THE horses of the troop
were hobbled near the camp and we foresaw no trouble in getting ours.
With our arms and some
food from the chuck tent we were ready to start just after tattoo.
We found the herd too
well guarded, so we decided to go afoot.
It was a foolhardy
undertaking, to say the least, as it was some three hundred miles to the
nearest settlement, to which my companions expected to make their way.
For myself, that which
overshadowed all else, was the scout's news concerning Nacoomee. To get
to Fort Reno and settle matters with that officer and protect her, was
to me the most important business in this world. My plan was to take her
and our child and try to find Zakatoh. Then we would be free again!
There was no moon that
night and the clouds in the west betokened rain. We hoped for it, as it
would blot out our trail. But the rain didn’t come and this doubtless
contributed to our undoing.
Guided by the North Star
we travelled northward, making as rapid progress as possible until
sunup. Then, to the southward, we distinguished a bunch of horsemen
We crouched down in a
shallow buffalo wallow, hoping they had not discovered us.
On they came.
I counted them when they
were near enough. There were eight of them—Indians. We believed them to
be scouts attached to the command we had left.
We flattened out against
the ground, making ourselves as nearly invisible as we could.
On came the Indians,
directly toward us.
About a hundred yards
away, they swerved aside and might have passed on without seeing us but
for the fellow Jack. In his excitement he raised his gun and fired. An
Indian threw up his arms and toppled to the ground. His fellows
scattered to the right and left.
I deeply regretted Jack's
action, and Gee Whiz cursed him roughly for the fool he was. But we were
in for it and knew we might as well get all of them we could.
Gee Whiz and I fired two
shots apiece at the fleeing Indians. A horse fell and its rider went
running across the prairie. One of his party took him up on his horse,
and away they all went westward, disappearing in the distance.
When I examined the
Indian Jack had shot, I was astonished to find him a Cheyenne. There
were no Cheyenne scouts attached to our outfit.
Expecting at any minute
to sight pursuers, we hurried on. About a mile from the Cimarron River
we hid in a brush-lined ravine. Here we remained until the sun was low
in the west
Then Jack, who seemed to
have no more sense than a rabbit, slipped away from us and shot at a
deer. Running toward it he stopped suddenly and pointing toward the
“There they come!”
And sure enough they were
coming—a squad of cavalry and Indian scouts, besides McKusker, the white
The three of us made for
the river, agreeing to get behind some cottonwood trees on the bank and
fight it out since the death of the Indian, to surrender meant death to
us anyhow. If we could stand them off until dark we then had a chance,
slim though it might be, to get away.
I got behind one of the
scattered trees. Gee Whiz and Jack did the same.
Our pursuers numbered
twelve, including the lieutenant in charge. They halted about a quarter
of a mile away, and the officer sent McKusker to take us in.
When within shouting
distance, he drawled out, “Come on in, boys, we got yeh!”
“To hell with yeh!”
bawled Gee Whiz. “Yeh haven't got us, not yit! Ef yeh want us bad
enough, come on en' take us!”
The scout returned to the
command, and they did come on, with drawn sixshooters, the officer in
“We might as well die
right now as any time, boys,” muttered our bald-headed comrade, cocking
Like a frightened coyote
Jack slumped down at the root of his tree.
For a moment I was an
aspen leaf in a storm. Never before had I experienced such a feeling.
Came words which had been
often repeated to me —words of the old Medicine Man:
“When the time comes for
you to die, die like a man. To die is nothing. I know what it is to die.
It is to go to the Other Side of Darkness ”
At once I was myself
again. And I remembered the old man’s advice:
“Fight to the last gasp
and die without a whimper.”
I would die like a man.
But to leave my dear ones.
I cast out the thought in
a moment and became exhilarated. Stepping out from behind the tree, I
shook my fist at the swift-coming enemies and gave my war-whoop in sheer
“Now, boys, hold your
fire till they git to the little bunch of mesquites,” counselled Gee
He pointed to a clump of
bushes about two hundred yards distant.
“Kid,” he commanded,
“when they git thar, take the lieutenant I’ll plug old McKusker. Jack,
take an Injun!”
He dropped to his knee
behind his cottonwood.
A little storm cloud
decked in gorgeous hues swept across the face of the sun. To me the
cloud was the robes of the Sun Boy trailing behind him on his way to our
rescue. A butterfly came floating past on gauzy wing. It was a piece of
the Sun Boy’s rainbow robe he had tom off and thrown down to encourage
me. I heard the chirrup of a cricket behind me, and the ripple of the
stream as it ran laughingly on.
It came to me that I must
get all the enjoyment I could out of life while it lasted.
I sent out a long defiant
The lieutenant deployed
his men in a skirmish line, came on at a gallop and soon neared the
bunch of mesquite.
I glanced at Gee Whiz. He
was caressing the breech of his gun with his cheek and softly swearing.
His lips were drawn back from his set teeth and his face was not good to
I drew a bead on the
lieutenant and was looking through the sights of my rifle at the
officer’s breast My finger was vibrating against the trigger.
Suddenly Gee Whiz grabbed
hold of my gun.
“Boys,” he choked out,
“they’re too many for us. We’ll give in en’ then we’ll have a chance to
He had weakened under the
I was mad enough to kill
The words of the officer
came sharp, short and derisive :
“Throw down those arms!
Sergeant, take charge of them!”
Disgusted, I threw my gun
into the river.
Not a dozen paces away
the men were sitting on their panting horses.
The lieutenant's gun
By the time we got our
belts unbuckled, McKusker had dismounted and was approaching. He was
always drunk while in the post, and his big nose reminded me then, as it
always did, of a camp fire on the side of a hill. His bristly hair stuck
up like a bunch of black jacks on a knoll. When he opened his mouth to
speak, it was a dark chasm edged with blackened snags over which fire
He approached Gee Whiz,
stuck his red nose up into his face and wheezed out:
“Well, we got yer, didn't
Out shot bald-head’s fist
to the red nose and down went its owner.
Then Gee Whiz charged
upon an Indian scout lolling on the neck of his pony. He grabbed him by
the hair and thumped him on the ground. For a while there was an
emphatic vocal and physical mixture of Gee Whiz and redskin.
The soldiers tore them
apart as they were about to roll over the edge of the bank into the
Our captors camped there
on the river that night, and our legs were tied together with a rope
when we went to bed.
During the night we got
our legs free, and in the darkness would have escaped but for the
vigilant Indian scouts, one of whom was aching for an excuse to puncture
us with bullets for what Gee Whiz had done to him.
The next day we were
taken to the camp from which we had deserted, brought before the
officers and questioned as to our reason for leaving.
When the sentry took me
back to the guard-tent, he said to me kindly,
“I’m blamed sorry for yeh,
“Yeh needn’t worry about
me. But why are yeh sorry?” I asked.
“Why, don’t yeh know?
They’ve drumheaded yeh —given yeh a drumhead court-martial. They’re goin’
to shoot yeh!”
“Well, I’m not dead yet,”
I replied, more bravely than I felt.
The fellow Jack began to
whimper, whereupon our bald-headed companion gave him a round cursing.
“As for myself,” he
growled, “all I ask is one more good crack at old McKusker.” *
*Phil McKusker had been a
deserter himself, and had lived for years with the Kiowas. He was
pardoned and became a valuable man to the Government, notwithstanding
his liking for strong drink. Eventually it was the means of his death.
While on courier duty, and drunk, as usual, he fell from his horse and
was devoured by wolves.