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laughed.

"I could get a dozen wagons through, maybe," said he. "Here's two
hundred. Woodhull's the man, but Woodhull's gone - lost, I reckon, or
maybe killed and lying out somewhere on these prairies. You take it,
Cale."

Price considered for a time.

"No," said he at length. "It's no time for one of us to take on what may
be done better by someone else, because our women and children are at
stake. The very best man's none too good for this job, and the more
experience he has the better. The man who thinks fastest and clearest at
the right time is the man we want, and the man we'd follow - the only
man. Who'll he be?"

"Oh, I'll admit Banion had the best idea of crossing the Kaw," said
Kelsey. "He got his own people over, too, somehow."

"Yes, and they're together now ten miles below us. And Molly
Wingate - she was caught out with her team by the fire - says it was
Banion who started the back-fire. That saved his train and ours. Ideas
that come too late are no good. We need some man with the right ideas at
the right time."

"You think it's Banion?" Hall spoke.

"I do think it's Banion. I don't see how it can be anyone else."

"Woodhull'd never stand for it."

"He isn't here."

"Wingate won't."

"He'll have to."

The chief of mutineers, a grave and bearded man, waited for a time.

"This is a meeting of the train," said he. "In our government the
majority rules. Is there any motion on this?"

Silence. Then rose Hall of Ohio, slowly, a solid man, with three wagons
of his own.

"I've been against the Missouri outfit," said he. "They're a wild bunch,
with no order or discipline to them. They're not all free-soilers, even
if they're going out to Oregon. But if one man can handle them, he can
handle us. An Army man with a Western experience - who'll it be unless it
is their man? So. Mister Chairman, I move for a committee of three,
yourself to be one, to ride down and ask the Missourians to join on
again, all under Major Banion."

"I'll have to second that," said a voice. Price saw a dozen nods.
"You've heard it, men," said he. "All in favor rise up."

They stood, with not many exceptions - rough-clad, hard-headed,
hard-handed men of the nation's vanguard. Price looked them over
soberly.

"You see the vote, men," said he. "I wish Jess had come, but he didn't.
Who'll be the man to ride down? Wingate?"

"He wouldn't go," said Kelsey. "He's got something against Banion; says
he's not right on his war record - something - "

"He's right on his train record this far," commented Price. "We're not
electing a Sabbath-school superintendent now, but a train captain who'll
make these wagons cover twelve miles a day, average.

"Hall, you and Kelsey saddle up and ride down with me. We'll see what we
can do. One thing sure, something has got to be done, or we might as
well turn back. For one, I'm not used to that."

They did saddle and ride - to find the Missouri column coming up with
intention of pitching below, at the very scene of the massacre, which
was on the usual Big Vermilion ford, steep-banked on either side, but
with hard bottom.

Ahead of the train rode two men at a walk, the scout Jackson, and the
man they sought. They spied him as the man on the black Spanish horse,
found him a pale and tired young man, who apparently had slept as ill as
they themselves. But in straight and manful fashion they told him their
errand.

The pale face of Will Banion flushed, even with the livid scorch marks
got in the prairie fire the day before. He considered.

"Gentlemen," he said after a time, "you don't know what you are asking
of me. It would be painful for me to take that work on now."

"It's painful for us to see our property lost and our families set
afoot," rejoined Caleb Price. "It's not pleasant for me to do this. But
it's no question, Major Banion, what you or I find painful or pleasant.
The question is on the women and children. You know; that very well."

"I do know it - yes. But you have other men. Where's Woodhull?"

"We don't know. We think the Pawnees got him among the others."

"Jackson" - Banion turned to his companion - "we've got to make a
look-around for him. He's probably across the river somewhere."

"Like enough," rejoined the scout. "But the first thing is for all us
folks to git acrost the river too. Let him go to hell."

"We want you, Major," said Hall quietly, and even Kelsey nodded.

"What shall I do, Jackson?" demanded Banion.

"Fly inter hit, Will," replied that worthy. "Leastways, take hit on
long enough so's to git them acrost an' help git their cattle together.
Ye couldn't git Wingate to work under ye no ways. But mebbe-so we can
show 'em fer a day er so how Old Missoury gits acrost a country.
Uh-huh?"

Again Banion considered, pondering many things of which none of these
knew anything at all. At length he drew aside with the men of the main
train.

