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Category: The Ranche On The Oxhide
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Just as the sun appeared above the top of the Twin Mounds, Joe, who could not keep quiet when among the timber or on the prairie, was scouting around on his own hook, while the remainder of the party was lying on the grass eating the cold breakfast they had brought from Errolstrath.

Suddenly he rushed down to them, and yelled at the top of his voice:--

"The cavalry are coming! I saw the gleam of their carbines on the ridge about a mile away toward the trail to Fort Harker."

Every man was on his feet in an instant; and sure enough, in a few minutes they heard the clanging of sabres and the sound of the hoofs of approaching horses. Presently a fine-looking set of men wearing the fatigue uniform of the United States Cavalry, splendidly mounted on sleek bay animals, swung around the point of timber where Captain Tucker and his scouts from the Oxhide valley were standing. The trumpeter sounded the "Halt," and in another moment the horses, in obedience to the signal, stood still as if petrified, while the commander of the troop, Colonel Keogh, of Custer's famous regiment, rode forward and talked with Captain Tucker, whom he had at once recognized as the leader of the scouts.

They conversed for some moments, each giving the other what information he had of the movements of the Indians. Then the Colonel told Captain Tucker that his orders were to camp on the Elkhorn with his company, and scout through the valley, protecting the settlers. He said that a detachment of infantry was also ordered to the creek, and was to remain there, while he with his mounted men would move from point to point, and thus prevent the savages from making another raid in that part of the country. He thanked Captain Tucker for the promptness with which he and his neighbors had responded to the appeal of Alderdyce. He said that now the cavalry were there the men might go home feeling assured that no more attacks were to be feared from the Indians, and that General Sheridan would soon have enough soldiers under his command to whip thoroughly the allied tribes, and force them to a peace which they would be glad to keep.

Captain Tucker told the Colonel how bright Joe was in relation to Indian affairs, and what a great hunter he had already become. After Colonel Keogh had himself conversed with Joe, he took a great fancy to him. He told him that he was going on a deer hunt just as soon as he was settled in camp, and the infantry had arrived, and he invited Joe to be one of the party.

Joe thanked the Colonel, and spoke modestly of the compliments which had been paid him by Captain Tucker. He promised that he would certainly go on the hunt with him, and be delighted to do so.

He spoke up boldly: "When do you expect to go, Colonel? I know there are lots of red deer and elk, too, on the Elkhorn, and this is a good time to find them; I've been here with the Pawnees often."

The Colonel said: "The infantry, in all probability, will reach the creek some time this evening, as they were getting ready for the march when I left Fort Harker with my troop. Suppose, Joe, we say the day after to-morrow? You can remain here with me; I have buffalo robes, and you shall have a bed in my tent. So go and ask your father at once and come back to me as quick as you can and report his answer. You'll find me somewhere about the camp. My tent is not yet put up, but you will know it when it is, by its similarity to an Indian tepee. It is called a 'Sibley,' and was patterned after the Sioux lodge by its inventor, an officer of the army of that name."

Joe, wild with delight, ran off to find his father, to whom he told of the invitation, and finding that no objections were made, thanked him for his permission to remain.

Captain Tucker had informed the Colonel that as his men and animals were sufficiently rested, and the horses filled with the rich grass, he intended to go to the scene of the massacre with Alderdyce, to find whether any of the settlers were hiding and not daring to show themselves, or if any of the wounded were still living. Should he find any of the latter, he would return by way of Fort Harker and notify the commanding officer, so that he might send an ambulance for them and medical assistance.

Telling his men of his intentions, they immediately brought in their horses and saddled them. They then mounted, and rode slowly west toward Spillman Creek, which was about seven or eight miles from the Elkhorn. Joe, of course, went with them, as they wanted him to find out which way the Indians had gone after committing their devilish deeds. He intended to leave the party at the ford of the Elkhorn on its return, and to join Colonel Keogh.

