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trailers whom the Sioux despised because their horses were so few.

But the Sioux, fat with _boudins_ and _dépouille_ and marrowbones, had
waited long for the great Western train which should have appeared on
the north side of the Platte, the emigrant road from the Council Bluffs.
For some days now they had known the reason, as Jim Bridger had
explained - the wagons had forded the river below the Big Island. The
white men's medicine was strong.

The Sioux did not know of the great rendezvous at the forks of the Great
Medicine Road. Their watchmen, stationed daily at the eminences along
the river bluffs of the north shore, brought back scoffing word of the
carelessness of the whites. When they got ready they, too, would ford
the river and take them in. They had not heeded the warning sent down
the trail that no more whites should come into this country of the
tribes. It was to be war.

And now the smoke signals said yet more whites were coming in from the
south! The head men rode out to meet their watchmen. News came back that
the entire white nation now had come into the valley from the south and
joined the first train.

Here then was the chance to kill off the entire white nation, their
women and their children, so there would be none left to come from
toward the rising sun! Yes, this would end the race of the whites
without doubt or question, because they all were here. After killing
these it would be easy to send word west to the Arapahoes and Gros
Ventres and Cheyennes, the Crows, the Blackfeet, the Shoshones, the
Utes, to follow west on the Medicine Road and wipe out all who had gone
on West that year and the year before. Then the Plains and the mountains
would all belong to the red men again.

The chiefs knew that the hour just before dawn is when an enemy's heart
is like water, when his eyes are heavy, so they did not order the
advance at once. But a band of the young men who always fought together,
one of the inner secret societies or clans of the tribe, could not wait
so long. First come, first served. Daylight would be time to look over
the children and to keep those not desired for killing, and to select
and distribute the young women of the white nation. But the night would
be best for taking the elk-dogs and the spotted buffalo.

Accordingly a band from this clan swam and forded the wide river,
crossed the island, and in the early evening came downstream back of a
shielding fringe of cottonwoods. Their scouts saw with amazement the
village of tepees that moved on wheels. They heard the bugle, saw the
white nation gather at the medicine fire, heard them chant their great
medicine song; then saw them disperse; saw the fires fall low.

They laughed. The white nation was strong, but they did not put out
guards at night! For a week the Sioux had watched them, and they knew
about that. It would be easy to run off all the herd and to kill a few
whites even now, beginning the sport before the big battle of to-morrow,
which was to wipe out the white nation altogether.

But when at length, as the handle of the Great Dipper reached the point
agreed, the line of the Sioux clansmen crawled away from the fringe of
trees and out into the cover of a little slough that made toward the
village of tepees on wheels, a quarter of a mile in front of the village
men arose out of the ground and shot into them. Five of their warriors
fell. Tall men in the dark came out and counted coup on them, took off
their war bonnets; took off even more below the bonnets. And there was a
warrior who rode this way and that, on a great black horse, and who had
a strange war cry not heard before, and who seemed to have no fear. So
said the clan leader when he told the story of the repulse.

Taken aback, the attacking party found cover. But the Sioux would charge
three times. So they scattered and crawled in again over a half circle.
They found the wall of tepees solid; found that the white nation knew
more of war than they had thought. They sped arrow after arrow, ball
after ball, against the circle of the white tepees, but they did not
break, and inside no one moved or cried out in terror; whereas outside,
in the grass, men rose up and fired into them and did not run back, but
came forward. Some had short rifles in their hands that did not need to
be loaded, but kept on shooting. And none of the white nation ran away.
And the elk-dogs with long ears, and the spotted buffalo, were no longer
outside the village in the grass, but inside the village. What men could
fight a nation whose warriors were so unfair as all this came to?

The tribesmen drew back to the cottonwoods a half mile.

"My heart is weak," said their clan leader. "I believe they are going
to shoot us all. They have killed twenty of us now, and we have not
taken a scalp."

"I was close," said a young boy whom they called Bull Gets Up or The
Sitting Bull. "I was close, and I heard the spotted buffalo running
about inside the village; I heard the children. To-morrow we can run
them away."

"But to-night what man knows the gate into their village? They have got
a new chief to-day. They are many as the grass leaves. Their medicine is
strong. I believe they are going to kill us all if we stay here." Thus
the partisan.

