Harry Leon Wilson.

The Lions of the Lord A Tale of the Old West online

. (page 12 of 28)
Online LibraryHarry Leon WilsonThe Lions of the Lord A Tale of the Old West → online text (page 12 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

did this to-day while I was peeking at them," and he showed them a
bullet-hole in his hat.

At fires near by the Indians were broiling beef cut from animals they
had slaughtered belonging to the wagon-train. Still others were cutting
the hides into strips to be made into lariats. As far down as the line
could be seen, there were dusky figures darting in and out of the

A council was at once called of the Presidents, Bishops, Elders, High
Priests, and the officers of the militia who were present. Bishop
Klingensmith bared his massive head in the firelight and opened the
council with prayer, invoking the aid of God to guide them aright. Then
Major Higbee, presiding as chairman, announced the orders under which
they were assembled and under which the train had been attacked.

"It is ordered from headquarters that this party must be used up, except
such as are too young to tell tales. We got to do it. They been acting
terrible mean ever since we wouldn't sell them anything. If we let them
go on now, they been making their brag that they'll raise a force in
California and come back and wipe us out - and Johnston's army already
marching on us from the east. Are we going to submit again to what we
got in Missouri and in Illinois? No! Everybody is agreed about that.
Now the Indians have failed to do it like we thought they would, so we
got to finish it up, that's all."

Joel Rae spoke for the first time.

"You say except such as are too young to tell tales, Brother Higbee;
what does that mean?"

"Why, all but the very smallest children, of course."

"Are there children here?"

Lee answered:

"Oh, a fair sprinkling - about what you'd look for in a train of a
hundred and thirty people. The boys got two of the kids yesterday; the
fools had dressed them up in white dresses and sent them out with a
bucket for water. You can see their bodies lying over there this side of
the spring."

"And there are women?" he asked, feeling a great sickness come upon him.

"Plenty of them," answered Klingensmith, "some mighty fine women, too; I
could see one yesterday, a monstrous fine figure and hair shiny like a
crow's wing, and a little one, powerful pretty, and one kind of between
the two - it's a shame we can't keep some of them, but orders is orders!"

"These women must be killed, too?"

"That's the orders from headquarters, Brother Rae."

"From the military headquarters at Parowan, or from the spiritual
headquarters at Salt Lake?"

"Better not inquire how far back that order started, Brother Rae - not of
me, anyway."

"But women and children - "

"The great Elohim has spoken from the heavens, Brother Rae - that's
enough for me. I can't put my human standards against the revealed will
of God."

"But women and children - " He repeated the words as if he sought to
comprehend them. He seemed like a man with defective sight who has come
suddenly against a wall that he had thought far off. Higbee now
addressed him.

"Brother Rae, in religion you have to eat the bran along with the flour.
Did you suppose we were going to milk the Gentiles and not ever shed any

"But innocent blood - "

"There ain't a drop of innocent blood in the whole damned train. And
what are you, to be questioning this way about orders from on high? I've
heard you preach many a time about the sin of such doings as that. You
preach in the pulpit about stubborn clay in the hands of the potter
having to be put through the mill again, and now that you're out here in
the field, seems to me you get limber like a tallowed rag when an order
comes along."

"Defenseless women and little children - " He was still trying to regain
his lost equilibrium. Lee now interposed.

"Yes, Brother Rae, as defenseless as that pretty sister of yours was in
the woods there, that afternoon at Haun's Mill."

The reminder silenced him for the moment. When he could listen again, he
heard them canvassing a plan of attack that should succeed without
endangering any of their own numbers. He walked away from the group to
see if alone, out of the tumult and torrent of lies and half-truths, he
could not fetch some one great unmistakable truth which he felt
instinctively was there.

And then his ears responded again to the slow chant and the constant
measured beat of the flat-toned, vibrant drum. Something in its rhythm
searched and penetrated and swayed and seemed to overwhelm him. It came
as the measured, insistent beat of fate itself, relentless, inexorable;
and all the time it was stirring in him vague, latent instincts of
savagery. He wished it would stop, so that he might reason, yet dreaded
that it might stop at any moment. Fascinated by the weird rhythm and the
hollow beat, he could not summon the will to go beyond its sway.