"Park our wagons here, Bill," he said. "See that they are well parked,
too. Get out your guards. I'll go up and see what we can do. We'll all
cross here. Have your men get all the trail ropes out and lay in a lot
of dry cottonwood logs. We'll have to raft some of the stuff over. See
if there's any wild grapevines along the bottoms. They'll help hold the
logs. So long."

He turned, and with the instinct of authority rode just a half length
ahead of the others on the return.

Jesse Wingate, a sullen and discredited Achilles, held to his tent, and
Molly did as much, her stout-hearted and just-minded mother being the
main source of Wingate news. Banion kept as far away from them as
possible, but had Jed sent for.

"Jed," said he, "first thing, you get your boys together and go after
the cattle. Most of them went downstream with the wind. The hobbled
stuff didn't come back down the trail and must be below there too. The
cows wouldn't swim the big river on a run. If there's rough country,
with any shelter, they'd like enough begin to mill - it might be five
miles, ten - I can't guess. You go find out.

"Now, you others, first thing, get your families all out in the sun.
Spread out the bedclothes and get them dried. Build fires and cook your
best right away - have the people eat. Get that bugle going and play
something fast - Sweet Hour of Prayer is for evening, not now. Give 'em
Reveille, and then the cavalry charge. Play Susannah.

"I'm going to ride the edge of the burning to look for loose stock. You
others get a meal into these people - coffee, quinine, more coffee. Then
hook up all the teams you can and move down to the ford. We'll be on the
Platte and among the buffalo in a week or ten days. Nothing can stop us.
All you need is just a little more coffee and a little more system, and
then a good deal more of both.

"Now's a fine time for this train to shake into place," he added. "You,
Price, take your men and go down the lines. Tell your kinfolk and
families and friends and neighbors to make bands and hang together. Let
'em draw cuts for place if they like, but stick where they go. We can't
tell how the grass will be on ahead, and we may have to break the train
into sections on the Platte; but we'll break it ourselves, and not see
it fall apart or fight apart. So?"

He wheeled and went away at a trot. All he had given them was the one
thing they lacked.

The Wingate wagons came in groups and halted at the river bank, where
the work of rafting and wagon boating went methodically forward. Scores
of individual craft, tipsy and risky, two or three logs lashed together,
angled across and landed far below. Horsemen swam across with lines and
larger rafts were steadied fore and aft with ropes snubbed around tree
trunks on either bank. Once started, the resourceful pioneer found a
dozen ways to skin his cat, as one man phrased it, and presently the
falling waters permitted swimming and fording the stock. It all seemed
ridiculously simple and ridiculously cheerful.

Toward evening a great jangling of bells and shouting of young captains
announced the coming of a great band of the stampeded livestock - cattle,
mules and horses mixed. Afar came the voice of Jed Wingate singing, "Oh,
then Susannah," and urging Susannah to have no concern.

But Banion, aloof and morose, made his bed that night apart even from
his own train. He had not seen Wingate - did not see him till the next
day, noon, when he rode up and saluted the former leader, who sat on his
own wagon seat and not in saddle.

"My people are all across, Mr. Wingate," he said, and the last of your
wagons will be over by dark and straightened out. I'm parked a mile
ahead."

"You are parked? I thought you were elected - by my late friends - to lead
this whole train."

He spoke bitterly and with a certain contempt that made Banion color.

"No. We can travel apart, though close. Do you want to go ahead, or
shall I?"

"As you like. The country's free."

"It's not free for some things, Mr. Wingate," rejoined the younger man
hotly. "You can lead or not, as you like; but I'll not train up with a
man who thinks of me as you do. After this think what you like, but
don't speak any more."

"What do you mean by that?"

"You know very well. You've believed another man's word about my
personal character. It's gone far enough and too far."

"The other man is not here. He can't face you."

"No, not now. But if he's on earth he'll face me sometime."

Unable to control himself further, Banion wheeled and galloped away to
his own train.

"You ask if we're to join in with the Yankees," he flared out to
Jackson. "No! We'll camp apart and train apart. I won't go on with
them."

"Well," said the scout, "I didn't never think we would, er believe ye
could; not till they git in trouble agin - er till a certain light wagon
an' mules throws in with us, huh?"

"You'll say no more of that, Jackson! But one thing: you and I have got
to ride and see if we can get any trace of Woodhull."

"Like looking for a needle in a haystack, an' a damn bad needle at
that," was the old man's comment.




