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in the pommel loop of his own saddle.

The gentle amble of the black stallion kept the prisoner at a trot. At
times Banion checked, never looking at the man following, his hands at
the rope, panting.

"Ye'll try him in the camp council, Will?" began Jackson once more.
"Anyways that? He's a murderer. He tried to kill us both, an' he will
yit. Boy, ye rid with Doniphan, an' don't know the _ley refugio_ Hasn't
the prisoner tried to escape? Ain't that old as Mayheeco Veeayho? Take
this skunk in on a good rope like that? Boy, ye're crazy!"

"Almost," nodded Banion. "Almost. Come on. It's late."

It was late when they rode down into the valley of the Platte. Below
them twinkled hundreds of little fires of the white nation, feasting.
Above, myriad stars shone in a sky unbelievably clear. On every hand
rose the roaring howls of the great gray wolves, also feasting now; the
lesser chorus of yapping coyotes. The savage night of the Plains was on.
Through it passed three savage figures, one a staggering, stumbling man
with a rope around his neck.

They came into the guard circle, into the dog circle of the encampment;
but when challenged answered, and were not stopped.

"Here, Jackson," said Banion at length, "take the rope. I'm going to our
camp. I'll not go into this train. Take this pistol - it's loaded now.
Let off the _reata_, walk close to this man. If he runs, kill him. Find
Molly Wingate. Tell her Will Banion has sent her husband to her - once
more. It's the last time."

He was gone in the dark. Bill Jackson, having first meticulously
exhausted the entire vituperative resources of the English, the Spanish
and all the Indian languages he knew, finally poked the muzzle of the
pistol into Woodhull's back.

"Git, damn ye!" he commanded. "Center, guide! Forrerd, march! Ye - "

He improvised now, all known terms of contempt having been heretofore
employed.

Threading the way past many feast fires, he did find the Wingate wagons
at length, did find Molly Wingate. But there his memory failed him. With
a skinny hand at Sam Woodhull's collar, he flung him forward.

"Here, Miss Molly," said he, "this thing is somethin' Major Banion sont
in ter ye by me. We find hit stuck in the mud. He said ye're welcome."

But neither he nor Molly really knew why that other man had spared Sam
Woodhull's life, or what it was he awaited in return for Sam Woodhull's
life.

All that Jackson could do he did. As he turned in the dark he implanted
a heartfelt kick which sent Sam Woodhull on his knees before Molly
Wingate as she stood in wondering silence.

Then arose sudden clamorings of those who had seen part of this - seen an
armed man assault another, unarmed and defenseless, at their very
firesides. Men came running up. Jesse Wingate came out from the side of
his wagon.

"What's all this?" he demanded. "Woodhull, what's up? What's wrong
here?"




CHAPTER XXIII

AN ARMISTICE


To the challenge of Wingate and his men Jackson made answer with a
high-pitched fighting yell. Sweeping his pistol muzzle across and back
again over the front of the closing line, he sprang into saddle and
wheeled away.

"Hit means we've brung ye back a murderer. Git yer own rope - ye kain't
have mine! If ye-all want trouble with Old Missoury over this, er
anything else, come runnin' in the mornin'. Ye'll find us sp'ilin' fer a
fight!"

He was off in the darkness.

Men clustered around the draggled man, one of their, own men, recently
one in authority. Their indignation rose, well grounded on the growing
feeling between the two segments of the train. When Woodhull had told
his own story, in his own way, some were for raiding the Missouri
detachment forthwith. Soberer counsel prevailed. In the morning Price,
Hall and Kelsey rode over to the Missouri encampment and asked for their
leader. Banion met them while the work of breaking camp went on, the
cattle herd being already driven in and held at the rear by lank,
youthful riders, themselves sp'lin' fer a fight.

"Major Banion," began Caleb Price, "we've come over to get some sort of
understanding between your men and ours. It looks like trouble. I don't
want trouble."

"Nor do I," rejoined Banion. "We started out for Oregon as friends. It
seems to me that should remain our purpose. No little things should
alter that."

"Precisely. But little things have altered it. I don't propose to pass
on any quarrel between you and one of our people - a man from your own
town, your own regiment. But that has now reached a point where it might
mean open war between two parts of our train. That would mean ruin.
That's wrong."

"Yes," replied Banion, "surely it is. You see, to avoid that, I was just
ordering my people to pull out. I doubt if we could go on together now.
I don't want war with any friends. I reckon we can take care of any
enemies. Will this please you?"

