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this thing with which they buried the buffalo. They meant extermination
now. They were taking their time and would take their revenge for the
dead who lay piled before the white man's barricade.

The emigrants rolled back a pair of wagons, and the cattle were crowded
through, almost over the human occupants of the oblong. The gap was
closed. All the remaining cargo packages were piled against the wheels,
and the noncombatants sheltered in that way. Shovels deepened the trench
here or there as men sought better to protect their families.

And now in a sudden _melée_ of shouts and yells, of trampling hoofs and
whirling colors, the first bands of the Crows came charging up in the
attempt to carry away their dead of yesterday. Men stooped to grasp a
stiffened wrist, a leg, a belt; the ponies squatted under ghastly
dragging burdens.

But this brought them within pistol range. The reports of the white
men's weapons began, carefully, methodically, with deadly accuracy.
There was no panic. The motionless or the struggling blotches ahead of
the wagon park grew and grew. A few only of the Crows got off with
bodies of their friend's or relatives. One warrior after another
dropped. They were used to killing buffalo at ten yards. The white
rifles killed their men now regularly at a hundred. They drew off, out
of range.

Meantime the band from the westward was rounding up and driving off
every animal that had not been corralled. The emigrants saw themselves
in fair way to be set on foot.

Now the savage strategy became plain. The fight was to be a siege.

"Look!" Again a leader pointed.

Crouched now, advancing under cover of the shallow cut-bank, the
headdresses of a score of the Western tribesmen could be seen. They sank
down. The ford was held, the water was cut off! The last covering fringe
of willows also was held. On every side the black-painted savages sat
their ponies, out of range. There could be no more water or grass for
the horses and cattle, no wood for the camp.

There was no other concerted charge for a long time. Now and then some
painted brave, chanting a death song, would ride slowly toward the wagon
park, some dervish vow actuating him or some bravado impelling him. But
usually he fell.

It all became a quiet, steady, matter-of-fact performance on both sides.
This very freedom from action and excitement, so different from the
gallant riding of the Sioux, was more terrifying than direct attack _en
masse_, so that when it came to a matter of shaken morale the whites
were in as bad case as their foes, although thus far they had had no
casualty at all.

There lacked the one leader, cool, calm, skilled, experienced, although
courage did not lack. Yet even the best courage suffers when a man hears
the wailing of his children back of him, the groans of his wife. As the
hours passed, with no more than an occasional rifle shot or the zhut! of
an arrow ending its high arc, the tension on the nerves of the
beleaguered began to manifest itself.

At midday the children began to cry for water. They were appeased with
milk from the few cows offering milk; but how long might that last, with
the cattle themselves beginning to moan and low?

"How far are they back?"

It was Hall, leader of the Ohio wagons. But none could tell him where
the Missouri train had paused. Wingate alone knew why Banion had not
advanced. He doubted if he would come now.

"And this all was over the quarrel between two men," said Caleb Price to
his friend Wingate.

"The other man is a thief, Cale," reiterated Wingate. "He was
court-martialed and broke, dishonorably discharged from the Army. He was
under Colonel Doniphan, and had control of subsistence in upper Mexico
for some time. He had the regimental funds. Doniphan was irregular. He
ran his regiment like a mess, and might order first this officer, then
that, of the line or staff, to take on his free-for-all quartermaster
trains. But he was honest. Banion was not. He had him broken. The
charges were filed by Captain Woodhull. Well, is it any wonder there is
no love lost? And is it any wonder I wouldn't train up with a thief, or
allow him to visit in my family? By God! right now I wouldn't; and I
didn't send for him to help us!"

"So!" said Caleb Price. "So! And that was why the wedding - "

"Yes! A foolish fancy of a girl. I don't know what passed between her
and Banion. I felt it safer for my daughter to be married, as soon as
could be, to another man, an honest man. You know how that came out. And
now, when she's as apt to die as live, and we're all as apt to, you
others send for that renegade to save us! I have no confidence that he
will come. I hope he will not. I'd like his rifles, but I don't want
him."

"Well," said Caleb Price, "it is odd how his rifles depend on him and
not on the other man. Yet they both lived in the same town."

"Yes, one man may be more plausible than another."

"Yes? I don't know that I ever saw a man more plausible with his fists
than Major Banion was. Yes, I'll call him plausible. I wish some of
us - say, Sam Woodhull, now - could be half as plausible with these Crows.
Difference in men, Jess!" he concluded. "Woodhull was there - and now
he's here. He's here - and now we're sending there for the other man."