CHAPTER XVI

THE PLAINS


"On to the Platte! The buffalo!" New cheer seemed to come to the hearts
of the emigrants now, and they forgot bickering. The main train ground
grimly ahead, getting back, if not all its egotism, at least more and
more of its self-reliance. By courtesy, Wingate still rode ahead, though
orders came now from a joint council of his leaders, since Banion would
not take charge.

The great road to Oregon was even now not a trail but a road, deep cut
into the soil, though no wheeled traffic had marked it until within the
past five years. A score of paralled paths it might be at times, of
tentative location along a hillside or a marshy level; but it was for
the most part a deep-cut, unmistakable road from which it had been
impossible to wander. At times it lay worn into the sod a half foot, a
foot in depth. Sometimes it followed the ancient buffalo trails to
water - the first roads of the Far West, quickly seized on by hunters and
engineers - or again it transected these, hanging to the ridges after
frontier road fashion, heading out for the proved fords of the greater
streams. Always the wheel marks of those who had gone ahead in previous
years, the continuing thread of the trail itself, worn in by trader and
trapper and Mormon and Oregon or California man, gave hope and cheer to
these who followed with the plow.

Stretching out, closing up, almost inch by inch, like some giant
measuring worm in its slow progress, the train held on through a vast
and stately landscape, which some travelers had called the Eden of
America, such effect was given by the series of altering scenes. Small
imagination, indeed, was needed to picture here a long-established
civilization, although there was not a habitation. They were beyond
organized society and beyond the law.

Game became more abundant, wild turkeys still appeared in the timbered
creek bottoms. Many elk were seen, more deer and very many antelope,
packed in northward by the fires. A number of panthers and giant gray
wolves beyond counting kept the hunters always excited. The wild
abundance of an unexhausted Nature offered at every hand. The
sufficiency of life brought daily growth in the self-reliance which had
left them for a time.

The wide timberlands, the broken low hills of the green prairie at
length began to give place to a steadily rising inclined plane. The soil
became less black and heavy, with more sandy ridges. The oak and
hickory, stout trees of their forefathers, passed, and the cottonwoods
appeared. After they had crossed the ford of the Big Blue - a hundred
yards of racing water - they passed what is now the line between Kansas
and Nebraska, and followed up the Little Blue, beyond whose ford the
trail left these quieter river valleys and headed out over a high
table-land in a keen straight flight over the great valley of the
Platte, the highway to the Rockies.

Now the soil was sandier; the grass changed yet again. They had rolled
under wheel by now more than one hundred different varieties of wild
grasses. The vegetation began to show the growing altitude. The cactus
was seen now and then. On the far horizon the wavering mysteries of the
mirage appeared, marvelous in deceptiveness, mystical, alluring, the
very spirits of the Far West, appearing to move before their eyes in
giant pantomime. They were passing from the Prairies to the Plains.

Shouts and cheers arose as the word passed back that the sand hills
known as the Coasts of the Platte were in sight. Some mothers told their
children they were now almost to Oregon. The whips cracked more loudly,
the tired teams, tongues lolling, quickened their pace as they struck
the down-grade gap leading through the sand ridges.

Two thousand Americans, some of them illiterate and ignorant, all of
them strong, taking with them law, order, society, the church, the
school, anew were staging the great drama of human life, act and scene
and episode, as though upon some great moving platform drawn by
invisible cables beyond the vast proscenium of the hills.




CHAPTER XVII

THE GREAT ENCAMPMENT


As the long columns of the great wagon train broke through the screening
sand hills there was disclosed a vast and splendid panorama. The valley
of the Platte lay miles wide, green in the full covering of spring. A
crooked and broken thread of timber growth appeared, marking the moister
soil and outlining the general course of the shallow stream, whose giant
cottonwoods were dwarfed now by the distances. In between, and for miles
up and down the flat expanse, there rose the blue smokes of countless
camp fires, each showing the location of some white-topped ship of the
Plains. Black specks, grouped here and there, proved the presence of the
livestock under herd.

Over all shone a pleasant sun. Now and again the dark shadow of a moving
cloud passed over the flat valley, softening its high lights for the
time. At times, as the sun shone full and strong, the faint loom of the
mirage added the last touch of mysticism, the figures of the wagons
rising high, multiplied many-fold, with giant creatures passing between,
so that the whole seemed, indeed, some wild phantasmagoria of the
desert.