Caleb Price held out his hand.

"Major, I don't know the truth of any of the things I've heard, and I
think those are matters that may be settled later on. But I am obliged
to say that many of our people trust you and your leadership more than
they do our own. I don't like to see you leave."

"Well, then we won't leave. We'll hold back and follow you. Isn't that
fair?"

"It is more than fair, for you can go faster now than we can, like
enough. But will you promise me one thing, sir?"

"What is it?"

"If we get in trouble and send back for you, will you come?"

"Yes, we'll come. But pull on out now, at once. My men want to travel.
We've got our meat slung on lines along the wagons to cure as we move.
We'll wait till noon for you."

"It is fair." Price turned to his associates. "Ride back, Kelsey, and
tell Wingate we all think we should break camp at once.

"You see," he added to Banion, "he wouldn't even ride over with us. I
regret this break between you and him. Can't it be mended?"

A sudden spasm passed across Will Banion's browned face.

"It cannot," said he, "at least not here and now. But the women and
children shall have no risk on that account. If we can ever help, we'll
come."

The two again shook hands, and the Wingate lieutenants rode away, so
ratifying a formal division of the train.

"What do you make of all this, Hall?" asked sober-going Caleb Price at
last. "What's the real trouble? Is it about the girl?"

"Oh, yes; but maybe more. You heard what Woodhull said. Even if Banion
denied it, it would be one man's word against the other's. Well, it's
wide out here, and no law."

"They'll fight?"

"Will two roosters that has been breasted?"




CHAPTER XXIV

THE ROAD WEST


Came now once more the notes of the bugle in signal for the assembly.
Word passed down the scattered Wingate lines, "Catch up! Catch up!"

Riders went out to the day guards with orders to round up the cattle.
Dark lines of the driven stock began to dribble in from the edge of the
valley. One by one the corralled vehicles broke park, swung front or
rear, until the columns again held on the beaten road up the valley in
answer to the command, "Roll out! Roll out!" The Missourians, long
aligned and ready, fell in far behind and pitched camp early. There were
two trains, not one.

Now, hour after hour and day by day, the toil of the trail through sand
flats and dog towns, deadly in its monotony, held them all in apathy.
The lightheartedness of the start in early spring was gone. By this time
the spare spaces in the wagons were kept filled with meat, for always
there were buffalo now. Lines along the sides of the wagons held loads
of rudely made jerky - pieces of meat slightly salted and exposed to the
clear dry air to finish curing.

But as the people fed full there began a curious sloughing off of the
social compact, a change in personal attitude. A dozen wagons, short of
supplies or guided by faint hearts, had their fill of the Far West and
sullenly started back east. Three dozen broke train and pulled out
independently for the West, ahead of Wingate, mule and horse transport
again rebelling against being held back by the ox teams. More and more
community cleavages began to define. The curse of flies by day, of
mosquitoes by night added increasing miseries for the travelers. The hot
midday sun wore sore on them. Restless high spirits, grief over personal
losses, fear of the future, alike combined to lessen the solidarity of
the great train; but still it inched along on its way to Oregon, putting
behind mile after mile of the great valley of the Platte.

The grass now lay yellow in the blaze of the sun, the sandy dust was
inches deep in the great road, cut by thousands of wheels. Flotsam and
jetsam, wreckage, showed more and more. Skeletons of cattle, bodies not
yet skeletons, aroused no more than a casual look. Furniture lay cast
aside, even broken wagons, their wheels fallen apart, showing intimate
disaster. The actual hardships of the great trek thrust themselves into
evidence on every hand, at every hour. Often was passed a little cross,
half buried in the sand, or the tail gate of a wagon served as head
board for some ragged epitaph of some ragged man.

It was decided to cross the South Fork at the upper ford, so called.
Here was pause again for the Wingate train. The shallow and fickle
stream, fed by the June rise in the mountains, now offered a score of
channels, all treacherous. A long line of oxen, now wading and now
swimming, dragging a long rope to which a chain was rigged - the latter
to pull the wagon forward when the animals got footing on ahead - made a
constant sight for hours at a time. One wagon after another was snaked
through rapidly as possible. Once bogged down in a fast channel, the
fluent sand so rapidly filled in the spokes that the settling wagon was
held as though in a giant vise. It was new country, new work for them
all; but they were Americans of the frontier.

The men were in the water all day long, for four days, swimming, wading,
digging. Perhaps the first plow furrow west of the Kaw was cast when
some plows eased down the precipitous bank which fronted one of the
fording places. Beyond that lay no mark of any plow for more than a
thousand miles.