So they did not stay there, but went away. And at dawn Banion and
Bridger and Jackson and each of the column captains - others also - came
into the corral carrying war bonnets, shields and bows; and some had
things which had been once below war bonnets. The young men of this clan
always fought on foot or on horse in full regalia of their secret order,
day or night. The emigrants had plenty of this savage war gear now.

"We've beat them off," said Bridger, "an' maybe they won't ring us now.
Get the cookin' done, Cap'n Banion, an' let's roll out. But for your
wagon park they'd have cleaned us."

The whites had by no means escaped scathless. A dozen arrows stood sunk
into the sides of the wagons inside the park, hundreds had thudded into
the outer sides, nearest the enemy. One shaft was driven into the hard
wood of a plow beam. Eight oxen staggered, legs wide apart, shafts fast
in their bodies; four lay dead; two horses also; as many mules.

This was not all. As the fighting men approached the wagons they saw a
group of stern-faced women weeping around something which lay covered by
a blanket on the ground. Molly Wingate stooped, drew it back to show
them. Even Bridger winced.

An arrow, driven by a buffalo bow, had glanced on the spokes of a wheel,
risen in its flight and sped entirely across the inclosure of the
corral. It had slipped through the canvas cover of a wagon on the
opposite side as so much paper and caught fair a woman who was lying
there, a nursing baby in her arms, shielding it, as she thought, with
her body. But the missile had cut through one of her arms, pierced the
head of the child and sunk into the bosom of the mother deep enough to
kill her also. The two lay now, the shaft transfixing both; and they
were buried there; and they lie there still, somewhere near the Grand
Island, in one of a thousand unknown and unmarked graves along the Great
Medicine Road. Under the ashes of a fire they left this grave, and drove
six hundred wagons over it, and the Indians never knew.

The leaders stood beside the dead woman, hats in hand. This was part of
the price of empire - the life of a young woman, a bride of a year.

The wagons all broke camp and went on in a vast caravan, the
Missourians now at the front. Noon, and the train did not halt. Banion
urged the teamsters. Bridger and Jackson were watching the many signal
smokes.

"I'm afeard o' the next bend," said Jackson at length.

The fear was justified. Early in the afternoon they saw the outriders
turn and come back to the train at full run. Behind them, riding out
from the concealment of a clump of cottonwoods on the near side of the
scattering river channels, there appeared rank after rank of the Sioux,
more than two thousand warriors bedecked in all the savage finery of
their war dress. They were after their revenge. They had left their
village and, paralleling the white men's advance, had forded on ahead.

They came out now, five hundred, eight hundred, a thousand, two thousand
strong, and the ground shook under the thunder of the hoofs. They were
after their revenge, eager to inflict the final blow upon the white
nation.

The spot was not ill chosen for their tactics. The alkali plain of the
valley swung wide and flat, and the trail crossed it midway, far back
from the water and not quite to the flanking sand hills. While a few
dashed at the cattle, waving their blankets, the main body, with
workman-like precision, strung out and swung wide, circling the train
and riding in to arrow range.

The quick orders of Banion and his scouts were obeyed as fully as time
allowed. At a gallop, horse and ox transport alike were driven into a
hurried park and some at least of the herd animals inclosed. The
riflemen flanked the train on the danger side and fired continually at
the long string of running horses, whose riders had flung themselves
off-side so that only a heel showed above a pony's back, a face under
his neck. Even at this range a half dozen ponies stumbled, figures
crawled off for cover. The emigrants were stark men with rifles. But the
circle went on until, at the running range selected, the crude wagon
park was entirely surrounded by a thin racing ring of steel and fire
stretched out over two or three miles.

The Sioux had guns also, and though they rested most on the bow, their
chance rifle fire was dangerous. As for the arrows, even from this
disadvantageous station these peerless bowmen sent them up in a high arc
so that they fell inside the inclosure and took their toll. Three men,
two women lay wounded at the first ride, and the animals were plunging.

The war chief led his warriors in the circle once more, chanting his own
song to the continuous chorus of savage ululations. The entire fighting
force of the Sioux village was in the circle.

The ring ran closer. The Sioux were inside seventy-five yards, the dust
streaming, the hideously painted faces of the riders showing through,
red, saffron, yellow, as one after another warrior twanged a bow under
his horse's neck as he ran.

But this was easy range for the steady rifles of men who kneeled and
fired with careful aim. Even the six-shooters, then new to the Sioux,
could work. Pony after pony fell, until the line showed gaps; whereas
now the wagon corral showed no gap at all, while through the wheels, and
over the tongue spaces, from every crevice of the gray towering wall
came the fire of more and more men. The medicine of the white men was
strong.

