that the Red men were
neglecting nothing that could help them to win. Now to be a complete
story of a good scouting, these watchers should have stayed there all
day, to see what the Indian methods were; but that would have been a
slow job. They were too impatient to wait. It was clear, anyway, that
the redskins had adopted all they could learn from the whites, and that
the buckskin cayuse was no mean antagonist. The Crow scout assured them
that every morning, an hour or so after eating, the pony was raced up to
"that butte, round and back here. Then, by and by, sun low, go again."

So, fully informed, the white spies retired; sneaked back to their
horses and in less than two hours were at Fort Ryan.

"Well, Colonel, we sure saw the whole thing," said Hartigan. "They are
not taking any chances on it. 'Tisn't much of a stable - nary a shingle
overhead - but they're surely training that buckskin; and it's
hand-picked hay they give him and sandpapered oats, worth gold; and they
don't neglect his coat; and by the same token it's out for a race they
are."

And now Kyle unfolded his plan to the Colonel. It was nothing less than
this: to send a half-breed trader to the Indian training camp with a
supply of whiskey, play on the weakness of the Red man till man, woman
and boy, and others if there were any, were stupid drunk; then have Red
Rover brought secretly, and at dawn, take the buckskin out of the
corral, put a jockey on each, develop the best speed of both horses
around the Indian training track, and so get an absolute gauge to guide
the betting.

At first, the Colonel demurred. "Was it quite honourable?"

"Why not? Didn't they come and run their horse against ours in a trial,
right here on the garrison track, without asking our leave? We are not
going to hurt the pony in any way."

The temptation was too much for human nature. The Colonel finally
agreed; and all that was needed was the working out of details. Hartigan
was eager to be one of the jockeys. "Sure it wasn't a real race in the
sense that stakes were up." The Colonel shook his head. "If you were
about one hundred pounds lighter we'd be glad to have you, but one
hundred and eighty pounds is too much for any horse."

It was no easy matter to get the right weight. The cavalrymen were all
too heavy; but an odd character had turned up, the second son of an
English baronet, a dissipated youth, barely a hundred pounds in weight;
an agglomeration of most weak vices, but thin, tough, and a born and
trained horseman. He was selected for one, and Little Breeches, a cowboy
of diminutive proportions, for the other. All the material was now in
sight for the scheme.




CHAPTER XXV

The Secret of Yellowbank Canyon


Lou Chamreau was of French and Indian blood, chiefly Crow Indian. For
twenty years he had been trading out of Pierre, Dakota, among the
western tribes. He spoke French and Crow perfectly, he knew a little
Sioux, and he was quite proficient in the universal Sign Language. Lou
had lost money on the July horse-race, and was quite ready to play the
white man's game.

On a certain afternoon in the latter part of August the trader might
have been seen driving a very rickety wagon along the rough trail
through the Badlands twenty miles to the eastward of Fort Ryan. Much
hard luck had pursued him, if one might judge by the appearance of his
outfit and from his story. In his extremity his teamster had left him
and he was travelling alone. It was just as he reached the
boulder-strewn descent into Yellowbank Creek that the climax came. The
wagon upset and, falling some twenty feet, was lodged between the
cutbanks in very bad shape. The horses were saved though the giving way
of the harness; and having hobbled and turned them out to graze, Lou
mounted a butte to seek for sign of help.

The sun was low in the west now; and across the glowing sky he noted a
thread of smoke. Within a few minutes it had been his guide to an Indian
tepee - a solitary tepee in this lone and little-known canyon of the
Yellowbank - and entering, he recognized an old acquaintance. After
sitting and smoking, he told of his troubles and asked the Red man to
come and help get the wagon out of the gully.

The Indian made the signs: "Yes, at sunrise."

Chamreau smoked for a time, then said: "I'm afraid I'll lose the 'fire
water' in that keg. It may be leaking under the wagon." To which the
Sioux warrior said:

"Let us go now."

The keg was found intact, and to obviate all risk, was brought to the
Indian camp. Chamreau deferred opening it as long as he could, so that
it was midnight before the "Cowboy's delight" was handed round, and by
three or four in the morning the camp was sunken in a deadly stupor.

According to the plan, Chamreau was to take a brand from the lodge and,
in the black night outside, make a vivid zigzag in the air a few times,
when his plot was obviously a success. But he became so deeply
interested in giving realism to his own share of the spree that he
forgot about everything else, and the rest of the scheme was omitted, so
far as he was concerned.

But with the dim dawn there arrived in camp a couple of horsemen, one an
Indian. The camp was dead. With the exception of a dog at the doorway
and a horse in the corral, there was none to note their arrival. The dog
growled, barked and sneaked aside. The Crow Indian hurled a stone with
such accuracy that the dog accepted the arrivals as lawful, and sat
down, afar off, to think it over.

The inmates of the lodge; man, woman, boy and Chamreau, were insensible
and would evidently remain so for many hours. The Crow Indian and Kyle
took brands from the fire and made vivid lightnings in the air. Within
ten minutes, a group of horsemen came trampling down the slope and up
the pleasant valley of the Yellowbank.