"Look!" exclaimed Wingate, pulling up his horse. "Look, Caleb, the
Northern train is in and waiting for us! A hundred wagons! They're
camped over the whole bend."

The sight of this vast re-enforcement brought heart to every man, woman
and child in all the advancing train. Now, indeed, Oregon was sure.
There would be, all told, four hundred - five hundred - above six hundred
wagons. Nothing could withstand them. They were the same as arrived!

As the great trains blended before the final emparkment men and women
who had never met before shook hands, talked excitedly, embraced, even
wept, such was their joy in meeting their own kind. Soon the vast valley
at the foot of the Grand Island of the Platte - ninety miles in length it
then was - became one vast bivouac whose parallel had not been seen in
all the world.

Even so, the Missouri column held back, an hour or two later on the
trail. Banion, silent and morose, still rode ahead, but all the flavor
of his adventure out to Oregon had left him - indeed, the very savor of
life itself. He looked at his arms, empty; touched his lips, where once
her kiss had been, so infinitely and ineradicably sweet. Why should he
go on to Oregon now?

As they came down through the gap in the Coasts, looking out over the
Grand Island and the great encampment, Jackson pulled up his horse.

"Look! Someone comin' out!"

Banion sat his horse awaiting the arrival of the rider, who soon cut
down the intervening distance until he could well be noted. A tall,
spare man he was, middle-aged, of long lank hair and gray stubbled
beard, and eyes overhung by bushy brows. He rode an Indian pad saddle,
without stirrups, and was clad in the old costume of the hunter of the
Far West - fringed shirt and leggings of buckskin. Moccasins made his
foot-covering, though he wore a low, wide hat. As he came on at speed,
guiding his wiry mount with a braided rope looped around the lower jaw,
he easily might have been mistaken for a savage himself had he not come
alone and from such company as that ahead. He jerked up his horse close
at hand and sat looking at the newcomers, with no salutation beyond a
short "How!"

Banion met him.

"We're the Westport train. Do you come from the Bluffs? Are you for
Oregon?"

"Yes. I seen ye comin'. Thought I'd projeck some. Who's that back of
ye?" He extended an imperative skinny finger toward Jackson. "If it
hain't Bill Jackson hit's his ghost!"

"The same to you, Jim. How!"

The two shook hands without dismounting. Jackson turned grinning to
Banion.

"Major," said he, "this is Jim Bridger, the oldest scout in the Rockies,
an' that knows more West than ary man this side the Missoury. I never
thought to see him agin, sartain not this far east."

"Ner me," retorted the other, shaking hands with one man after another.

"Jim Bridger? That's a name we know," said Banion. "I've heard of you
back in Kentucky."

"Whar I come from, gentlemen - whar I come from more'n forty year ago,
near's I can figger. Leastways I was borned in Virginny an' must of
crossed Kentucky sometime. I kain't tell right how old I am, but I
rek'lect perfect when they turned the water inter the Missoury River."
He looked at them solemnly.

"I come back East to the new place, Kansas City. It didn't cut no
mustard, an' I drifted to the Bluffs. This train was pullin' west, an' I
hired on for guide. I've got a few wagons o' my own - iron, flour an'
bacon for my post beyant the Rockies - ef we don't all git our ha'r
lifted afore then!

"We're in between the Sioux and the Pawnees now," he went on. "They're
huntin' the bufflers not ten mile ahead. But when I tell these pilgrims,
they laugh at me. The hull Sioux nation is on the spring hunt right now.
I'll not have it said Jim Bridger led a wagon train into a massacree. If
ye'll let me, I'm for leavin' 'em an' trainin' with you-all, especial
since you got anyhow one good man along. I've knowed Bill Jackson many a
year at the Rendyvous afore the fur trade petered. Damn the pilgrims!
The hull world's broke loose this spring. There's five thousand Mormons
on ahead, praisin' God every jump an' eatin' the grass below the roots.
Womern an' children - so many of 'em, so many! I kain't talk about hit!
Women don't belong out here! An' now here you come bringin' a thousand
more!

"There's a woman an' a baby layin' dead in oar camp now," he concluded.
"Died last night. The pilgrims is tryin' to make coffins fer 'em out'n
cottonwood logs."

"Lucky for all!" Jackson interrupted the garrulity of the other. "We
buried men in blankets on the Vermilion a few days back. The Pawnees got
a small camp o' our own folks."