"You want that other man, thief and dishonest as he is?"

"By God! yes! I want his rifles and him too. Women, children and all,
the whole of us, will die if that thief doesn't come inside of another
twenty-four hours."

Wingate flung out his arms, walked away, hands clasped behind his back.
He met Woodhull.

"Sam, what shall we do?" he demanded. "You're sort of in charge now.
You've been a soldier, and we haven't had much of that."

"There are fifteen hundred or two thousand of them," said Woodhull
slowly - "a hundred and fifty of us that can fight. Ten to one, and they
mean no quarter."

"But what shall we do?"

"What can we but lie close and hold the wagons?"

"And wait?"

"Yes."

"Which means only the Missouri men!"

"There's no one else. We don't know that they're alive. We don't know
that they will come."

"But one thing I do know" - his dark face gathered in a scowl - "if he
doesn't come it will not be because he was not asked! That fellow
carried a letter from Molly to him. I know that. Well, what do you-all
think of me? What's my standing in all this? If I've not been shamed and
humiliated, how can a man be? And what am I to expect?"

"If we get through, if Molly lives, you mean?"

"Yes. I don't quit what I want. I'll never give her up. You give me
leave to try again? Things may change. She may consider the wrong she's
done me, an honest man. It's his hanging around all the time, keeping in
her mind. And now we've sent for him - and so has she!"

They walked apart, Wingate to his wagon.

"How is she?" he asked of his wife, nodding to Molly's wagon.

"Better some ways, but low," replied his stout helpmate, herself
haggard, dark circles of fatigue about her eyes. "She won't eat, even
with the fever down. If we was back home where we could get things!
Jess, what made us start for Oregon?"

"What made us leave Kentucky for Indiana, and Indiana for Illinois? I
don't know. God help us now!"

"It's bad, Jesse."

"Yes, it's bad." Suddenly he took his wife's face in his hands and
kissed her quietly. "Kiss Little Molly for me," he said. "I wish - I
wish - "

"I wish them other wagons'd come," said Molly Wingate. "Then we'd see!"




CHAPTER XXXII

THE FIGHT AT THE FORD


Jackson, wounded and weary as he was, drove his crippled horse so hard
all the night through that by dawn he had covered almost fifty miles,
and was in sight of the long line of wagons, crawling like a serpent
down the slopes west of the South Pass, a cloud of bitter alkali dust
hanging like a blanket over them. No part of the way had been more
cheerless than this gray, bare expanse of more than a hundred miles, and
none offered less invitation for a bivouac. But now both man and horse
were well-nigh spent.

Knowing that he would be reached within an hour or so at best, Jackson
used the last energies of his horse in riding back and forth at right
angles across the trail, the Plains sign of "Come to me!" He hoped it
would be seen. He flung himself down across the road, in the dust, his
bridle tied to his wrist. His horse, now nearly gone, lay down beside
him, nor ever rose again. And here, in the time a gallop could bring
them up, Banion and three of his men found them, one dead, the other
little better.

"Bill! Bill!"

The voice of Banion was anxious as he lightly shook the shoulder of the
prone man, half afraid that he, too, had died. Stupid in sleep, the
scout sprang up, rifle in hand.

"Who's thar?"

"Hold, Bill! Friends! Easy now!"

The old man pulled together, rubbed his eyes.

"I must of went to sleep agin," said he. "My horse - pshaw now, pore
critter, do-ee look now!"

In rapid words he now told his errand. They could see the train
accelerating its speed. Jackson felt in the bag at his belt and handed
Banion the folded paper. He opened the folds steadily, read the words
again and again.

"'Come to us,'" is what it says. He spoke to Jackson.

"Ye're a damned liar, Will," remarked Jackson.

"I'll read it all!" said Banion suddenly.

"'Will Banion, come to me, or it may be too late. There never was any
wedding. I am the most wicked and most unhappy woman in the world. You
owe me nothing! But come! M.W.'

"That's what it says. Now you know. Tell me - you heard of no wedding
back at Independence Rock? They said nothing? He and she - "

"Ef they was ever any weddin' hit was a damned pore sort, an' she says
thar wasn't none. She'd orto know."

"Can you ride, Jackson?"

"Span in six fast mules for a supply wagon, such as kin gallop. I'll
sleep in that a hour or so. Git yore men started, Will. We may be too
late. It's nigh fifty mile to the ford o' the Green."

