Ernest Thompson Seton.

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

. (page 16 of 24)
Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 16 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

catch the ideo-signs: "Good, good; by and by; we see good race; brave,
swift," and so on. Later: "Yes, after one sleep. Rain heap, yes."

Jim watched them closely. "See that, Belle? he says: 'To-morrow it rain
heap,' I wonder how he knows. They call the Fourth of July the Big Wet
Sunday, because it usually rains then. I wonder how it will affect the

"Jim, you said they had shod the buckskin cayuse in expectation of a wet

"Yes; that's a mystery; how can they tell? The air is full of rumours,
anyway. Chamreau says that Red Cloud has been seeking everywhere for
fast horses. He had a man go as far as Omaha and another to Denver. Some
say he did pick up a racer, a half-blooded Kentucky - some that he had
got a wonderful pinto cayuse from Cheyenne; this latter is the more
persistent rumour, though Chamreau says he can't find any one who has
actually seen one or the other. Anyhow, no one knows what their entry
will be. We have a pretty good idea of ours"; and Hartigan smiled

The two chiefs, with their followers, conversed earnestly, and with much
gesture. They looked and pointed at the Crow camp and the rain sign came
in many times, and emphatically. The old feud between the Sioux and the
Crows had broken out afresh in a trader's store. Two young men from the
opposing camps had quarrelled. They had drawn their knives, and each had
been wounded. These things were common talk, and Belle and Jim watched
the two chiefs ride toward the Crow camp with an eager curiosity to know
more about it. When the Red men were a mile away and within half a mile
of the Crow village, they followed at a good pace and reached the tepees
in the secluded corner in time to see the two visiting chiefs making an
address mainly by signs, as they sat on their horses. Chamreau was
there, and in answer to Jim's question translated Red Cloud's address to
the Crows thus:

"You make bad medicine so we lose race, we kill you." Then, indicating
Howling Bull, "He say, 'you make bad medicine, bring rain, I kill you.'"

Having delivered their ultimatum, the visiting chiefs turned haughtily
and rode to their own camp.

"I don't know just what they really did say," said Hartigan, "but if I'm
any judge of looks, there'll be trouble here if those Crows don't get

* * * * *

It was four o'clock in the morning of the Fourth of July when the
thunderbolt struck Fort Ryan. It was not very loud; it damaged no
building; but it struck the very souls of men. A thousand thunder claps,
a year's tornadoes in an hour, could not have been more staggering; and
yet it was only four words of one poor, wheezing Irish hostler at the
Colonel's window:

"Colonel! Colonel! For the love of God - come - come - come at
once - _Blazing Star is gone!_"

"_What?_" and the Colonel sprang up.

The reveille had sounded, the men were just rising; but one group there
was already about the stable talking with an air of intense excitement.
The Colonel went without waiting to dress - the officer of the day with
him. In terrible silence they hurried to the stable; there was Rover in
his box, whinnying softly for his morning oats; but the next - the box of
Blazing Star - was empty; and the far end, the outer wall, showed a great
new doorway cut. Beyond, out in the growing light, troopers rode to
every near-by lookout; but never a sign of horse did they see, or,
indeed, expect to see. The case was very clear; the horse was stolen,
gone clean away - their hope for the race was gone.

These were terrible moments for the hapless grooms and guards. Human
nature, in dire defeat, always demands a victim; and the grooms were
glad to be locked up in the guard house, where at least they were out of
the storm of the Colonel's wrath. As the light grew brighter a careful
study laid bare the plan of robbery. The stables formed, in part, the
outer wall of the quadrangle. They were roofed with pine boards, covered
with tar-paper on cedar corner posts; the walls, however, were of sods
piled squarely on each other in a well-known Western style, making a
good warm stable. It was a simple matter to take down quickly and
silently this outer wall from the outside, beginning at the top, and so
make another exit. This had been done in the dead of night. And the
track of the racer told the tale like a printed page.

A general alarm had gone forth; all the Fort was astir; and the army
scouts were by the case forced into unusual prominence. It was Al Rennie
spoke first:

"Colonel, it's a-going to rain, sure; it's liable to rain heavy. I
suggest we take that trail right away and follow before it's all washed

"The quicker the better," said the Colonel.

