COME, men, get ready!”
ordered the sergeant of the guard.
He looked in at us
through the doorway of the guard-tent.
We thought the time had
come for our sentence to be carried out. But a wagon was driven up and
we were ordered to get into it.
‘Tin goin’ to take yeh t’
Fort Reno,” the sergeant informed us.
I emphatically declared
my lack of faith in his ability to perform that bit of duty.
“Looka here, Kid,” said
the sergeant, “yeh’re a-goin* t’ Fort Reno. Yeh’ll be full of holes,
mebbe, when yeh git thar, but yeti’re a-goin’t’ go thar.”
And .take us there he
did, not allowing us so much as the shadow of an opportunity to escape.
Arrived at the post, we
were taken to the blacksmith shop to have the shackles riveted on our
ankles. Obediently I held my leg up against the anvil for that purpose.
I knew old Chris, the blacksmith, and as I looked into his good-natured
face, I whispered,
“Make ’em big, Chris,
He glanced at the sentry
in the doorway.
“By gum, Kid, I'll do
it!” he replied.
When we got back to our
cell we found the old blacksmith had been as good as his word. We could
slip the chains off easily.
With our shackles
clanking at every step we were set to digging drainage ditches around
The sentries were
supposed to guard us closely. As certain bottles with loosened corks
were not infrequently slipped to us from the sutler’s, the degree of
strictness may be guessed.
On one occasion a sentry
took too long a pull at the bottle, and we had hard work to revive him
in time to take us to the guardhouse when recall from fatigue sounded.
There were many good
opportunities for getting away easily, but we made no attempt to escape.
We had learned from some
of the old soldiers that there was a chance of our sentence being
commuted or set aside entirely.
At last a friend told us
that the papers concerning our case had been returned.
We began to lay plans for
escape should the findings prove adverse.
There was another
prisoner in the cell with us now, so four were included in the plans.
One morning at guardmount
a friend who had knowledge of things in the adjutant’s office, whispered
a few words to me as we stood in line for inspection. That day, as we
worked in the ditch with picks and shovels, we decided upon the time for
an attempt to get away.
More than a week before
Gee Whiz had started to cut a hole in the ceiling of our cell. It was
soft pine, and he cut through it with his pocket-knife and a saw made
out of a piece of tin. We drowned the noise of the work by singing and
rattling our chains, and hid the track of the saw with soap the colour
of the ceiling.
On the evening before our
escape Nacoomee came to the guardhouse as usual.
She lived, with our
little Tahpahyeete, in a Cheyenne camp across the river. It was near the
post, so she came to the guardhouse every day, when I was called in from
fatigue. The sergeant allowed her to talk with me through the grated
Now I told her of our
plans in which she was to aid us—just Gee Whiz and me.
Jack, the craven-hearted,
had backed out. We were glad he was too cowardly to join us.
As for the other fellow,
his chains fitted him so tightly he couldn’t get them off, and he
refused to let us cut them. He said he’d rather serve his two years and
a half in Leavenworth than the same length of time in the army at Fort
Nacoomee promised to
come, with arms and horses, to the post side of the river, and to be in
a certain place at eleven o’clock on the following night. Gee Whiz and I
expected to make our escape immediately after that. He had decided to go
eastward to the railroad. I intended to take my wife and child
south-westward, and try to find Zakatoh and his band.
The next morning at
guardmount I was more than pleased to see that the officer of the day
was the man who had insulted my Nacoomee. It was no uncommon thing for
soldiers of his type to do, for, in the eyes of such men, she was “only
The sergeant of the guard
was a big negro of the Tenth Cavalry.
For these two men above
all others my love was not great and if we could get safely away, these
two would be held responsible for the escape.
That evening at our
interview Nacoomee informed me she had everything in readiness. The
river was high and still rising, but she thought there would be little
or no trouble in getting the horses across, as she had a Cheyenne woman
to help her.
At retreat our chains
were examined as usual by the sergeant of the guard as we prisoners
stood in line during roll-call. We always had a good laugh over this
after returning to our cell.
At last taps sounded—ten
o'clock. We had just an hour to wait.
Gee Whiz got up on the
bunk and tore loose the ends of the boards which he had sawed off in the
ceiling. What we most feared then was the negro sergeant. It was his
duty to come in and examine us and the cell. Usually this duty was
considered done in simply seeing that the four of us were on the bunk.
It was a kind of sloping platform, common to us all.
If he should come in and
examine our chains or the ceiling.
If he should, we were
agreed to spring on him, knock him down with our shackles, and take our
chances with the guard outside.
We took off our shackles
and lay down on the bunk.