Three times the ring passed, and that was all. The third circuit was
wide and ragged. The riders dared not come close enough to carry off
their dead and wounded. Then the attack dwindled, the savages scattering
and breaking back to the cover of the stream.

"Now, men, come on!" called out Banion. "Ride them down! Give them a
trimming they'll remember! Come on, boys!"

Within a half hour fifty more Sioux were down, dead or very soon to die.
Of the living not one remained in sight.

"They wanted hit, an' they got hit!" exclaimed Bridger, when at length
he rode back, four war bonnets across his saddle and scalps at his
cantle. He raised his voice in a fierce yell of triumph, not much other
than savage himself, dismounted and disdainfully cast his trophies
across a wagon tongue.

"I've et horse an' mule an' dog," said he, "an' wolf, wil'cat an'
skunk, an' perrairy dog an' snake an' most ever'thing else that wears a
hide, but I never could eat Sioux. But to-morrer we'll have ribs in
camp. I've seed the buffler, an' we own this side the river now."

Molly Wingate sat on a bed roll near by, knitting as calmly as though at
home, but filled with wrath.

"Them nasty, dirty critters!" she exclaimed. "I wish't the boys had
killed them all. Even in daylight they don't stand up and fight fair
like men. I lost a whole churnin' yesterday. Besides, they killed my
best cow this mornin', that's what they done. And lookit this thing!"

She held up an Indian arrow, its strap-iron head bent over at right
angles. "They shot this into our plow beam. Looks like they got a spite
at our plow."

"Ma'am, they have got a spite at hit," said the old scout, seating
himself on the ground near by. "They're scared o' hit. I've seed a bunch
o' Sioux out at Laramie with a plow some Mormon left around when he
died. They'd walk around and around that thing by the hour, talkin' low
to theirselves. They couldn't figger hit out no ways a-tall.

"That season they sent a runner down to the Pawnees to make a peace
talk, an' to find out what this yere thing was the whites had brung out.
Pawnees sent to the Otoes, an' the Otoes told them. They said hit was
the white man's big medicine, an' that hit buried all the buffler under
the ground wherever hit come, so no buffler ever could git out again.
Nacherl, when the runners come back an' told what that thing really was,
all the Injuns, every tribe, said if the white man was goin' to bury the
buffler the white man had got to stay back.

"Us trappers an' traders got along purty well with the Injuns - they
could get things they wanted at the posts or the Rendyvous, an' that was
all right. They had pelts to sell. But now these movers didn't buy
nothin' an' didn't sell nothin'. They just went on through, a-carryin'
this thing for buryin' the buffler. From now on the Injuns is goin' to
fight the whites. Ye kain't blame 'em, ma'am; they only see their
finish.

"Five years ago nigh a thousand whites drops down in Oregon. Next year
come fifteen hundred, an' in '45 twicet that many, an' so it has went,
doublin, an' doublin'. Six or seven thousand whites go up the Platte
this season, an' a right smart sprinklin' o' them'll git through to
Oregon. Them 'at does'll carry plows.

"Ma'am, if the brave that sunk a arrer in yore plow beam didn't kill
yore plow hit warn't because he didn't want to. Hit's the truth - the
plow does bury the buffler, an' fer keeps! Ye kain't kill a plow, ner
neither kin yer scare hit away. Hit's the holdin'est thing ther is,
ma'am - hit never does let go."

"How long'll we wait here?" the older woman demanded.

"Anyhow fer two-three days, ma'am. Thar's a lot has got to sort put
stuff an' throw hit away here. One man has drug a pair o' millstones
all the way to here from Ohio. He allowed to get rich startin' a
gris'mill out in Oregon. An' then ther's chairs an' tables, an' God
knows what - "

"Well, anyhow," broke in Mrs. Wingate truculently, "no difference what
you men say, I ain't going to leave my bureau, nor my table, nor my
chairs! I'm going to keep my two churns and my feather bed too. We've
had butter all the way so far, and I mean to have it all the way - and
eggs. I mean to sleep at nights, too, if the pesky muskeeters'll let me.
They most have et me up. And I'd give a dollar for a drink of real water
now. It's all right to settle this water overnight, but that don't take
the sody out of it.

