Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

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round on the official scale, as the mail matter, registered and special,
poured in. Letters postmarked "Deadwood" came by the score; others from
Minneapolis and St. Paul were abundant; while, of course, there was the
usual grist from Custer City, Bismarck, Pierre, Sidney, Cheyenne, and
Denver. John and Hannah Higginbotham could not, owing to John's position
as Church deacon, take an active part in the gambling; but they invented
a scheme of insurance on a 50 per cent. premium basis which was within
the Church law, though, when translated into terms of the track, it was
merely a two-to-one bet on the field.

The autumn race had played havoc with so many savings funds and so much
actual cash in business that a great number of those badly hit had vowed
that they would never again go in; and they clung to their new resolve
through May and most of June. But, as the training went on and the talk
went around, and other men went in - all the wise ones, horse-wise,
talk-wise, and otherwise - the subtle fascination grew and, a month
before the race, the same old madness glamoured every mind; the same old
guiding star - so often proved a spook-fire, but this time surely a
star - was leading, hypnotizing, shining just ahead. The racing men once
obsessed, the world of half-way interest followed even faster, till near
the end of June, except for a few immune from principle or poverty, the
whole community of South and West Dakota had but one talk - the race, and
what they risked or hoped to make on it.

One must remember that the West has always been the land of boom. It is
filled with the energetic and enterprising who, by a natural process,
are selected from the peoples of the East; and the stuff such booms feed
on, grow on, and grow mighty on as they feed, is Hope. Every Westerner
knows that the land is full of possibility, opportunity - free, equal
opportunity multiplied; and he hopes that his name will be the next one
called by fortune. To respond to the call at whatever cost - to be ready
to respond - that is the condition of life worth while. A dozen bad
defeats are passing trifles if the glad call only comes and one fail not
to rise to it. So it is ever easy in a land of such undaunted souls to
start a boom. Hope never dies in the West.

Reader, I have ridden the Plains and seen many a settler living with his
family in one small, dirty room, constructed out of sods with a black
dirt roof, and dirt and dust on everything, on every side. I have seen
them with little food, pinched and sick and struggling with poverty and
famine. I have seen them in every dreadful circumstance of want and
wasting pain that could be named in the sum of horrors of the vilest
Eastern slum: and yet they made no bid for sympathy or help, or for a
moment lost their pride; for one great fundamental difference there was
between them and the slummers of the East: the prairie pioneer is
_filled with hope_! Hope gleams in his eye; he lives in a land of hope;
he was lured to the West by the blazing star of bright new Hope; just on
a little way it shines for him; and every sod upturned and every
posthole sunk, or seed put in, is turned or sunk or sown in the light of
strong, unfading hope. Just a little while, a few short months, maybe,
and he believes, he _knows_ his name will be the next one called.

O land of hope, land of the shining four-rayed star, long, long may you
remain the world's great vale of youth, where none grow old at heart or
pray for death, for none can ever wholly lose their glimpse of that
beckoning hope. The fountain of eternal youth springs up and gushes
'neath no other light.

O star of Hope! O blessed Lodestar of the soul! Long, long, yes, ages
long may you be there, swung in the sky for all the world to see and
know that while they live and _will_, there gleams a God-lit beacon in
the West, the light of the land of hope.




CHAPTER XXXVIII

When the Craze Struck


"Brethren and sisters," said Dr. Jebb, in the Wednesday meeting
established for general discussion, "I consider it my duty to speak
openly and officially in condemnation of this outbreak of the fearful,
soul-destroying vice of gambling that is sweeping over the land, over
the country, over the town, I might almost say over this congregation.
Never, in all my experience, has this inclination run so riotously
insane. Not men of the world merely, but members of the Church; and the
women and little children who can barely lisp the shameful word, are
betting on the race."

The reverend doctor had much more to say in fierce denunciation, but
Hartigan, while regretting the sinfulness of the habit, pointed out that
this was a land of few pleasures and a land of horses; and if, as was
natural, they sought to get their pleasure out of their horses, then
surely Dr. Jebb would not consign them all to hell for it, but take a
view more in line with the Christian charity of the Church.