It came near to mutiny when Banion ordered a third of his men to stay
back with the ox teams and the families. Fifty were mounted and ready in
five minutes. They were followed by two fast wagons. In one of these
rolled Bill Jackson, unconscious of the roughness of the way.

On the Sandy, twenty miles from the ford, they wakened him.

"Now tell me how it lies," said Banion. "How's the country?"

Jackson drew a sketch on the sand.

"They'll surround, an' they'll cut off the water."

"Can we ford above and come in behind them?"

"We mout. Send half straight to the ford an' half come in behind,
through the willers, huh? That'd put 'em atween three fires. Ef we driv'
'em on the wagons they'd get hell thar, an' ef they broke, the wagons
could chase 'em inter us again. I allow we'd give 'em hell. Hit's the
Crows I'm most a-skeered of. The Bannacks - ef that's who they was - 'll
run easy."

At sunset of that day the emigrants, now half mad of thirst, and half
ready to despair of succor or success, heard the Indian drums sound and
the shrilling of the eagle-bone whistles. The Crows were chanting again.
Whoops arose along the river bank.

"My God! they're coming!" called out a voice.

There was a stir of uneasiness along the line, an ominous thing. And
then the savage hosts broke from their cover, more than a thousand men,
ready to take some loss in their hope that the whites were now more
helpless. In other circumstances it must have been a stirring spectacle
for any who had seen it. To these, cowering in the sand, it brought
terror.

But before the three ranks of the Crows had cleared the cover the last
line began to yell, to whip, to break away. Scattering but continuous
rifle fire followed them, war cries arose, not from savages, but white
men. A line of riders emerged, coming straight through to the second
rank of the Crow advance. Then the beleaguered knew that the Missourians
were up.

"Banion, by God!" said a voice which few stopped to recognize as
Woodhull's.

He held his fire, his rifle resting so long through the wagon wheel that
Caleb Price in one swift motion caught it away from him.

"No harm, friend," said he, "but you'll not need this just now!"

His cold eye looked straight into that of the intending murderer.

The men in the wagon park rose to their work again. The hidden Bannacks
began to break away from their lodgment under the river bank. The sound
of hoofs and of shouts came down the trail. The other wing of the
Missourians flung off and cleared the ford before they undertook to
cross, their slow, irregular, deadly rifle fire doing its work among
the hidden Bannacks until they broke and ran for their horses in the
cottonwoods below. This brought them partly into view, and the rifles of
the emigrants on that side bore on them till they broke in sheer terror
and fled in a scattered _sauve qui peut_.

The Crows swerved under the enfilading fire of the men who now crossed
the ford. Caught between three fires, and meeting for their first time
the use of the revolver, then new to them, they lost heart and once more
left their dead, breaking away into a mad flight west and north which
did not end till they had forded the upper tributaries of the Green and
Snake, and found their way back west of the Tetons to their own country
far east and north of the Two-go-tee crossing of the Wind River
Mountains; whence for many a year they did not emerge again to battle
with the white nation on the Medicine Road. At one time there were forty
Crow squaws, young and old, with gashed breasts and self-amputated
fingers, given in mourning over the unreturning brave.

What many men had not been able to do of their own resources, less than
a fourth their number now had done. Side by side Banion, Jackson, a half
dozen others, rode up to the wagon gap, now opened. They were met by a
surge of the rescued. Women, girls threw themselves upon them, kissing
them, embracing them hysterically. Where had been gloom, now was
rejoicing, laughter, tears.

The leaders of the emigrants came up to Banion and his men, Wingate in
advance. Banion still sat his great black horse, coldly regarding them.

"I have kept my promise, Captain Wingate," said he. "I have not come
until you sent for me. Let me ask once more, do I owe you anything now?"

"No, sir, you do not," replied the older man.

"And do you owe me anything?"

Wingate did not answer.

"Name what you like, Major Banion," said a voice at his shoulder - Caleb
Price.

Banion turned to him slowly.

"Some things have no price, sir," said he. "For other things I shall ask
a high price in time. Captain Wingate, your daughter asked me to come.
If I may see her a moment, and carry back to my men the hope of her
recovery, we shall all feel well repaid."