He walked about the fires or lingered by the groups in consultation
until the first signs of dawn. Then he climbed the low, rocky hill to
the east and peered over the top, the drum-beats still pulsing through
him, still coercing him. As the light grew, he could make out the
details of the scene below. He was looking down into a narrow valley
running north and south, formed by two ranges of rugged, rocky hills
five hundred yards or so apart. To the north this valley widened; to the
south it narrowed until it became a mere gap leading out into the

Directly below him, half-way between the ranges of hills, was a circle
of covered wagons wheel to wheel. In the center of this a pit had been
dug, and here the besieged were finding such protection as they could
from the rifle-fire that came down from the hills on either side. Even
now he could see Indians lying in watch for any who might attempt to
escape. The camp had been attacked on Monday morning after the wagons
had moved a hundred yards away from the spring. It was now Friday. For
four days, therefore, with only what water they could bring by dashes to
the spring under fire, they had held their own in the pit.

When it grew still lighter he descried, out on his left near the spring,
two spots of white close together, and remembered Lee's tale the night
before of the two little girls sent for water.

At that instant, the chanting and the beat of the drum stopped, and in
the silence a flood of light seemed to shine in upon his mind, showing
him in something of its true aspect the thing they were about to do. Not
clearly did he see it, for he was still torn and dazed - and not in its
real proportions, moreover; for he saw it against the background of his
teaching from the cradle; the murder of their Prophet, the persecution
of the Saints, the outrages put upon his own family, the fate of his
sister, the murder of his father, and the death of his mother; the
coming of an army upon them now to repeat these persecutions; the
reported offenses of this particular lot of Gentiles. And then, too, he
saw it against his own flawless faith in the authority of the
priesthood, his implicit belief that whatsoever they ordered was to be
obeyed as the literal command of God, his unshaken conviction that to
disobey the priesthood was to commit the unforgivable sin of blasphemy
against the Holy Ghost. "If you trifle with the commands of any of the
priesthood," he himself had preached but a few days before, "you are
trifling with Brigham; if you trifle with Brigham, you are trifling with
God; and if you do that, you will trifle yourselves down to hell."

Yet as he looked upon the doomed camp, lying still and quiet in the gray
light, - in spite of breeding, training, habit of thought, and passionate
belief, he felt the horror of it, and a hope came to him out of that
horror. He hurried down the hill and searched among the groups of
Indians until he found Lee.

"Major, isn't there a chance that Brother Brigham didn't order this?"

"Brother Rae, no one has said he did - it wouldn't be just wise."

"But _did_ he - has any one seen the written order or heard who brought
the oral order?"

"Brother Rae, look here, now - you know Brother Brigham. You know his
authority, and you know Dame and Haight. You know they wouldn't either
of them dare do as much as take another wife without asking Brigham
first. Well, then, do you reckon they'd dare order this militia around
in this reckless way to cut off a hundred and thirty people unless they
had mighty good reason to know he wanted it?"

He stood before Lee with bent head; the hope had died. Lee went on:

"And look here, Elder, just as a friendly hint, I wouldn't do any more
of this sentimental talk. Why, in the last six months I've known men to
get blood-atoned for less than you've said."

He saw they were holding another council. Bishop Klingensmith again led
in prayer. He prayed for revelation, for the gifts of the spirit for
each of them, and for every order of the priesthood; that they might
prevail over the army marching against them; that Israel might grow and
multiply and cover the earth with cities and become a people so great
that no man could number them; and that the especial favour of Heaven
might attend them on their righteous smiting of the Gentile host now
delivered over to them by an all-wise Jehovah.

The plan of assault was now again rehearsed, and its details
communicated to their Indian allies. By ten o'clock all was ready.