"Yes, I know all about that."

"What's that?" cut in Banion. "How do you know?"

"Well, we've got the survivors - three o' them, countin' Woodhull, their
captain."

"How did they get here?"

"They came in with a small outfit o' Mormons that was north o' the
Vermilion. They'd come out on the St. Jo road. They told me - "

"Is Woodhull here - can you find him?"

"Shore! Ye want to see him?"

"Yes."

"He told me all about hit - "

"We know all about it, perhaps better than you do - after he's told you
all about it."

Bridger looked at him, curious.

"Well, anyhow, hit's over," said he. "One of the men had a Pawnee arrer
in his laig. Reckon hit hurt. I know, fer I carried a Blackfoot
arrerhead under my shoulder blade fer sever'l years.

"But come on down and help me make these pilgrims set guards. Do-ee
mind, now, the hull Sioux nation's just in ahead o' us, other side the
river! Yet these people didn't want to ford to the south side the
Platte; they wanted to stick north o' the river. Ef we had, we'd have
our ha'r dryin' by now. I tell ye, the tribes is out to stop the wagon
trains this spring. They say too many womern and children is comin', an'
that shows we want to take their land away fer keeps.

"From now on to Oregon - look out! The Cayuses cleaned out the Whitman
mission last spring in Oregon. Even the Shoshones is dancin'. The Crows
is out, the Cheyennes is marchin', the Bannocks is east o' the Pass, an'
ye kain't tell when ter expeck the Blackfoots an' Grow Vaws. Never was
gladder to see a man than I am to see Bill Jackson."

"Stretch out!"

Banion gave the order. The Missouri wagons came on, filed through the
gap in order and with military exactness wheeled into a perfect park at
one side the main caravan.

As the outer columns swung in, the inner spread out till the lapped
wagons made a great oblong, Bridger watching them. Quickly the animals
were outspanned, the picket ropes put down and the loose horses driven
off to feed while the cattle were close herded. He nodded his approval.

"Who's yer train boss, Bill?" he demanded. "That's good work."

"Major Banion, of Doniphan's column in the war."

"Will he fight?"

"Try him!"

News travels fast along a wagon train. Word passed now that there was a
big Sioux village not far ahead, on the other side of the river, and
that the caravan should be ready for a night attack. Men and women from
the earlier train came into the Westport camp and the leaders formulated
plans. More than four hundred families ate in sight of one another fires
that evening.

Again on the still air of the Plains that night rose the bugle summons,
by now become familiar. In groups the wagon folk began to assemble at
the council fire. They got instructions which left them serious. The
camp fell into semi-silence. Each family returned to its own wagon. Out
in the dark, flung around in a wide circle, a double watch stood guard.
Wingate and his aids, Banion, Jackson, Bridger, the pick of the hardier
men, went out for all the night. It was to Banion, Bridger and Jackson
that most attention now was paid. Banion could not yet locate Woodhull
in the train.

The scouts crept out ahead of the last picket line, for though an
attack in mass probably would not come before dawn, if the Sioux really
should cross the river, some horse stealing or an attempted stampede
might be expected before midnight or soon after.

The night wore on. The fires of willow twigs and _bois des vaches_ fell
into pale coals, into ashes. The chill of the Plains came, so that the
sleepers in the great wagon corral drew their blankets closer about them
as they lay.

It was approaching midnight when the silence was ripped apart by the
keen crack of a rifle - another and yet another.

Then, in a ripple of red detonation, the rifle fire ran along the upper
front of the entire encampment.

"Turn out! Turn out, men!" called the high, clear voice of Banion,
riding back. "Barricade! Fill in the wheels!"




CHAPTER XVIII

ARROW AND PLOW


The night attack on the great emigrant encampment was a thing which had
been preparing for years. The increasing number of the white men, the
lessening numbers of the buffalo, meant inevitable combat with all the
tribes sooner or later.

Now the spring hunt of the northern Plains tribes was on. Five hundred
lodges of the Sioux stood in one village on the north side of the
Platte. The scaffolds were red with meat, everywhere the women were
dressing hides and the camp was full of happiness. For a month the great
Sioux nation had prospered, according to its lights. Two hundred stolen
horses were under the wild herdsmen, and any who liked the meat of the
spotted buffalo might kill it close to camp from the scores taken out of
the first caravans up the Platte that year - the Mormons and other early


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