Wingate made way with the others. Banion rode straight through the gap,
with no more than one unseeing glance at Woodhull, near whom sat
Jackson, a pistol resting on his thigh. He came to the place under a
wagon where they had made a hospital cot for Molly Wingate. It was her
own father and mother who lifted her out as Will Banion sprang down, hat
in hand, pale in his own terror at seeing her so pale.

"No, don't go!" said the girl to her parents. "Be here with us - and
God.'"

She held out her arms and he bent above her, kissing her forehead gently
and shyly as a boy.

"Please get well, Molly Wingate," said he. "You are Molly Wingate?"

"Yes. At the end - I couldn't! I ran away, all in my wedding clothes,
Will. In the dark. Someone shot me. I've been sick, awfully sick, Will."

"Please get well, Molly Wingate! I'm going away again. This time, I
don't know where. Can't you forget me, Molly Wingate?"

"I'm going to try, Will. I did try. Go on ahead, Will," she added. "You
know what I mean. Do what I told you. I - why, Will!"

"My poor lamb!" said the strong voice of her mother, who gathered her in
her arms, looking over her shoulder at this man to whom her child had
made no vows. But Banion, wet eyed, was gone once more.

Jackson saw his leader out of the wagon gap, headed for a camping spot
far apart. He stumbled up to the cot where Molly lay, her silent parents
still close by.

"Here, Miss Molly, gal," said he, holding out some object in his hand.
"We both got a arrer through the shoulder, an' mine's a'most well
a'ready. Ain't nothin' in the world like a good chaw o' tobackers to put
on a arrer cut. Do-ee, now!"




CHAPTER XXXIII

THE FAMILIES ARE COMING!


The Missourians camped proudly and coldly apart, the breach between the
two factions by no means healed, but rather deepened, even if honorably
so, and now well understood of all.

Most men of both parties now knew of the feud between Banion and
Woodhull, and the cause underlying it. Woman gossip did what it might. A
half dozen determined men quietly watched Woodhull. As many continually
were near Banion, although for quite a different reason. All knew that
time alone must work out the answer to this implacable quarrel, and that
the friends of the two men could not possibly train up together.

After all, when in sheer courtesy the leaders of the Wingate train came
over to the Missouri camp on the following day there came nearer to
being a good understanding than there ever had been since the first
break. It was agreed that all the wagons should go on together as far as
Fort Bridger, and that beyond that point the train should split into two
or perhaps three bodies - a third if enough Woodhull adherents could be
found to make him up a train. First place, second and third were to be
cast by lot. They all talked soberly, fairly, with the dignity of men
used to good standing among men. These matters concluded, and it having
been agreed that all should lie by for another day, they resolved the
meeting into one of better fellowship.

Old Bill Jackson, lying against his blanket roll, fell into
reminiscence.

"Times past," said he, "the Green River Rendyvous was helt right in
here. I've seed this place spotted with tepees - hull valley full o'
Company men an' free trappers an' pack-train people - time o' Ashley an'
Sublette an' my Uncle Jackson an' all them traders. That was right here
on the Green. Ever'body drunk an' happy, like I ain't now. Mounting men
togged out, new leggin's an' moccasins their womern had made, warriors
painted up a inch o' their lives, an' women with brass wire an' calico
all they wanted - maybe two-three thousand people in the Rendyvous.

"But I never seed the grass so short, an' I never seed so much fightin'
afore in all my life as I have this trip. This is the third time we're
jumped, an' this time we're lucky, shore as hell. Pull on through to
Bridger an' fix yer wagons afore they tumble apart. Leave the grass fer
them that follows, an' git on fur's you kin, every wagon. We ain't
likely to have no more trouble now. Pile up them braves in one heap fer
a warnin' to any other bunch o' reds that may come along to hide around
the wagon ford. New times has come on the Green."

"Can you travel, Jackson?" asked Hall of Ohio. "You've had a hard time."

"Who? Me? Why shouldn't I? Give me time to pick up some o' them bows
an' arrers an' I'm ready to start. I noticed a right fine horn bow one
o' them devils had - the Crows allus had good bows. That's the
yaller-an'-red brave that was itchin' so long to slap a arrer through my
ribs from behind. I'd like to keep his bow fer him, him not needin' it
now."

Before the brazen sun had fully risen on the second day these late
peaceful farmers of Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, were
plodding along once more beside their sore-footed oxen; passing out
unaided into a land which many leading men in the Government, North and
South, and quite aside from political affiliations, did not value at
five dollars for it all, though still a thousand miles of it lay ahead.

