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Ryus' Coach Is Surrounded by Indians, Their Animosities are Turned to Friendliness, Through Ryus' Wit and Ingenuity--"Hail the Second William Penn."

At one time in the year of 1864 when I arrived in Fort Larned on my way from Kansas City, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, there was a great scare, and a commanding officer, Colonel Ford, told me that they expected a raid on them most any time from Indians.

In July of that year the Cheyennes, Kiowas, Arapahoes and some Comanche and Hickory Apaches were camped a mile north of Fort Larned. The commanding officer of the fort told me he could only let me have about thirty soldiers for an escort. I told him that if we should have trouble with the Indians thirty soldiers would be just as good as a thousand, and that I had rather take my chances with thirty soldiers than more.

We left Fort Larned a little before noon and arrived at Big Coon Creek, twenty-two miles from Fort Larned, where we stopped for supper at about four o'clock in the afternoon. A lieutenant of my escort in charge of the soldiers put out a guard. While we were eating supper the guards shot off their guns and came rushing into camp with news that a thousand or more Indians were hidden along the banks of Coon Creek. The lieutenant placed double guard and came out to me and gravely suggested that we go back to Fort Larned and get more soldiers before attempting to cross farther into the Great Divide.

I told the lieutenant to take his soldiers and go back to Fort Larned and I would go on. He asked me why I did not go alone in the first place. I told him that I needed him NOW, and he asked me how that was, I told him that if he would take his soldiers and go back to Fort Larned the Indians would follow him and let me alone. He said he would go with me. We finished our dinner and I went to the soldiers' wagons and got two big armfuls of bread, about sixty pounds of bacon and a large bucket of coffee. I took them down to our camp, spread a newspaper upon the ground, laid the bacon, bread and coffee on the spread, placed a handful of matches near the bread, then went to our own mess and took several cans of coffee and bread from it, left them one of our buckets and an extra coffee pot that I carried with me, and got a large camp kettle from the soldiers and left it for the Indians. Then I gathered a few more buffalo chips and placed on the fire to keep it from going out, and my plan was complete.

I told the lieutenant to take his soldiers and drive on over the hill just out of sight and to stop there. I sent one of my coaches ahead and all of my passengers got into that coach. I told my driver to go up to the top of the hill and stop the mules there, but to keep in sight of me. I had my coach driven up the road about 100 yards, and on looking up the creek I saw one Indian in war paint and feathers looking around the bluff at me. That was the only one of their band I could see, so I got up on top of my coach and motioned for him to come to me.

[Illustration: "Billy of the Stage Coach," Treating with the Indians.]

Two Indians came up to within 100 feet of me, stopped and looked all around. (Indians are very cautious that they do not get caught in a trap). They rode up closer, looking intently at me all the time and talking to each other. I motioned with both hands while I was standing on top of the coach to come and I made them understand that I was friendly. They answered by Indian signs, then gave a big yell,--an Indian whoop--that liked to have froze the blood in the veins of the passengers. They gave this whoop three times, and in an instant, it seemed to me, five or six hundred Indians came down and formed in a line about the coach on top of which I stood. I bowed to them and pointed to the supper I had prepared for them. "They came, they saw, and were conquered." They bowed to me in their Indian language and signs expressing their gratitude for this hospitality. One old Indian came forward, laid his bow and arrow and spears upon the ground (the Indian sign of peace) and motioned for me to come and eat with them. I motioned to them that I must go on, so they said good-bye. When I got to the top of the hill I had my coach brought to a standstill. I slapped my hands together and again motioned them good-bye. All at once these Indians raised their hands and bade me good-bye, saluting me. These Indians were fierce looking creatures in their war-paint and with their spears, which they do not carry unless they expect trouble. That was the last time I saw those Indians on that trip.

We had no other excitement on our way to Fort Lyons, unless the encounter with the buffalo herds could be so called. A large herd of buffalo were grazing on the plains and was not an unusual sight for the drivers and me. However, when we came in sight of them one passenger cried out, "Stop the coach, stop the coach; see, there are a thousand buffalo standing belly deep in the lake." "Oh," I said, "you do not see any water--that isn't a lake." "What?" one said, "do our eyes really deceive us out here on these infernal plains? If it is not water and a lake those buffalo are standing in, what in the name of sense is it?" I told them that what they saw was nothing more than merely buffalo at a distance on the plain; that what they saw that resembled water was simply an optical illusion, called the "mirage." Webster describes the word as follows: "An optical illusion arising from an unequal refraction in the lower strata of the atmosphere and causing remote objects to be seen double, as if reflected in a mirror, or to appear as if suspended in the air. It is frequently seen in the deserts, presenting the appearance of water. The Fata Morgana and Looming are species of mirage." The mirage is one of the most beautiful scenes I ever beheld and can only be seen on the plains or in deserts in its complete beauty. It has to be seen to be appreciated. It makes a buffalo look like it had two tails. Everything looks double.

We had not much sooner spied the buffalo than they spied us and they started on the run across the road ahead of us. We were compelled to wait a half an hour until they had crossed the road. We passed ox trains every day or so going to and from New Mexico. In a few days we were in Fort Lyon, where we separated from the passengers, and we drivers would take the incoming coach and its passengers and drive back along the Long Route.