"Besides," she went on, "I got four quarts o' seed wheat in one of them
bureau drawers, and six cuttings of my best rose-bush I'm taking out to
plant in Oregon. And I got three pairs of Jed's socks in another bureau
drawer. It's flat on its back, bottom of the load. I ain't going to dig
it out for no man."

"Well, hang on to them socks, ma'am. I've wintered many a time without
none - only grass in my moccasins. There's outfits in this train that's
low on flour an' side meat right now, let alone socks. We got to cure
some meat. There's a million buffler just south in the breaks wantin' to
move on north, but scared of us an' the Injuns. We'd orto make a good
hunt inside o' ten mile to-morrer. We'll git enough meat to take us a
week to jerk hit all, or else Jim Bridger's a liar - which no one never
has said yit, ma'am."

"Flowers?" he added. "You takin' flowers acrost? Flowers - do they go
with the plow, too, as well as weeds? Well, well! Wimminfolks shore air
a strange race o' people, hain't that the truth? Buryin' the buffler an'
plantin' flowers on his grave!

"But speakin' o' buryin' things," he suddenly resumed, "an' speakin' o'
plows, 'minds me o' what's delayin' us all right now. Hit's a fool
thing, too - buryin' Injuns!"

"As which, Mr. Bridger? What you mean?" inquired Molly Wingate, looking
over her spectacles.

"This new man, Banion, that come in with the Missouri wagons - he taken
hit on hisself to say, atter the fight was over, we orto stop an' bury
all them Injuns! Well, I been on the Plains an' in the Rockies all my
life, an' I never yit, before now, seed a Injun buried. Hit's
onnatcherl. But this here man he, now, orders a ditch plowed an' them
Injuns hauled in an' planted. Hit's wastin' time. That's what's keepin'
him an' yore folks an' sever'l others. Yore husband an' yore son is both
out yan with him. Hit beats hell, ma'am, these new-fangled ways!"

"So that's where they are? I wanted them to fetch me something to make a
fire."

"I kain't do that, ma'am. Mostly my squaws - "

"Your what? Do you mean to tell me you got squaws, you old heathen?"

"Not many, ma'am - only two. Times is hard sence beaver went down. I
kain't tell ye how hard this here depressin' has set on us folks out
here."

"Two squaws! My laws! Two - what's their names?" This last with feminine
curiosity.

"Well now, ma'am, I call one on 'em Blast Yore Hide - she's a Ute. The
other is younger an' pertier. She's a Shoshone. I call her Dang Yore
Eyes. Both them women is powerful fond o' me, ma'am. They both are right
proud o' their names, too, because they air white names, ye see. Now
when time comes fer a fire, Blast Yore Hide an' Dang Yore Eyes, they
fight hit out between 'em which gits the wood. I don't study none over
that, ma'am."

Molly Wingate rose so ruffled that, like an angered hen, she seemed
twice her size.

"You old heathen!" she exclaimed. "You old murderin' lazy heathen man!
How dare you talk like that to me?"

"As what, ma'am? I hain't said nothin' out'n the way, have I? O' course,
ef ye don't want to git the fire stuff, thar's yer darter - she's young
an' strong. Yes, an' perty as a picter besides, though like enough
triflin', like her maw. Where's she at now?"

"None of your business where."

"I could find her."

"Oh, you could! How?"

"I'd find that young feller Sam Woodhull that come in from below,
renegadin' away from his train with that party o' Mormons - him that had
his camp jumped by the Pawnees. I got a eye fer a womern, ma'am, but
so's he - more'n fer Injuns, I'd say. I seed him with yore darter right
constant, but I seemed to miss him in the ride. Whar was he at?"

"I don't know as it's none of your business, anyways."

"No? Well, I was just wonderin', ma'am, because I heerd Cap'n Banion ast
that same question o' yore husband, Cap'n Wingate, an' Cap'n Wingate
done said jest what ye said yerself - that hit wasn't none o' his
business. Which makes things look shore hopeful an' pleasant in this
yere train o' pilgrims, this bright and pleasant summer day, huh?"

Grinning amicably, the incorrigible old mountaineer rose and went his
way, and left the irate goodwife to gather her apron full of plains fuel
for herself.




CHAPTER XIX

BANION OF DONIPHAN'S


Molly Wingate was grumbing over her fire when at length her husband and
son returned to their wagon. Jed was vastly proud over a bullet crease
he had got in a shoulder. After his mother's alarm had taken the form of
first aid he was all for showing his battle scars to a certain damsel in
Caleb Price's wagon. Wingate remained dour and silent as was now his
wont, and cursing his luck that he had had no horse to carry him up in
the late pursuit of the Sioux. He also was bitter over the delay in
making a burial trench.