They now had passed the Plains, as first they crossed the Prairie. The
thin tongue of land between the two forks, known as the Highlands of the
Platte, made vestibule to the mountains. The scenery began to change, to
become rugged, semi-mountainous. They noted and held in sight for a day
the Courthouse Rock, the Chimney Rock, long known to the fur traders,
and opened up wide vistas of desert architecture new to their
experiences.

They were now amid great and varied abundance of game. A thousand
buffalo, five, ten, might be in sight at one time, and the ambition of
every man to kill his buffalo long since had been gratified.
Black-tailed deer and antelope were common, and even the mysterious
bighorn sheep of which some of them had read. Each tributary stream now
had its delicious mountain trout. The fires at night had abundance of
the best of food, cooked for the most part over the native fuel of the
_bois des vaches_.

The grass showed yet shorter, proving the late presence of the toiling
Mormon caravan on ahead. The weather of late June was hot, the glare of
the road blinding. The wagons began to fall apart in the dry, absorbent
air of the high country. And always skeletons lay along the trail. An ox
abandoned by its owners as too footsore for further travel might better
have been shot than abandoned. The gray wolves would surely pull it down
before another day. Continuously such tragedies of the wilderness went
on before their wearying eyes.

Breaking down from the highlands through the Ash Hollow gap, the train
felt its way to the level of the North Fork of the great river which had
led them for so long. Here some trapper once had built a cabin - the
first work of the sort in six hundred miles - and by some strange concert
this deserted cabin had years earlier been constituted a post office of
the desert. Hundreds of letters, bundles of papers were addressed to
people all over the world, east and west. No government recognized this
office, no postage was employed in it. Only, in the hope that someone
passing east or west would carry on the inclosures without price, folk
here sent out their souls into the invisible.

"How far'll we be out, at Laramie?" demanded Molly Wingate of the train
scout, Bridger, whom Banion had sent on to Wingate in spite of his
protest.

"Nigh onto six hundred an' sixty-seven mile they call hit, ma'am, from
Independence to Laramie, an' we'll be two months a-makin' hit, which
everges around ten mile a day."

"But it's most to Oregon, hain't it?"

"Most to Oregon? Ma'am, it's nigh three hundred mile beyond Laramie to
the South Pass, an' the South Pass hain't half-way to Oregon. Why,
ma'am, we ain't well begun!"




CHAPTER XXV

OLD LARAMIE


An old gray man in buckskins sat on the ground in the shade of the adobe
stockade at old Fort Laramie, his knees high in front of him, his eyes
fixed on the ground. His hair fell over his shoulders in long curls
which had once been brown. His pointed beard fell on his breast. He sat
silent and motionless, save that constantly he twisted a curl around a
forefinger, over and over again. It was his way. He was a long-hair, a
man of another day. He had seen the world change in six short years,
since the first wagon crossed yonder ridges, where now showed yet one
more wagon train approaching.

He paid no attention to the debris and discard of this new day which lay
all about him as he sat and dreamed of the days of trap and packet. Near
at hand were pieces of furniture leaning against the walls, not bought
or sold, but abandoned as useless here at Laramie. Wagon wheels,
tireless, their fellies falling apart, lay on the ground, and other
ruins of great wagons, dried and disjointed now.

Dust lay on the ground. The grass near by was all cropped short. Far
off, a village of the Cheyennes, come to trade, and sullen over the fact
that little now could be had for robes or peltries, grazed their ponies
aside from the white man's road. Six hundred lodges of the Sioux were on
the tributary river a few miles distant. The old West was making a last
gallant stand at Laramie.

Inside the gate a mob of white men, some silent and businesslike, many
drunken and boisterous, pushed here and there for access to the trading
shelves, long since almost bare of goods. Six thousand emigrants passed
that year.

It was the Fourth of July in Old Laramie, and men in jeans and wool and
buckskin were celebrating. Old Laramie had seen life - all of life, since
the fur days of La Ramée in 1821. Having now superciliously sold out to
these pilgrims, reserving only alcohol enough for its own consumption,
Old Laramie was willing to let the world wag, and content to twiddle a
man curl around a finger.

But yet another detachment of the great army following the hegira of the
Mormons was now approaching Laramie. In the warm sun of mid-morning, its
worn wheels rattling, its cattle limping and with lolling tongues, this
caravan forded and swung wide into corral below the crowded tepees of
the sullen tribesmen.