Riding ahead on the trail like a hound went the old trapper-hunter-scout
with a band of troopers following. They had not gone a quarter of a mile
before the rain began to spit. But the line of the trail was clear and
it was easy for the practised eye to follow. It headed east for half a
mile, then, on a hard open stretch of gravel, it turned and went direct
for the Crow camp. Rennie could follow at a gallop; they rounded the
butte, cleared the cottonwoods, crossed the little willow-edged stream,
and reached the Crow camp to find it absolutely deserted!

The rain was now falling faster; in a few minutes it set in - a true
Dakota flood. The trail of Blazing Star - clear till then - was now wholly
wiped out. There was nothing but the unmarked prairie around them; and
the guide, with the troopers, soaked to the skin, rode back with the
forlorn tidings.


The Pinto

Under such a cloud of disaster men cared little what the weather was;
the deluge of rain seemed rather appropriate. There was even a hope that
it might rain hard enough to postpone the race. But at ten it stopped,
and by eleven it had cleared off wholly. The race was to be at noon.

Word had been sent to Red Cloud, asking for two days' postponement,
which was curtly refused. "White man heap scared maybe," was his
scornful reply.

The Colonel held a hasty council of war with his officers. Their course
was clear. In Red Rover they still had a winner and the race would come
off as announced; such a horse as Blazing Star could not long be
concealed; they would follow up the Crows and recover him in a few days.
So, after all, the outlook was not so very dark.

Already the plain was surging with life. Gaily-clad Indians were riding
at speed for the pleasure of speeding. Thousands of gaudy blankets - put
out to air in the sun - seemed to double the density, colour, and
importance of the camp. New wagons came with their loads, new life
developed; now came a procession of Indians singing their racing songs,
for the Indian has a song for every event in life; bodies of United
States troops were paraded here and there as a precautionary and
impressive measure; the number of Indians assembled, and their
excitability, began to cause the authorities some apprehension.

The Boyds were there in their democrat and had brought picnic food for
all day; but Hartigan was a special favourite at the Fort, and he, with
Belle, was invited to join its hospitable garrison mess, where social
life was in gala mood. It was an experience for Belle, for she had not
realized before how absolutely overwhelming a subject the horse race
could be among folk whose interests lay that way, and whose lives,
otherwise, were very monotonous. She was a little shocked to note that
every one of the wives at the table was betting on the race - in some
cases, for considerable money. The one restraining force in the case was
the absence of takers, since all were backing Red Rover.

An amusing incident occurred when, during the meal, a bead-eyed young
squaw entered the mess room and stood a little inside the door.

"What does she want?" asked the Colonel.

Then the interpreter: "She wants to bet on the race. She wants to bet
her baby against yours."

A pretty good proof of a sure thing, for no race loves its children more
than the red folk. An Indian has no compunction whatever in staking his
treaty money, which comes so easily and may as lightly go; he does not
hesitate to risk all his wealth, for after all wealth is a burden; he
will even wager his wife, if the game possesses him; but he is very shy
of staking his children. He does it on occasion, but only when he
considers it a foregone result - a certainty of winning.

The Indian Agent had many close conferences with the Colonel. He
strongly disapproved the whole racing excitement and plainly indicated
that he held the Colonel responsible. What would happen when these
excited fifteen hundred Sioux and Cheyenne warriors - not to speak of
some five thousand women and children - met defeat, was a serious
problem. Had the situation been sooner realized, the whites could have
organized into some sort of home defense. Red Cloud and Howling Bull, so
far as could be discerned, contemplated the scene, and the coming event,
with absolute composure.

Huge pools of water had blue-patched the racetrack after the downpour;
but these had drained off to a great extent, leaving the track a little
greasy perhaps, but quite usable; and Jim recalled with interest the
shoeing of the Buckskin. "This was what it was for; how did the heathens
know it was coming?" By mutual agreement, at length, the race was
postponed for two hours, which, under such a sun, would bring the track
back nearly to normal; and since the Indians had had the Buckskin shod,
it was the same for both. It was decided that the start should be made
when the sun was over Inyan Kara, the tallest of the hills in sight to
the west; this meant, as nearly as possible, at four o'clock.

At two o'clock all the world seemed there. There were mounted
Indians - men and women - by thousands, and at least a thousand mounted
whites besides the soldiers. The plain was dotted with life and colour
from far beyond the Indian camp to Fort Ryan; but the centre of all was
the racetrack; and camped alongside, or riding or sitting near, was the
thickest group of folk of both races, bound to lose no glimpse of the
stirring contest.