"Some ways, Jess," commented his spouse, "I'd a'most guess you ain't got
much use for Will Banion."

"Why should I have? Hasn't he done all he could to shoulder me out of my
place as captain of this train? And wasn't I elected at Westport before
we started?"

"Mostly, a man has to stay elected, Jess."

"Well, I'm going to! I had it out with that young man right now. I told
him I knew why he wanted in our train - it was Molly."

"What did he say?"

"What could he say? He admitted it. And he had the gall to say I'd see
it his way some day. Huh! That's a long day off, before I do. Well, at
least he said he was going back to his own men, and they'd fall behind
again. That suits me."

"Did he say anything about finding Sam Woodhull?"

"Yes. He said that would take its time, too."

"Didn't say he wouldn't?"

"No, I don't know as he did."

"Didn't act scared of it?"

"He didn't say much about it."

"Sam does."

"I reckon - and why shouldn't he? He'll play evens some day, of course.
But now, Molly," he went on, with heat, "what's the use talking? We both
know that Molly's made up her mind. She loves Sam and don't love this
other man any more than I do. He's only a drift-about back from the war,
and wandering out to Oregon. He'll maybe not have a cent when he gets
there. He's got one horse and his clothes, and one or two wagons, maybe
not paid for. Sam's got five wagons of goods to start a store with, and
three thousand gold - so he says - as much as we have. The families are
equal, and that's always a good thing. This man Banion can't offer Molly
nothing, but Sam Woodhull can give her her place right from the start,
out in Oregon. We got to think of all them things.

"And I've got to think of a lot of other things, too. It's our girl.
It's all right to say a man can go out to Oregon and live down his
past, but it's a lot better not to have no past to live down. You know
what Major Banion done, and how he left the Army - even if it wasn't why,
it was how, and that's bad enough. Sam Woodhull has told us both all
about Banion's record. If he'd steal in Mexico he'd steal in Oregon."

"You didn't ever get so far along as to talk about that!"

"We certainly did - right now, him and me, not half an hour ago, while we
was riding back."

"I shouldn't have thought he'd of stood it," said his wife, "him sort of
fiery-like."

"Well, it did gravel him. He got white, but wouldn't talk. Asked if Sam
Woodhull had the proof, and I told him he had. That was when he said
he'd go back to his own wagons. I could see he was avoiding Sam. But I
don't see how, away out here, and no law nor nothing, we're ever going
to keep the two apart."

"They wasn't."

"No. They did have it out, like schoolboys behind a barn. Do you suppose
that'll ever do for a man of spirit like Sam Woodhull? No, there's other
ways. And as I said, it's a far ways from the law out here, and getting
farther every day, and wilder and wilder every day. It's only putting it
off, Molly, but on the whole I was glad when Banion said he'd give up
looking for Sam Woodhull this morning and go on back to his own men."

"Did he say he'd give it up?"

"Yes, he did. He said if I'd wait I'd see different. Said he could
wait - said he was good at waiting."

"But he didn't say he'd give it up?"

"I don't know as he did in so many words."

"He won't," said Molly Wingate.




CHAPTER XX

THE BUFFALO


The emigrants had now arrived at the eastern edge of the great region of
free and abundant meat. They now might count on at least six or seven
hundred miles of buffalo to subsist them on their way to Oregon. The cry
of "Buffalo! Buffalo!" went joyously down the lines of wagons, and every
man who could muster a horse and a gun made ready for that chase which
above all others meant most, whether in excitement or in profit.

Of these hundreds of hunters, few had any experience on the Plains. It
was arranged by the head men that the hunt should be strung out over
several miles, the Missourians farthest down the river, the others to
the westward, so that all might expect a fairer chance in an enterprise
of so much general importance.

Banion and Jackson, in accordance with the former's promise to Wingate,
had retired to their own train shortly after the fight with the Sioux.
The Wingate train leaders therefore looked to Bridger as their safest
counsel in the matter of getting meat. That worthy headed a band of the
best equipped men and played his own part in full character. A wild
figure he made as he rode, hatless, naked to the waist, his legs in
Indian leggings and his feet in moccasins. His mount, a compact cayuse
from west of the Rockies, bore no saddle beyond a folded blanket cinched


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