Deacon Higginbotham rose to expound his theory of risk. Every man who
took a risk of profit or loss was gambling; and everybody did it, so all
were gambling, every one. "Now, see, we have a fire insurance risk on
the this church, which means the church is gambling against Providence.
So, clearly, the gambling itself is not a sin, it is the accessories of
gambling that make for evil. For example, if we gamble with cards,
sitting up all night in a stuffy room, drinking bad drinks, smoking bad
smokes, speaking bad words, neglecting our business, neglecting our
morals, hurting our health - then these things are bad. But, if we gamble
out in the sunlight, on a beautiful prairie, on beautiful horses - now
please don't mistake me; I'm not betting on the race - - "

Here Hannah pulled his coat tail and he sat down. The fact of the matter
was, he had issued a number of insurance policies on the race, and was
quite ready to issue any number more.

It was well known that Dr. Jebb had invested his little savings in
Deadwood town plots; and when Dr. Carson rose and asked if any one
present had ever risked money on a probable rise in town plots - gambled,
in fact, on the chances of a boom - Dr. Jebb turned scarlet and Dr.
Carson laughed outright. Whereupon the Rev. James Hartigan whispered to
the Rev. Dr. Jebb, who nodded; and the Reverend James, standing up,
said: "Let us close the meeting with prayer."

If the Church - with all its immunities, safeguards, antitoxins,
influences, warnings, prophylactics, creeds, vows, exposures,
denunciations, traditions, and holy leaders - should become infected with
aggressive interest in the speed contest to the extent of outward and
visible material risk, what was likely to be the condition of the
ungodly? It is said that the real estate boom of Minneapolis and the
gold craze of Deadwood were psychological trivialities compared with the
sudden great boom in betting that set in during the last week of June at
the Black Hills; and the only reason why the wagering cataclysm was less
disastrous than it threatened to be was because it ended quickly.

Fifty thousand dollars of treaty money was in the hands of Red Cloud and
his people; fifty thousand more went to the Cheyennes under Howling
Bull. The ranchmen were ready with an equal sum, and Fort Ryan was not
far behind. By noon the fifty thousand dollars had been distributed to
the Indians; by one o'clock every cent of it was put up on the race in
equal bets. Who was to be stake holder? How much was each stake to be
held or awarded? These were problems of some intricacy in view of the
fact that the Indians could not read a word or trust any white man
except the Indian Agent and Father Cyprian, the Jesuit missionary, both
of whom declined to have any hand or part in the matter.

The plan devised by Red Cloud and accepted by the whites was as follows:
every pair of stakes was tied together and marked with two names, the
white man's and the Indian's - the latter's mark or totem being used.
They then were piled up in a lone tepee, half way between the Fort and
the Indian camp, and the tepee put under guard of an Indian and a white
soldier. The understanding was that as soon as the race was over the
winners should take possession of the lodge and distribute the contents
among themselves, as indicated by the marks.

There was nearly one hundred thousand dollars in cash piled up in that
Indian lodge in twin bunches. Of course, it was easy to arrange the
money that way, and possible to make bundles of robes, bridles,
beadwork, buckskin, pemmican, and weapons. It was even practical to pair
off ploughs and bureaux; but the difficulties became huge and complex
when horse was wagered against horse, or cow against cow, and even more
so when cow was put up against horse; for, obviously, they could not be
laid away in pairs, pending the decision; so that an elaborate sort of
tally stick was instituted with some success, but even so a number of
disputes ensued.

There was not a trooper who did not wager all the cash he had or could
by any means get. There was not an officer who was not dragged in by the
growing power of the craze. And daily, parties of Indians came to the
Fort to put up cash, or peer around to get a glimpse of the horses. The
whites made no attempt this time to spy on the Indians - their last
experience had not been very encouraging. Anyway, why should they? They
had all the cards in their hands. The shoeing of the Buckskin, the known
importation of oats and timothy, the absence of reliable proof that the
Indians had any other horse, were conclusive on that side; and on their
own, the Rover could beat the Buckskin, even as Blazing Star could beat
Rover; so, allowing for an accident, they had two winning horses to
choose from.