_The Meadow Shambles_

They chose William Bateman to go forward with a flag of truce. He was
short and plump, with a full, round, ingenuous face. He was chosen, so
said Klingensmith, for his plausible ways. He could look right at you
when he said anything; and the moment needed a man of this talent. He
was to enter the camp and say to the people that the Mormons had come to
save them; that on giving up their arms they would be safely conducted
to Cedar City, there to await a proper time for continuing their

From the hill to the west of the besieged camp they watched the
plausible Bateman with his flag of truce meet one of the emigrants who
came out, also with a white flag, and saw them stand talking a little
time. Bateman then came back around the end of the hill that separated
the two camps. His proposal had been gratefully accepted. The besieged
emigrants were in desperate straits; their dead were unburied in the
narrow enclosure, and they were suffering greatly for want of water.

Major Higbee, in command of the militia, now directed Lee to enter the
camp and see that the plan was carried out. With him went two men with
wagons. Lee was to have them load their weapons into one wagon, to
separate the adults from the children and wounded, who were to be put
into the other, and then march the party out.

As Lee approached the corral its occupants swarmed out to meet
him, - gaunt men, unkempt women and children, with the look of hunted
animals in their eyes. Some of the men cheered feebly; some were silent
and plainly distrustful. But the women laughed and wept for joy as they
crowded about their deliverer; and wide-eyed children stared at him in a
friendly way, understanding but little of it all except that the
newcomer was a desirable person.

It took Lee but a little time to overcome the hesitation of the few
suspicious ones. The plan he proposed was too plainly their only way of
escape from a terrible death. Their animals had been shot down or run
off so that they could neither advance nor retreat. Their ammunition was
almost gone, so that they could not give battle. And, lastly, their
provisions were low, with no chance to replenish them; for on the south
was the most to be dreaded of all American deserts, while on the north
they had for some reason unknown to themselves been unable to buy of the
abundance through which they passed.

Arrangements for the departure were quickly completed under Lee's
supervision. In one wagon were piled the guns and pistols of the
emigrants, together with half a dozen men who had been wounded in the
four days' fighting. In the other wagon a score of the smaller children
were placed, some with tear-stained faces, some crying, and some gravely
apprehensive. At Lee's command the two wagons moved forward. After these
the women followed, marching singly or in pairs; some with little
bundles of their most precious belongings; some carrying babes too young
to be sent ahead in the wagon. A few had kept even their older children
to walk beside them, fearing some evil - they knew not what.

One such, a young woman near the last of the line, was leading by the
hand a little girl of three or four, while on her left there marched a
sturdy, pink-faced boy of seven or eight, whose almost white hair and
eyebrows gave him a look of fright which his demeanour belied. The
woman, looking anxiously back over her shoulder to the line of men,
spoke warningly to the boy as the line moved slowly forward.

"Take her other hand, and stay close. I'm afraid something will
happen-that man who came is not an honest man. I tried to tell them, but
they wouldn't believe me. Keep her hand in yours, and if anything does
happen, run right back there and try to find her father. Remember now,
just as if she were your own little sister."

The boy answered stoutly, with shrewd glances about for possible

"Of course I'll stay by her. I wouldn't run away. If I'd only had a
gun," he continued, in tones of regretful enthusiasm, "I know I could
have shot some of those Indians - but these, what do you call
them? - Mormons - they'll keep the Indians away now."

"But remember - don't leave my child, for I'm afraid - something warns

Farther back the others had now fallen in, so that the whole company was
in motion. The two wagons were in the lead; then came the women; and
some distance back of these trailed the line of men.

When the latter reached the place where the column of militia stood
drawn up in line by the roadside, they swung their hats and cheered
their deliverers; again and again the cheers rang in tones that were
full of gratitude. As they passed on, an armed Mormon stepped to the
side of each man and walked with him, thus convincing the last doubter
of their sincerity in wishing to guard them from any unexpected attack
by the Indians.

In such fashion marched the long, loosely extended line until the rear
had gone some two hundred yards away from the circle of wagons. At the
head, the two wagons containing the children and wounded had now fallen
out of sight over a gentle rise to the north. The women also were well
ahead, passing at that moment through a lane of low cedars that grew
close to the road on either side. The men were now stepping briskly,
sure at last of the honesty of their rescuers.

