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Tahan
Chapter XXV Service As Scout and Interpreter


AN hour came when news ruffled the routine.

Men were to be picked for an important mission!

Both Captain Davis and Rankin were among the lucky. So was I.

The captain was leader. This man had risen from the ranks during the Civil War and was noted for his fearlessness. He had, besides, two other marks of distinction—a commanding presence and a great length of whisker.

I was detailed to act as special scout and interpreter.

Our business was to round up a half-breed, Tom Starr—the worst man, it was said, that ever rode the crooked trail in Indian Territory. People believed him to be in league with the devil who gave him protection for his evil deeds.

On numerous occasions he had been surrounded by marshals and all chance of escape cut off, apparently. But every time he got away—led into safety by a bird, red as a spurt of blood. It would dart from the brush, utter a peculiar cry, circle around his head, flit before him, and-

All that the posse would find would be the head of one of its number impaled on a stake by the trail-side.

When we arrived near the desperado's stamping-ground on the edge of the Creek Nation, the captain sent me ahead to locate him.

I was dressed as a cowboy, armed with a Winchester and a white-handled Colt’s sixshooter, and mounted on Buckskin.

As I jogged along the trail I talked with everyone I met to get the desired information. Finally I learned that a party of horsemen was in an abandoned log-cabin which stood in a clump of trees just off the trail, and but a short distance ahead of me.

I rode leisurely along waiting for darkness.

Arrived at the cabin, I dismounted before the door and was about to knock, when I was startled by a voice close behind me. It asked in the Creek language what I wanted there. I replied that I wanted something to eat.

Though it was too dark to see his face, I felt sure that the speaker was Tom Starr.

The man reached over my shoulder and knocked. The door swung open. Keeping behind me he followed me into the cabin. It contained but one room dimly lighted by a flickering fire in a large fire-place. It was light enough, however, for me to see five men with their sixshooters swinging at their belts, and their Winchesters leaning handily against the wall.

I sat down on a bench near the door.

The man who followed me in sat down on another bench, behind me.

This made me feel somewhat uncanny, but I dared not look around at him lest I unduly excite his suspicions. That he was already suspicious I judged from his actions. Such men are always on the tiptoe for their natural enemies—the representatives of the law.

I knew that a false move on my part would mean my death, that my hide would not hold bunch grass when the gang had finished with me.

On the floor across the room was a bucket of water. I got up, got a drink, and turned around.

The man who sat behind me was gone.

My eyes and ears had been on the alert, but when and how he had disappeared I didn’t know.

The men in the house did not seem inclined to talk, but in answer to my questions they told me they belonged to a cattle outfit Of course I knew this wasn’t true.

After eating some osaufkee out of a gourd, I bade the men good night and sauntered out.

They had not asked me anything concerning myself. This made me feel that they knew what I was, and it took a good deal of self-control to keep from looking back as I went out of the door. I more than half expected a shot in the back, and it felt as if ants were crawling up and down on it.

Buckskin was gone from where I had left him, but some distance up the trail I found the old bronck headed toward the place where I had tied him. As I coiled the rope in my hand I found damp sand on it This told me that he had been dragging it through dew and sand, and for some considerable distance.

Hoofbeats came to my ears. I led Buckskin out of the trail into a clump of bushes.

Soon a horseman galloped past and dismounted at the door of the cabin. He held a conversation with the men inside, then mounted and rode swiftly past me up the trail I knew him to be the one who had so mysteriously disappeared and the one who had failed to get away with Buckskin. I also knew he was looking for me, and being firmly convinced that this man was Tom Starr, I rode back to our outfit.

As soon as Captain Davis received my report we started for the rendezvous of the outlaws.

We reached it at daybreak. The captain hammered on the door with the butt of his revolver and commanded those within to open.

After a short wait the door was flung open and a man asked what we wanted. The captain ordered him to strike a light I translated this command into Creek.

The Indian soon had a bright fire burning in the fire-place. To our disappointment it revealed but the one man.

After a short conversation through me, we were on the point of leaving. But I had noticed the Indian glance at a comer of the room from time to time and I told our leader.

The floor was made of split logs, the ends of which were laid on the sills loosely. The captain easily lifted one end of a puncheon.

Instantly the muzzle of a gun was thrust almost into his face and discharged.

Every man of us fired several shots in quick succession at the place, and then tore up the floor. There in a shallow cellar sat three men.

I heard a horse gallop past the door. I reached it in time to catch sight of a fleeing horseman. He fired several shots, one of which struck the door jamb, knocking the flying splinters in my face. I fired repeatedly at the fugitive in the dim light. He sent back several defiant whoops and disappeared at the bend in the trail.

When we had handcuffed the four remaining, they acknowledged that it was the much-wanted desperado Starr who had given us the slip.

All that was needed to complete the traditional picture was one of our heads impaled on a stake by the trail-side.

As we stood in the bright firelight, after the fray, old Rankin exclaimed:

“Davis, you're shot!"

“Shot!” echoed the captain, “shot! where?”

He ran his hands up and down over his breast.

“Wounded in the whiskers, Davis,” replied Rankin.

The desperado had discharged both barrels of a shotgun at the captain, and the long whiskers, with the exception of a few strands, had been mowed off.

Tom Starr had got away again.

But we rode into Fort Sill with his men as our prisoners, and placed them in the basement of the guardhouse.


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