[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture.

The Covered Wagon_.

JUST BEFORE THE START OF THE WAGON TRAIN.]

Ahead of it now dashed a horseman, swinging his rifle over his head and
uttering Indian yells. He pulled up at the very door of the old adobe
guard tower with its mounted swivel guns; swung off, pushed on into the
honeycomb of the inner structure.

The famous border fortress was built around a square, the living
quarters on one side, the trading rooms on another. Few Indians were
admitted at one time, other than the Indian wives of the _engagés_, the
officials of the fur company or of the attached white or halfbreed
hunters. Above some of the inner buildings were sleeping lofts. The
inner open space served as a general meeting ground. Indolent but on
guard, Old Laramie held her watch, a rear guard of the passing West in
its wild days before the plow.

All residents here knew Jim Bridger. He sought out the man in charge.

"How, Bordeaux?" he began. "Whar's the bourgeois, Papin?"

"Down river - h'east h'after goods."

The trader, hands on his little counter, nodded to his shelves.

"Nada!" he said in his polyglot speech. "Hi'll not got a damned thing
lef'. How many loads you'll got for your h'own post, Jeem?"

"Eight wagons. Iron, flour and bacon."

"Hi'll pay ye double here what you'll kin git retail there, Jeem, and
take it h'all h'off your hand. This h'emigrant, she'll beat the fur."

"I'll give ye half," said Bridger. "Thar's people here needs supplies
that ain't halfway acrost. But what's the news, Bordeaux? Air the Crows
down?"

"H'on the Sweetwater, h'awaitin' for the peelgrim. Hi'll heard of your
beeg fight on the Platte. Plenty beeg fight on ahead, too, maybe-so.
You'll bust h'up the trade, Jeem. My Sioux, she's scare to come h'on the
post h'an' trade. He'll stay h'on the veelage, her."

"Every dog to his own yard. Is that all the news?"

"Five thousand Mormons, he'll gone by h'aready. H'womans pullin' the
han'cart, _sacre Enfant_! News - you'll h'ought to know the news. You'll
been h'on the settlement six mont'!"

"Hit seemed six year. The hull white nation's movin'. So. That all?"

"Well, go h'ask Keet. He's come h'up South Fork yesterdays. Maybe-so
_quelq' cho' des nouvelles_ h'out West. I dunno, me."

"Kit - Kit Carson, you mean? What's Kit doing here?"

"_Oui._ I dunno, me."

He nodded to a door. Bridger pushed past him. In an inner room a party
of border men were playing cards at a table. Among these was a slight,
sandy-haired man of middle age and mild, blue eye. It was indeed Carson,
the redoubtable scout and guide, a better man even than Bridger in the
work of the wilderness.

"How are you, Jim?" he said quietly, reaching up a hand as he sat.
"Haven't seen you for five years. What are you doing here?"

He rose now and put down his cards. The game broke up. Others gathered
around Bridger and greeted him. It was some time before the two
mountain men got apart from the others.

"What brung ye north, Kit?" demanded Bridger at length. "You was in
Californy in '47, with the General."

"Yes, I was in California this spring. The treaty's been signed with
Mexico. We get the country from the Rio Grande west, including
California. I'm carrying dispatches to General Kearny at Leavenworth.
There's talk about taking over Laramie for an Army post. The tribes are
up in arms. The trade's over, Jim."

"What I know, an' have been sayin'! Let's have a drink, Kit, fer old
times."

Laughing, Carson turned his pockets inside out. As he did so something
heavy fell from his pocket to the floor. In courtesy as much as
curiosity Bridger stooped first to pick it up. As he rose he saw
Carson's face change as he held out his hand.

"What's this stone, Kit - yer medicine?"

But Bridger's own face altered suddenly as he now guessed the truth. He
looked about him suddenly, his mouth tight. Kit Carson rose and they
passed from the room.

"Only one thing heavy as that, Mister Kit!" said Bridger fiercely.
"Where'd you git hit? My gran'pap had some o' that. Hit come from North
Carliny years ago. I know what hit is - hit's gold! Kit Carson, damn ye,
hit's the gold!"

"Shut your mouth, you fool!" said Carson. "Yes, it's gold. But do you
want me to be a liar to my General? That's part of my dispatches."

"Hit" come from Californy?"

"Curse me, yes, California! I was ordered to get the news to the Army
first. You're loose-tongued, Jim. Can you keep this?"

"Like a grave, Kit."

"Then here!"