Then, while all promised fair, a call came from the head of the line of
men, - a clear, high call of command that rang to the very rear of the

_"Israel, do your duty!"_

Before the faces of the marching men had even shown surprise or
questioning, each Mormon had turned and shot the man who walked beside
him. The same instant brought piercing screams from the column of women
ahead; for the signal had been given while they were in the lane of
cedars where the Indian allies of the Saints had been ambushed. Shots
and screams echoed and re√Ђchoed across the narrow valley, and clouds of
smoke, pearl gray in the morning sun, floated near the ground.

The plan of attack had been well laid for quick success. Most of the men
had fallen at the first volley, either killed or wounded. Here and there
along the all but prostrate line would be seen a struggling pair, or one
of the emigrants running toward cover under a fire that always brought
him low before he reached it.

On the women, too, the quick attack had been almost instantly
successful. The first great volume of mad shrieks had quickly died low
as if the victims were being smothered; and now could be heard only the
single scream of some woman caught in flight, - short, despairing
screams, and others that seemed to be cut short - strangled at their

Joel Rae found himself on the line after the first volley, drawn by
some dread power he could not resist. Yet one look had been enough. He
shut his eyes to the writhing forms, the jets of flame spitting through
the fog of smoke, and turned to flee.

Then in an instant - how it had come about he never knew - he was
struggling with a man who shouted his name and cursed him, - a dark man
with blood streaming from a wound in his throat. He defended himself
easily, feeling his assailant's strength already waning. Time after time
the man called him by name and cursed him, now in low tones, as they
swayed. Then the Saint whose allotted victim this man had been, having
reloaded his pistol, ran up, held it close to his head, fired, and ran
back to the line.

He felt the man's grasp of his shoulders relax, and his body grow
suddenly limp, as if boneless. He let it down to the ground, looking at
last full upon the face. At first glance it told him nothing. Then a
faint sense of its familiarity pushed up through many old memories.
Sometime, somewhere, he had known the face.

The dying man opened his eyes wide, not seeing, but convulsively, and
then he felt himself enlightened by something in their dark
colour, - something in the line of the brow under the black hair; - a face
was brought back to him, the handsome face of the jaunty militia captain
at Nauvoo, the man who had helped expel his people, who had patronised
them with his airs of protector, - the man who had -

It did not come to him until that instant - this man was Girnway. In the
flash of awful comprehension he dropped, a sickened and nerveless heap,
beside the dead man, turning his head on the ground, and feeling for any
sign of life at his heart.

Forward there, where the yells of the Indians had all but replaced the
screams of frantic women - butchered already perhaps, subjected to he
knew not what infamy at the hands of savage or Saint - was the
yellow-haired, pink-faced girl he had loved and kept so long imaged in
his heart; yet she might have escaped, she might still live - she might
even not have been in the party.

He sprang up and found himself facing a white-haired boy, who held a
little crying girl by a tight grasp of her arm, and who eyed him

"What did you hurt Prudence's father for? He was a good man. Did you
shoot him?"

He seized the boy roughly by the shoulder.

"Prudence - Prudence - where is she?"


He looked down at the little girl, who still cried. Even in that glance
he saw her mother's prettiness, her pink and white daintiness, and the
yellow shine of her hair.

"Her mother, then, - quick!"

The boy pointed ahead.

"Up there - she told me to take care of Prudence, and when the Indians
came out she made me run back here to look for him." He pointed to the
still figure on the ground before them. And then, making a brave effort
to keep back the tears:

"If I had a gun I'd shoot some Indians; - I'd shoot you, too - you killed
him. When I grow up to be a man, I'll have a gun and come here - "

He had the child in his arms, and called to the boy:

"Come, fast now! Go as near as you can to where you left her."

They ran forward through the gray smoke, stepping over and around bodies
as they went. When they reached the first of the women he would have
stopped to search, but the boy led him on, pointing. And then, half-way
up the line, a little to the right of the road, at the edge of the
cedars, his eye caught the glimpse of a great mass of yellow hair on the
ground. She seemed to have been only wounded, for, as he looked, she was
up on her knees striving to stand.