John Higginbotham, who represented the bankers of the little wooden Bank
of Cedar Mountain, had to send to Deadwood for a fresh supply of
mortgage blanks, an assistant inspector of risks, and all the cash they
could spare for the present need. Colonel Waller began to take alarm.
The men were mortgaging their pay for months ahead, although many were
still in debt from the autumn before. One young officer whose pay was
pledged for a year in advance did not hesitate to pledge for the
following year, so sure was he.

As early as the middle of June, the long lines of mounted men with
prairie schooners were seen crawling over the plain to northward and
eastward, while down the mountain roads came Indian bands in
ever-growing numbers. The authorities might well have taken alarm but
for the fact that the gathering was to be at Fort Ryan where there were
ample troops to deal with any possible situation. Then over the hills
from the south came Red Cloud with all his clan, and many more besides.
Mounted men in hundreds, with travois and different kinds of carts,
carrying tepees, provisions, household goods, and with them - straggling
off or driven by the mounted boys - were herds of prairie ponies, in
scores or even hundreds, the Red men's real wealth, brought now to
stake, they fondly hoped, against the horses of the regiment at Fort
Ryan. On the old camp ground by the river below the Fort, the Indians
pitched their village, and every day came others of their race to set up
lodges, and add to the lively scene. On the other side was a growing
canvas town of whites with every kind of sharper and blackleg that the
surrounding settlements could contribute from their abundant shady
population.

Prominent among the visitors at Fort Ryan was the Indian Commissioner,
with the local agent as his assistant. He opened a temporary office in
the barracks, and the morning of his arrival many a lively scene took
place as gorgeously dressed bucks, with wives and interpreter, gathered
there to receive their treaty money. Although the Colonel was careful to
exclude all liquor dealers and known sharpers from the Fort during the
issue of the cash, he could not exclude them from the Dakota prairie,
and they were hanging about everywhere with their unholy wares and
methods. Firewater was, of course, the most dangerous snare; but a great
deal of trick robbery was carried on with gaudy knick-knacks for which
unbelievable prices were asked and got. The Indians might have parted
with all their cash on that morning but for the need they felt of having
it to cover their bets on the race.

Red Cloud and his counsellors had been many times to Colonel Waller's
house. They had come with money bets, they had come with promises, and
now they came with horses, eager to bet horse against horse for the
mounts of all the regiment. The Indian chief did not understand the
Colonel's refusal until he was told that a mythical Great High Chief
named Unca-Sam was the owner of the cavalry mounts - that though Unca-Sam
was over a hundred years old, he was a young man yet and knew all that
was done in the West. Then it slowly dawned on Red Cloud that these men
were riding horses that did not belong to them; he despised them for it,
but his Indian honesty made him see how impossible it was to bet the
horses that they did not own. However, he managed to stake a throng of
ponies against the cattle of the ranchers, and thus the wealth of one
side was staked against that of the other.

Next morning saw many wagons come to the Fort, with squaws beside their
Indian drivers. They stopped at the Colonel's house, the covers were
removed, and great piles of beadwork, coats, leggings, moccasins,
baskets, war-clubs, and other characteristic things of Indian work were
revealed. It was made clear that these were offered as stakes; would the
whites match up the goods? In a spirit of fun, at first, the women of
the Fort, as well as the men, began offering household goods or personal
gear; a frying pan against a baby-bag, a pair of corsets against a
medicine flute, a bureau against a war bonnet. Then, bitten by the
craze, they kept on till everything was matched and all the goods tied
up in bundles, according to the established custom, to lie in the big,
special tepee under guard.

Another band of Red men followed with some tepees that they offered
against government tents and, on being refused, finally wagered them
against provender and hay. Each day there were new offers as groups of
Indians came to the Fort, so that as soon as an Indian outfit on wheels
came slowly up, it was quite understood that it was bringing new
material to put up on the race. It was toward the end of the time that
Red Cloud and his retinue came again, riding in much solemnity. Ignoring
all others, he went to Colonel Waller's house and, in his usual
deliberate way, after smoking, he began:

"Maybe so, you bet big?"

"Yes, indeed," was Waller's answer.

"Good. We bet all Dakota. You bet United States. Maybe so - yes?"

"No, no," laughed the Colonel.

"You win, we go away out west. We win, you all go back east. Maybe
so - yes?"