Carson felt inside his shirt and pulled out a meager and ill-printed
sheet which told the most epochal news that this or any country has
known - the midwinter discovery of gold at Sutter's Mills.

A flag was flying over Laramie stockade, and this flag the mountain men
saw fit to salute with many libations, hearing now that it was to fly
forever over California as over Oregon. Crowding the stockade inclosure
full was a motley throng - border men in buckskins, _engagés_ swart as
Indians, French breeds, full-blood Cheyennes and Sioux of the northern
hills, all mingling with the curious emigrants who had come in from the
wagon camps. Plump Indian girls, many of them very comely, some of them
wives of the trappers who still hung about Laramie, ogled the newcomers,
laughing, giggling together as young women of any color do, their black
hair sleek with oil, their cheeks red with vermilion, their wrists heavy
with brass or copper or pinchbeck circlets, their small moccasined feet
peeping beneath gaudy calico given them by their white lords. Older
squaws, envious but perforce resigned, muttered as their own
stern-faced stolid red masters ordered them to keep close. Of the
full-bloods, whether Sioux or Cheyennes, only those drunk were other
than sullenly silent and resentful as they watched the white man's orgy
at Old Laramie on the Fourth of July of 1848.

Far flung along the pleasant valley lay a vast picture possible in no
other land or day. The scattered covered wagons, the bands of cattle and
horses, the white tents rising now in scores, the blue of many fires,
all proved that now the white man had come to fly his flag over a new
frontier.

Bridger stood, chanting an Indian song. A group of men came out, all
excited with patriotic drink. A tall man in moccasins led, his fringed
shirt open over a naked breast, his young squaw following him.

"Let me see one o' them damned things!" he was exclaiming. "That's why I
left home fifty year ago. Pap wanted to make me plow! I ain't seed one
since, but I'll bet a pony I kin run her right now! Go git yer plow
things, boys, an' fotch on ary sort of cow critter suits ye, I'll bet I
kin hook 'em up an' plow with 'em, too, right yere!"

The old gray man at the gate sat and twisted his long curls.

The sweet wind of the foothills blew aslant the smokes of a thousand
fires. Over the vast landscape passed many moving figures. Young Indian
men, mostly Sioux, some Cheyennes, a few Gros Ventres of the Prairie,
all peaceable under the tacit truce of the trading post, rode out from
their villages to their pony herds. From the post came the occasional
note of an inharmonic drum, struck without rhythm by a hand gone lax.
The singers no longer knew they sang. The border feast had lasted long.
Keg after keg had been broached. The Indian drums were going. Came the
sound of monotonous chants, broken with staccato yells as the border
dance, two races still mingling, went on with aboriginal excesses on
either side. On the slopes as dusk came twinkled countless tepee fires.
Dogs barked mournfully a-distant. The heavy half roar of the buffalo
wolves, superciliously confident, echoed from the broken country.

Now and again a tall Indian, naked save where he clutched his robe to
him unconsciously, came staggering to his tepee, his face distorted,
yelling obscene words and not knowing what he said. Patient, his
youngest squaw stood by his tepee, his spear held aloft to mark his door
plate, waiting for her lord to come. Wolfish dogs lay along the tepee
edges, noses in tails, eyeing the master cautiously. A grumbling old
woman mended the fire at her own side of the room, nearest the door,
spreading smooth robes where the man's medicine hung at the willow
tripod, his slatted lazyback near by. In due time all would know whether
at the game of "hands," while the feast went on, the little elusive bone
had won or lost for him. Perhaps he had lost his horses, his robes, his
weapons - his squaws. The white man's medicine was strong, and there was
much of it on his feasting day.

From the stockade a band of mounted Indians, brave in new finery, decked
with eagle bonnets and gaudy in beaded shirts and leggings, rode out
into the slopes, chanting maudlin songs. They were led by the most
beautiful young woman of the tribe, carrying a wand topped by a gilded
ball, and ornamented with bells, feathers, natural flowers. As the wild
pageant passed the proud savages paid no attention to the white men.

The old gray man at the gate sat and twisted his long curls.

And none of them knew the news from California.




CHAPTER XXVI

THE FIRST GOLD


The purple mantle of the mountain twilight was dropping on the hills
when Bridger and Carson rode out together from the Laramie stockade to
the Wingate encampment in the valley. The extraordinary capacity of
Bridger in matters alcoholic left him still in fair possession of his
faculties; but some new purpose, born of the exaltation of alcohol, now;


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