He ran faster, leaving the boy behind now, but while he was still far
off, he saw an Indian, knife in hand, run to her and strike her down.
Then before he had divined the intent, the savage had gathered the long
hair into his left hand, made a swift circling of the knife with his
right, - and the thing was done before his eyes. He screamed in terror as
he ran, and now he was near enough to be heard. The Indian at his cry
arose and for one long second shook, almost in his face as he came
running up, the long, shining, yellow hair with the gory patch at the
end. Before his staring eyes, the hair was twisting, writhing, and
undulating, - like a golden flame licking the bronzed arm that held it.
And then, as he reached the spot, the Indian, with a long yell of
delight and a final flourish of his trophy, ran off to other prizes.

He stood a moment, breathless and faint, looking with fearful eyes down
at the little, limp, still figure at his feet. One slender, bare arm was
flung out as if she had grasped at the whole big earth in her last

The spell of fear was broken by the boy, who came trotting up. He had
given way to his tears now, and was crying loudly from fright. Joel made
him take the little girl and sit under a cedar out of sight of the spot.


_In the Dark of the Aftermath_

He was never able to recall the events of that day, or of the months
following, in anything like their proper sequence. The effort to do so
brought a pain shooting through his head. Up to the moment when the
yellow hair had waved in his face, everything had kept a ghastly
distinctness. He remembered each instant and each emotion. After that
all was dark confusion, with only here and there a detached,
inconsequent memory of appalling vividness.

He could remember that he had buried her on the other side of the hill
where a gnarled cedar grew at the foot of a ledge of sandstone, using a
spade that an Indian had brought him from the deserted camp. By her side
he had found the scattered contents of the little bundle she had
carried, - a small Bible, a locket, a worn gold bracelet, and a picture
of herself as he had known her, a half-faded daguerreotype set in a gilt
oval, in a square rubber case that shut with a snap. The little
limp-backed Bible had lain flung open on the ground in the midst of the
other trinkets. He remembered picking these things up and retying them
in the blue silk handkerchief, and then he had twice driven away an
Indian who, finding no other life, came up to kill the two children
huddled at the foot of the cedar.

He recalled that he had at some time passed the two wagons; one of them
was full of children, some crying, some strangely quiet and observant.
The other contained the wounded men whom Lee and the two drivers had
dispatched where they lay.

He remembered the scene close about him where many of the women and
older children had fallen under knife and tomahawk. At intervals had
come a long-drawn scream, terrifying in its shrillness, from some woman
struggling with Saint or savage.

Later he remembered becoming aware that the bodies were being stripped
and plundered; of seeing Lee holding his big white hat for valuables,
while half a dozen men searched pockets and stripped off clothing. The
picture of the naked bodies of a dozen well-grown children tangled in
one heap stayed with him.

Still later, when the last body had been stripped and the smaller
treasures collected, he had known that these and the stock and wagons
were being divided between the Mormons and the Indians; a conflict with
these allies being barely averted, the Indians accusing the Saints of
withholding more than their share of the plunder.

After the division was made he knew that the Saints had all been called
together to take an oath that the thing should be kept secret. He knew,
too, that he had gone over the spot that night, the moon lighting the
naked forms strewn about. Many of them lay in attitudes strangely
lifelike, - here one resting its head upon its arm, there a white face
falling easily back as if it looked up at the stars. He could not recall
why he had gone back, unless to be sure that he had made the grave under
the cedar secure from the wolves.

Some of the men had camped on the spot. Others had gone to Hamblin's
ranch, near the Meadows, where the children were taken. He had sent the
boy there with them, and he could recall distinctly the struggle he had
with the little fellow; for the boy had wished not to be taken from the
girl, and had fought valiantly with fists and feet and his sharp little
teeth. The little girl with her mother's bundle he had taken to another
ranch farther south in the Pine Mountains. He told the woman the child
was his own, and that she was to be kept until he came again.

Where he slept that night, or whether he slept at all, he never knew.
But he had been back on the ground in the morning with the others who
came to bury the naked bodies. He had seen heaps of them piled in little
depressions and the dirt thrown loosely over them, and he remembered

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Online LibraryHarry Leon WilsonThe Lions of the Lord A Tale of the Old West → online text (page 12 of 28)