The delay made for new excitement; the nerve strain became greater as
each hour passed. The white soldiers did what they could to hold the
crowd, and the Indians called on their own "Dog Soldiers" or camp police
to do the same. Fortunately, it was a good-natured crowd; and the
absconding of the Crows had removed the largest element of risk, so far
as violence was concerned. Jim was ablaze with the wildest of them all.
He rode away and back at a gallop to work it off. Belle was too tired to
join these boisterous runs, so he rode alone at first. But another woman
rider was there; from the crowd Lou-Jane Hoomer spurred her bay, and
raced beside him. She was an excellent horsewoman, had a fine mount, and
challenged Jim to a ride. Handsome, her colour up, her eyes sparkling,
Lou-Jane could have ridden away, for she had the better mount, but she
didn't; she rode beside him, and, when a little gully called for a jump,
they jumped together, and found abundant cause for laughter. Twice they
went careering, then back to Belle, and when next Jim's itch for speed
and life sent him circling, Belle was rested enough to follow

At a quarter to two the bugle of the Fort was blown, and there issued
forth the proud procession with Red Rover in the middle, led beside his
jockey, who rode a sober pony. It was Little Breeches this time. There
is one thing that cannot be explained away, that is defeat. Peaches had
been defeated; his chance came no more.

Red Rover was magnificent, trained to a hair, full of life and fire. Of
all the beautiful things on earth, there is nothing of nobler beauty
than a noble horse; and Rover, in his clean-limbed gloss and tensity,
was a sight to thrill the crowds that were privileged to see him spurn
the earth, and arch his graceful neck, and curvet a little for the
subtle joy that comes of spending power when power is there in a very
plethora. Every white man's eye grew proudly bright as he gazed and
gloried in his champion and fear left all their hearts. At the starting
post, they swung about, Little Breeches mounted, and a mighty cheer went
up. "Ho, Red Cloud! Where's your horse? Bring on your famous Buckskin
now"; and the rumbling of the crowd was rising, falling, like the sound
of water in a changing wind.

Far down the valley, near the Ogallala Camp, a new commotion arose and a
wilder noise was sounding. There was the shrill chant of the "Racing
Ponies" with the tom-toms beating, and then Red Cloud's men came
trotting in a mass. As they neared the starting point, the rabble of the
painted warriors parted, and out of the opening came their horse, and
from the whites went up a loud and growing burst of laughter. Such a
horse as this they had never seen before; not the famous Buckskin, but
_the mysterious pinto pony_, wonderful, if weird trappings could make
him so. On his head he wore an eagle-feather war-bonnet; his mane was
plaited with red flannel strips and fluttering plumes; his tail was even
gaudier; around each eye was a great circle of white and another of
black; his nose was crossbarred with black and red; his legs were
painted in zebra stripes of yellow and black; the patches of white that
were native to his coat were outlined with black and profusely decorated
with red hands and horseshoes painted in vermilion; on his neck was a
band of beadwork, carrying a little bundle of sacred medicine; and,
last, he had on each ankle a string of sleigh-bells that jingled at each
prancing step. A very goblin of a horse! His jockey was, as before,
Chaska, the Indian boy, stripped to the breechclout, with an eagle
feather in his hair and a quirt hung on his wrist.

Never, perhaps, was a more grotesque race entry in all the West; and the
difference between the burnished form of Red Rover in his perfect trim,
and this demon-painted Pinto gave rise to an ever-growing chorus of
shouting, laughter, rough jibes, and hoots of joy.

Jim took in the Indian horse with the keenest of eyes. "Well, boys, he
may be only a pinto cayuse, but he's way ahead of their Buckskin. Look
at that action. Bedad, they've got him shod!"

The Pinto seemed as tall as Red Rover and, so far as trappings allowed
one to see, he was nearly as fine in build. Diverse feelings now surged
in the crowd. Many of the whites said, "Well, it was true after all, Red
Cloud, the old fox, he sent to Omaha, or maybe Illinois and bought a
racer. The shoeing of the Buckskin was a blind. Or maybe, at that time,
their racer had not been secured."

Old Red Cloud slowly rode by with his square jaw set, his eyes a little
tight, observing all; but he gave no sign of special interest.