"Oh, then, Susannah!" roared Jed Wingate, trudging along beside Molly's
wagon in the sand. "Don't you cry fer me - I'm going through to Oregon,
with my banjo on my knee!"

Fair as a garden to the sun-seared eyes of the emigrants seemed the
mountain post, Fort Bridger, when its rude stockade separated itself
from the distortions of the desert mirage, whose citadels of silence,
painted temples fronted with colossal columns, giant sphinxes, vast
caryatids, lofty arches, fretwork façades, fantastically splendid
castles and palaces now resolved themselves into groups of squat pole
structures and a rude stock corral.

The site of the post itself could not better have been chosen. Here the
flattened and dividing waters of the Black's Fork, icy cold and fresh
from the Uintah Mountains to the southward, supported a substantial
growth of trees, green now and wonderfully refreshing to desert-weary
eyes.

"The families are coming!"

Bridger's clerk, Chardon, raised the new cry of the trading post.

"Broke an' hungry, I'll bet!" swore old Jim Bridger in his beard.

But he retired into his tepee and issued orders to his Shoshone squaw,
who was young and pretty. Her name, as he once had said, was Dang Yore
Eyes - and she was very proud of it. Philosophical withal, though
smarting under recent blows of her white lord, she now none the less
went out and erected once more in front of the tepee the token Bridger
had kicked down - the tufted lance, the hair-fringed bull-neck shield,
the sacred medicine bundle which had stood in front of Jeem's tepee in
the Rendezvous on Horse Creek, what time he had won her in a game of
hands. Whereupon the older squaw, not young, pretty or jealous, abused
him in Ute and went out after wood. Her name was Blast Your Hide, and
she also was very proud of her white name. Whereafter both Dang Yore
Eyes and Blast Yore Hide, female, and hence knowing the moods of man,
wisely hid out for a while. They knew when Jeem had the long talk with
the sick white squaw, who was young, but probably needed bitter bark of
the cottonwood to cure her fever.

Painted Utes and Shoshones stood about, no more silent than the few
local mountaineers, bearded, beaded and fringed, who still after some
mysterious fashion clung to the old life at the post. Against the
newcomers, profitable as they were, still existed the ancient antipathy
of the resident for the nonresident.

"My land sakes alive!" commented stoical Molly Wingate after they had
made some inquiries into the costs of staples here. "This store ain't no
place to trade. They want fifty dollars a sack for flour - what do you
think of that? We got it for two dollars back home. And sugar a dollar a
tin cup, and just plain salt two bits a pound, and them to guess at the
pound. Do they think we're Indians, or what?"

"It's the tenth day of August, and a thousand miles ahead," commented
Caleb Price. "And we're beyond the buffalo now."

"And Sis is in trouble," added Jed Wingate. "The light wagon's got one
hind spindle half in two, and I've spliced the hind ex for the last
time."

Jackson advanced an idea.

"At Fort Hall," he said, "I've seed 'em cut a wagon in two an' make a
two-wheel cart out'n hit. They're easier to git through mountains that
way."

"Now listen to that, Jesse!" Mrs. Wingate commented. "It's getting down
to less and less every day. But I'm going to take my bureau through, and
my wheat, and my rose plants, if I have to put wheels on my bureau."

The men determined to saw down three wagons of the train which now
seemed doubtful of survival as quadrupeds, and a general rearrangement
of cargoes was agreed. Now they must jettison burden of every
dispensable sort. Some of the sore-necked oxen were to be thrown into
the loose herd and their places taken for a time by cows no longer
offering milk.

A new soberness began to sit on all. The wide reaches of desert with
which they here were in touch appalled their hearts more than anything
they yet had met. The grassy valley of the Platte, where the great
fourfold tracks of the trail cut through a waving sea of green belly
deep to the oxen, had seemed easy and inviting, and since then hardship
had at least been spiced with novelty and change. But here was a new and
forbidding land. This was the Far West itself; silent, inscrutable,
unchanged, irreducible. The mightiness of its calm was a smiting thing.
The awesomeness of its chill, indifferent nights, the unsparing ardors
of its merciless noons, the measureless expanses of its levels, the cold
barrenness of its hills - these things did not invite as to the bosom of
a welcoming mother; they repelled, as with the chill gesture of a
stranger turning away outcasts from the door.

"Here resolution almost faints!" wrote one.

A general requisition was made on the scant stores Bridger had hurried


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