It was not without some twinges of conscience that Hartigan peeped into
the lodge to see the utterly degrading stupefaction of the poison, but
he was alone in feeling anything like regret. The rest of the party were
given over to wild hilarity. At once, they made for the corral. Yes,
there he was, really a fine animal, the buckskin cayuse that had proved
so important. And there, carefully protected, was a lot of baled timothy
hay and fine oats, brought there at great cost. It is not often that a
lot of jockeys and horsemen are so careful of the enemy's mount. They
handled that buckskin as if he had been made of glass, they watered him,
they groomed him, they gave him a light feed and walked him gently up
and down. Then, as the sun rose, he was taken for a short canter.

"He's pretty good," said the jockey as they came in, "but nothing
wonderful that I can see."

Meanwhile, Red Rover was also watered, fed, rubbed down, limbered up,
and after every loving, horse-wise care was spent on both animals, the
jockeys were given their mounts and headed for the starting point on the
two-mile course.

First they ambled easily around the track to study the ground. They
started together and ran neck and neck for a quarter of a mile, then
pulled rein, as this was a mere warm-up. Then they returned to the
starting post, and the cowboy jockey on the buckskin said: "Well, boys,
he's a good bronk, but I don't seem to feel any blood in him."

At the signal, they went off together, and behind them Captain Wayne,
the Preacher, and a dozen more white men who were interested. These
onlookers dropped behind as the racers went at high speed, but the view
was clear, even when afar. The tall sorrel horse was a little ahead, but
the buckskin displayed surprising power and speed. At the turning point
he was very little behind. And now, on the home run, was to be the real
trial. Would the bottom of the prairie pony overmatch the legs of the
blooded horse?

The spectators were assembled at the place half way down, to meet them
coming back, and follow close behind. It grew very exciting as both
horses developed their best speed, and as they came to the winning post,
it was clear to all that the buckskin had no chance in a fair race with
Red Rover. It was incidentally clear to Hartigan, and those near by,
that Red Rover had no chance against Blazing Star, even though the
latter bore a heavy load; but that was not the point of general
interest.

The serious business happily done, they tenderly groomed the buckskin
and returned him to the corral, gave him a good supply of hay and said
good-bye to the drunken Indians, the two-faced Chamreau, and the
glorious Yellowbank, with its lonely lodge, its strange corral and its
growlsome Indian dog.




CHAPTER XXVI

Preparing For the Day


They were a merry lot that galloped back to Fort Ryan that morning, and
a still merrier crowd that gathered at Cedar Mountain, when it was
whispered about that in a fair and square try-out the buckskin cayuse
was badly beaten by Red Rover. The white men had a dead sure thing. "Now
is the time, boys, most anything you like, raise money anyhow, you can't
go wrong on this. We've got the wily Red men skinned. Now we'll get our
money back and more." "Of course it's fair, anything's fair to get ahead
on a horse race." And as the tale was whispered round, it grew until it
would seem that Red Rover had cantered in, while the buckskin strained
himself to keep within a couple of hundred yards of the racer.

So the gossip went and one serious thing resulted: the training
slackened. Why bother when the horse was going to have a walk-over? The
Colonel was too much engrossed with other matters to do more than give
good advice. The trainer's laxity pervaded those about him, and Red
Rover was let down with all the rest. When they ran out of baled timothy
the shortage was not revealed till it occurred. This meant a week's
delay. The trainer, going to Cedar Mountain on a celebration, left an
underling in charge who knew no better than to stuff the horse with
alfalfa for a change, and a slight cold was the result. What the Colonel
said when he heard of it was not couched in departmental phraseology.

Gambling has always been a racial sin of the Indian. He did not drink or
horse-race or torture pioneers till the white man taught him; but gamble
he always did. And under the stimulus of great excitement and new stakes
the habit became a craze. Within a few days, Red Cloud appeared at the
Fort with a great retinue, a whole village complete when they camped,
and announced that he and his people had some fifty thousand dollars in
sight to stake on the race; which, of course, was to be a scratch race
for both. The soldiers, being very human, raised all they could - and
much that they couldn't, really - to cover this handsome sum. Red Cloud
then returned to his camp.

The next day he was back to say that, in case the whites had no more
money to bet, the Indians were willing to bet horses and saddles, goods,
etc., and thereupon a new craze possessed them. A government plough was
wagered against a settler's looking-glass, a hen and her chickens
against a buffalo robe, and many another odd combination. The Indians
seemed to go wild on the issue. At last the U. S. Indian Agent came to
the Colonel to protest.

"Colonel, I can manage these people all right if they are let alone, but
this horse race and the betting are upsetting everything. I suppose you
have a dead sure thing or you wouldn't be so reckless, but you are
making awful trouble for every one else, and I wish you'd put on the
brakes."

The Colonel either could not, or would not; for the excitement grew as
the day came near. As a last effort the Indian agent, one of the few who
were conscientiously doing their best for the Indians, went to Red Cloud
to protest and warn him that the whites were laying a trap for him and
his people and would clean them out of everything.

Red Cloud's eyes twinkled as he said: "Yes, they always do."

"I mean on the horse race; they will skin you; don't you know they've
had your horse out in a trial race with theirs, and that it's no race at
all?"

Again the Chief's eyes lighted up. He gave a little grunt and said.
"Mebbe so."

Hartigan suffered all the agonies of crucified instincts in this
excitement. He longed to be in everything, to bet and forecast and play
the game with them all. What would he not have given to be the selected
jockey, to smell the hot saddle every day, to hear the sweet squeak of
the leather or feel the mighty shoulder play of the noble racing beast
beneath him. But such things were not for him. He was shut in, as never


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Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 11 of 24)