"No," said the Colonel. "I am only a little chief. The Great High Chief,
Unca-Sam, would not allow it."

Red Cloud smoked a while, then resumed:

"Heap afraid, maybe so?" Then, after a pause, "We bet Pine Ridge, you
bet Fort Ryan - yes?"

Again the Colonel had to protest that only the Great Father Unca-Sam
could deal in such matters; and Red Cloud grunted, "Heap scared," made a
gesture of impatience, and rode away.




CHAPTER XXXIX

Jim's Bet


Jim Hartigan had as little interest in money as any Indian. All the
things he loved and the pleasures he sought were the things that money
could not buy. He wanted to ride and race, be alive, to love and be
loved, to get the noblest animal joys, and soar a little - just a
little - in the realm of higher things. Money as a power had not been
listed in his mind, till a chance remark from Belle gave a wholly
different trend to his thoughts.

"Jim, if I had about a thousand dollars, I think I'd be tempted to risk
it. I'd go to Deadwood and start a produce commission business there."

That was all she said, and it was spoken lightly, but her words sank
deep in Hartigan's mind.

"A thousand dollars might, after all, spell heaven"; and he pondered it
long and hard. As mere business, it would not have held his thought an
hour; but as a way to bring the happy time more near, it filled his mind
for days, but he told her nothing of it. It was in the blacksmith shop
that the next step was suggested. John Higginbotham had the floor; as he
entered, Jim heard him say to some one in the crowd:

"I'm no betting man. As a deacon of the Church, I cannot countenance
betting. As an insurance agent, however, I am quite ready, in all
fairness, to negotiate your risk. You simply take out a policy on
the - ah - event, reflecting your judgment of the probabilities You pay
your premium - 100 per cent, or whatever it is - and I, as your agent,
place this risk with some established company, or responsible person
sufficiently furnished with capital, to assume the liability. Then, as
in the case of fire, or marine, or other insurance, the event decides
the issue, and the insured draws his insurance in accordance with the
terms, less the modest 5 per cent, that I receive for my perfectly
legitimate trouble and expense."

Jim had never seen it in that light before; he rather liked the idea.
After all, he was heart and soul in the race His joy in Blazing Star was
hardly less than it had been; and why not manifest it in a way which
held in it the possibilities of the wealth he needed? Why not take out
an insurance policy on Blazing Star's winning? He thought of it more and
more, and a few days later when he was depressed for once, Belle out of
town, and the gloomy prospect of college before him, he drew his
precious five hundred dollars from the bank and took it to John
Higginbotham to deposit as his premium on insurance that the white men's
horse would win the race. He had a feeling that Belle would not approve.
But he did not tell her about it, for he wanted to surprise her when he
should walk proudly up and put in her hand the one thousand dollars that
would surely be his. He felt sure, but not happy; his judgment said "go
ahead"; his instincts called a halt; but he went ahead.

Next day he went to Higginbotham. Hannah was there and a look from the
deacon kept the Preacher quiet on the matter. When a chance came, the
former said: "'Tain't so easy now, Jim. Every one knows the white men's
horse is going to win, and there are no more even takers. I'm afraid the
best I can do is offer you a two hundred and fifty dollar insurance with
a five hundred dollar premium down, and your premium back, of course, if
you collect the insurance, less my regular commission."

"All right," said Jim, a little disappointed "let it go at that," and
away he went.

Hannah did not usually take a daily part in the office unless John was
away; but something about Hartigan's visit prompted her to look more
keenly through the books. It was her first knowledge of the new kind of
"insurance" and she and John talked it out.

"All the companies are doing it now. It's no risk for us. We'll get over
two thousand dollars in commissions anyhow." But Hannah was not content.
She went over every item and presently she came on Hartigan's five
hundred, offered two to one.

"Humph!" she said, "does Belle know about this insurance business?"

"I don't know," said John uneasily.

"She ought to know."

"If she makes him withdraw, we lose our 5 per cent.," said John, knowing
quite well that that would hit Hannah very hard.

"I don't care," said Hannah, "I'm going to tell her."