With two such keen and nervous racers it was no easy matter to get a
fair start; but at length they were man[oe]uvred into line, side by
side. The pistol cracked and away they went, while all the crowd held
still, so very still for a moment that you could have heard for a
hundred yards the medicine song of the Indian boy:

"Huya! Huya! Shungdeshka, Shungdeshka! (Fly! Fly! my Eagle! Fly! my
Pinto Eagle!)" And that wild-eyed Indian pony sprang away as fast as the
blooded horse beside him. So far as any one could tell it was an even

The white man had won the inside track again; and remembering how the
Indian boy had got that advantage in the last race, he was on the watch.
But nothing happened; the horses led off side by side, shoulder to
shoulder. At the turning post was a waiting throng that received them
with a cheer, to follow again in their wake, like madmen let loose on
hoofs. The horses seemed to thrill to the sound and bent to it faster.

Around the post they had swung, perforce in a large circle, and the
Pinto lost a good half length. Now Little Breeches saw his chance and,
leaning forward well, he smote with the quirt and pricked those bronzy
flanks, while Rover bounded - bounded to his limit.

But the Indian boy's magic song rang out again: "Huya Huya, Huya deshka!
Huya, Huya, Huya deshka! (Oh, Eagle, fly, fly Eagle, my Pinto fly!)" And
the Pinto seemed to unchain himself, as a hawk when he sails no more,
but flaps for higher speed. With thunderous hoofs the wild horse
splashed through a pool, came crawling, crawling up, till once again he
was neck and neck with the wonderful flying steed in the coat of gold.

Little Breeches shouted, "Hi! Hi! Hi!" and spurred and smote. Chaska
glanced at him and smiled, such a soft little smile. The eagle feather
in his hair was fluttering, and the smile was still on his lips as they
reached the last half mile. Then, in weird and mouthing tone, Chaska
sang of wind and wings:

"Ho, Huya, Huya deshka,
Huya, Huya, Huya deshka,
Woo hiya, Woo hiya, Woo hiya,
Unkitawa, Unkitawa, Ho!"

Strong medicine it must have been, for the Pinto thrilled, and bounded
double strong. The white man yelled and spared not lash nor spur. Red
Rover flinched, then sprang as he had never sprung before. But the demon
pony in the motley coat swung faster, faster, faster yet; his nostrils
flared; his breath was rushing - snorting - his mighty heart was pounding,
the song of the wind and the flying wings seemed to enter into his soul.
He double-timed his hoofbeats and, slowly forging on, was half a length
ahead. The white man screamed and madly spurred. Red Rover was at
topmost notch. The demon pony forged - yes, now a length ahead, and in
the rising, rumbling roar, passed on, a double length, and _in_. _The
race was won, lost, won lost_ - the Pinto pony crowned; and the awful
blow had struck!


The Aftertime

The crack of doom will never hit Fort Ryan harder. When the thousand
painted Sioux came riding, yelling, wild with joy, shooting their rifles
in the air, racing in a vast, appalling hoof tornado down the long track
and then to the lodge of all the stakes, they went as men who are
rushing to save their own from some swift flood that threatens. But they
got an unexpected shock. The red sentry and the white sentry were
standing - sullen, for they were forced to miss the race. Still, the
result was clear.

The Sioux were each for claiming the bundle with his name. But the
soldier on guard, with fixed bayonet, ordered all the frenzied rabble

"I don't know anything about your darned race, and here I stand till I
get orders from my officer."

It was the very impudence of his courage that saved him from what they
thought righteous vengeance. The Colonel came at once. The guard saluted
and withdrew and the Red men seized their spoils. And, strange to say,
among themselves they had not one dispute; none tried to overreach; each
knew his mark and claimed his own.

The whites were like men under a gallows doom.

"Stung, stung!" was all the Colonel had to say.

The Adjutant, an erratic officer, had lost half a year's pay. The
magnitude of the disaster was almost national, he felt, and sadly,
shyly, he said: "Will you have the flag at half-mast, Colonel?"

"No!" thundered the Colonel. "I'll be darned if the flag shall hang at
half-mast for anything less than the death of an American."

And the Rev. James Hartigan! He stared stonily before him as the race
was won.

Belle was at hand and she watched him closely. He turned deathly pale.

"What is it, Jim?" she said quietly, and laid her hand on his.

"Oh, Belle, this is awful."

"Why, Jim? Why should you care? It isn't as if it were Blazing Star.
We're sorry for all those men, of course; but maybe it's the best thing
for them. I think now they'll realize the curse and folly of racetrack

"Oh, Belle, if you only knew," groaned Jim.

"Knew what, Jim dear? It seems to me those men are getting their
deserts. I know you and Dr. Jebb did all you could to hold them back,
and denounced all racing as it properly should be."

