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Tahan
Chapter XXVIII In Chains Under Sentence of Death


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, won’t yeh?”

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 post

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 door.

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 Reno.

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 a squaw.”

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.


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