It gave Belle a decided shock. It also explained to her Jim's peculiar
behaviour during the last two days. Here was where his horse mania was
leading him. She was not deceived by the glib terms of "insurance," nor
as to the certainty of scandal, but she did not know what to do. Her
first impulse was to go direct to him; and yet, that would put her in
the position of a spy with a charge of treachery. No, that would be
stupid. It was such an assumption of mastery, and such an exposure of
Hannah's business impropriety as well that she hesitated; then, in a
flash, she said:

"Hannah, I have two hundred and fifty dollars of my chicken money in the
bank; I was saving it for something very different. I'll take that
'insurance.' But not a word at present of who it was that took it. If
you must give a name, say his insurance was taken up by 'Two Strikes.'"
And in her heart she thought: "It is not my road; it is not a good road;
but it is his road, and I'll take it till I bring him back."




CHAPTER XL

The Crow Band


Even far Montana heard the news, and, winding through the hills, there
came one day a band of Crows from their reservation on the Big Horn.
They came with only their light travelling tepees; and the intense
dislike in which they are held by the Sioux and Cheyennes was shown in
the fact that they camped far away in a group by themselves.

The Crows are noted for their beautiful lodges and their inveterate
habit of horse stealing. They also have this unique fact on their
record - that they have never been at war with the whites. They will
steal a white man's horses fast enough, but they have never tried to
take a white scalp. Their party consisted chiefly of men and a few
surplus horses. But for the lodges and a few women, it might have passed
for a war party.

The Crows are among the numerous claimants of the title "best horsemen
in the world." If reckless riding in dangerous places without being
thrown is good ground for the claim, then is the claim good; and it
becomes yet stronger in view of the fact that most of their riding is
barebacked. When they came to the Fort that day it was as though they
were riding for their lives. They were but a score and were admitted
without question. They paid their respects to Colonel Waller and then,
after smoking, announced that they had money and goods to bet on the
race. They were disappointed to find how much too late they were;
everything was already up. So they rode away.

They did not go near the Sioux and Cheyenne camp; not that there was
much danger of their suffering bodily harm, but they had been
unmistakably informed that they were not welcome, though the action went
no further than ignoring them. Next morning, when Blazing Star and Red
Rover were doing their turn, there were no keener onlookers than the
Crows. By look and grunted word they showed their appreciation of the
noble brutes.

The Chief came to the Fort to find out if the Colonel would sell Blazing
Star after the race.

"We give twenty horses," and he held up both hands twice.

"No."

"Three hands ponies," and they held up both hands spread three times.

"No, he is not for sale."

Late that day Red Cloud and Howling Bull came to Colonel Waller and,
after preliminaries, conveyed the information and warning: "All Crows
heap big thief. You watch him; he steal horse every time, heap no good."

The third of July came, and the plain looked like a city of tents. Many
traders were there to open temporary stores; and it is doubtful if any
single race in the Western world has attracted more people or created
intenser interest. The Cheyennes gave a great dance in honour of the
Sun. They invited all the Sioux to come, and the whites invited
themselves. Belle and Jim were there and saw much to please and much to
disgust them. The general impression was one of barbaric splendour,
weird chanting, noisy tom-toms, and hypnotic pulsation. It was mostly
repellent, but sometimes the rhythm stirred them, and provoked a
response which showed that the wild musicians were playing on instincts
and impulses that are as wide as humanity.

Most horsemen like to keep their training ground in some sort private;
but the garrison had given up all attempts at that, so far as Blazing
Star and Red Rover were concerned. Every one knew, every one was
interested, and each day there was an eager crowd waiting to feast their
eyes on the two splendid racers. And they were well worth it. Even Jim
had to acknowledge that Blazing Star was looking better now than ever
before.

"Look at that neck, Belle, see how it arches, see the clean limbs; isn't
he trained to perfection? If I only - if - - " then he stopped himself.

As he fondly watched the horse with glowing eyes, he said: "Of course,
we don't know anything at all about where or how he was bred, but I
should say that that is a blood Kentucky, nearly pure - Kentucky gold
dust."

Among the spectators were the two Indian Chiefs in their warpaint - Red
Cloud of the Sioux, and Howling Bull of the Cheyennes. They spoke little
to each other, for neither knew the other's tongue; but they made little
gestures of the sign language, and any keen observer knowing it could


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Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 15 of 24)