Jim turned his head away and pressing his forehead with his great
powerful hand, he groaned.

"Jim, dear boy, why do you take it so hard? Why should you worry? I'm
sorry for the women and children that will suffer for this, but I have
little pity for the men; the fools, _they_ knew what they were doing."

"Let's ride away," he said; and as he turned, he saw Red Cloud, calm and
dignified, on his horse watching wagon after wagon go by filled with
plunder, on its way to the Indian camp.

Jim and Belle rode away from the painful scene. She was leading for the
Fort; but he said, "I must see Higginbotham." She followed as he went to
the tent with the sign, "John & Hannah Higginbotham - Insurance." A
number of Indians were in and about, laughing merrily and talking in
their own tongue. Jim waited till the tent was clear, then dismounted.
Belle was for following, but Jim said, "Would you mind holding the
horses? I won't be a minute." His face was so drawn and sad that she was
deeply touched. She had meant to prick and lash him for a while yet, but
now in pity she forbore.

He entered. The Deacon was sitting at a little desk. Beside him was a
small safe; it was open, but nearly empty now.

"Well," said Jim gruffly, almost savagely, "what's to do?"

"Nothing," said the Deacon calmly. "You've lost. The Indians have been
here and got most of their plunder. Your five hundred is now the
property of a person named 'Two Strikes' who will, doubtless, call
presently and secure the indemnity, less my reasonable 5 per cent.

Jim turned in silence. As he joined Belle, she said, "Here, Jim, help me
down; I want a word with the Deacon."

Jim stammered, "I - well - ah - - "

She paid no attention, but said, "Now lead the horses over there." When
he was safely away, she entered. The Deacon's eyes twinkled. "Good
afternoon, Two Strikes, you people have made a great killing."

"Yes," she said calmly; "I've come for my share."

He opened the safe, took out the last of the packets tied up in a
particular shape, and said in businesslike tone, "Two hundred and fifty
dollars premium, five hundred dollars insurance, 5 per cent, on
indemnity collected is twenty-five dollars; shall I hold it out?"

"No," she said; "I'll keep that bunch untouched. Here it is." She handed
him his twenty-five dollars, put the seven hundred and fifty dollars in
her side bag, and went forth. Jim stared at her in a frightened way as
she came.

"Belle," he said huskily, "what did he say?"

"Oh, nothing special. Judging from his looks, I don't think he's lost
any money."

"Did - did he tell you anything?"

"About what?"

"About me?"

"No. Why? Why do you look so terribly upset, Jim?" and mounting, she
rode off beside him.

"Oh, Belle, I can't lie to you. I'll tell you all about it. Belle, I put
up all I had, the money I got for Blazing Star. All we were to furnish
with. I wanted to hand you the money _you_ wanted. Calling it insurance
blinded me; the temptation was too much. I should have known better. Oh,
Belle, will you ever forgive me? I'm nothing but a gambler," and,
crushed with shame, he repeated, "I'm nothing but a criminal racetrack

An overwhelming compassion swamped her. She leaned toward him and said
softly, "So am I, Jim, I'm just as bad as you are."

"What - what do you mean?"

"Jim, do you know the name of the Indian that got your stake?"

"Yes. He said it was 'Two Strikes.'"

"Jim, dear, I am 'Two Strikes.' Here is your money back; only it's our
money now, Jim darling. Now never a word of this to any human soul"; and
screened by the cottonwood trees, they fell sobbing in each other's


Finding the Lost One

Colonel Waller had been telegraphing from Cedar Mountain to all
reachable parts of the North where the Crows were likely to be, without
getting one word of comfort. Then up to the door of his house the
morning after the devastating race came Red Cloud of the calm, square
face, and behind him riding, a dozen braves.

At precisely the right moment prescribed by etiquette, he opened: "Me
savvy now why you no run heap good horse."

"Humph!" said Waller.

"Didn't I tole you watch when Crow come?"

"Humph!" was the answer.

"You no got him back yet - no?"

"No," said the Colonel, with some asperity.

"Why? White scout no follow trail?"

"The rain wiped out all trail," was the answer.

"Your scout heap no good," said Red Cloud. Then, after a dozen slow
puffs at his pipe, during which he gazed blankly and far away, the
Indian said: "Ogallala very good scouts. Maybe so they find trail. What
you give for follow Crow? Maybe find, bring back your pony."

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryErnest Thompson SetonThe preacher of Cedar Mountain; a tale of the open country → online text (page 16 of 24)