In about two hours the party arrived at the mouth of Spillman Creek, and the first evidence of the acts of the savages confronted the men. Riding up to a small cabin which the Indians had not consigned to the torch, no doubt having missed it on their fiendish rounds, they discovered two little girls crouched in one of its dark corners. One of them was only six years old, and her sister but eight. They were very bright for their age, and told a wonderfully sad story of their escape from the Indians. They said that a big band of savages rode up to their home very early in the morning; that their father and mother were not yet out of bed. The Indians killed both of them, and after setting the house on fire, threw the children on their ponies and rode off. Coming to the top of a high hill, they saw a company of soldiers in the distance, and they then dropped them on the prairie and hurried away as fast as their ponies could run. The girls were not hurt at all. They wandered on, frightened nearly to death, and seeing the cabin down in the valley, they went to it and slept there all night. They had waked very early in the morning, and on going out of doors, saw the wild grapes growing on the vines at the creek; they ate some for their breakfast, but soon hearing the sound of horses' hoofs, and thinking the Indians were coming to look for them, they crawled back into the corner where the scouts had found them.

Captain Tucker and the rest of the scouts were in a dilemma at first when they found themselves with the two little orphaned children on their hands; and they did not know exactly what to do. But soon Joe's excellent judgment manifested itself. He proposed that one of the men should be sent back to Colonel Keogh's camp to tell him of their discovery, and ask him to send his ambulance out to take the children to Fort Harker, where they would be cared for by the kind ladies of the post.

The suggestion was acted upon at once. Every man volunteered to go, so it was left to the Captain to select one. This he did, started him off, and left Mr. Thompson to stay with the little girls until the arrival of the ambulance. He and the others of the party then rode up on the valley of Spillman Creek, as the savages appeared to have confined their atrocities to that narrow region.

As they were riding close to the bank of the stream, about three miles from where they had found the two girls, they saw a wagon with the horses still attached. As they came up to it for a closer examination, two men, both of whom were known to Alderdyce, came out of the underbrush.

They had a story to tell, too. Early in the morning they were on their way to examine a claim on the Spillman, when they perceived at only a short distance from them, what appeared to be a body of soldiers. They were all dressed in blue blouses, and were marching four abreast just as the cavalry do. The men stopped for a moment to get a closer view as they rode up the divide, when to their horror they discovered the supposed soldiers to be a band of Indians. They turned their team about, and made for the nearest timber on the creek and hid themselves. Next morning they still decided to remain in ambush until they saw some white people. They had plenty of food with them, so they had remained until they were discovered by Captain Tucker's scouts. Learning that all was safe, they climbed into their wagon, whipped up the team, and drove away. Presently the scouts came to the remains of a cabin, partly destroyed by fire, where they discovered the dead bodies of a man and woman, probably husband and wife. These they decently buried and rode on.

They next found the body of a young man, dead in his field, where he had evidently been at work when the savages surprised him. He was murdered with his own hatchet, which was found by his side, his face having been chopped until it was not recognizable. His body was interred too.

It is useless to relate all that the scouts saw on their mission of discovery up the Spillman. In all, thirty bodies were found, and some dozen or more persons who had been wounded and had managed to hide after the savages had supposed them to be dead. During the next twenty-four hours these were gathered and taken to the hospital at the fort. Some recovered, but the majority died.

The party returned to Colonel Keogh's camp, because they had discovered so much that it was thought best he should know. When they arrived there they learned that the little girls had been sent to the fort under an escort of a squad of the troopers, and they also found Mr. Thompson in the camp waiting for them.

After winding their horses for about half an hour, all returned to Errolstrath, with the exception of Joe, who remained to go on the proposed hunt when the infantry arrived.

Colonel Keogh's tent was already pitched, and Joe sat in there with him discussing the atrocities on Spillman Creek and the deer hunt.

"Colonel," said Joe, "you know that deer have no gall-bladder and the antelope no dew-claws. Did you ever hear the Indian legend about the reason?"

"I know the deer have no gall-bladder and the antelope no dew-claws, but I don't think I have ever heard the reason. What do the Indians say about it, Joe?"

"Well, old Yellow Calf, the chief of the band of Pawnees which has camped on our creek ever since we have lived there, told me that a long time ago a deer and an antelope met on the prairie near the Great Bend of the Arkansas. At that time both animals had a gall and dew-claws. They fell to talking together and bragging how fast each could run. The deer claimed that he could outstrip the antelope, and the antelope that he could beat the deer. They got awfully mad at each other, and finally determined they would try their speed. The stakes were their galls, and the trial was made on the open prairie. The antelope beat the deer and took the deer's gall. The deer felt very unhappy at his defeat, and he became so miserable over it, that the antelope felt sorry for him, and to cheer him up took off both his dew-claws and gave them to the deer. Ever since then the deer has had no gall-bladder, and the antelope no dew-claws.

"I met some Kaws once, and I told them what the Pawnees had told me about it, and the chief of that band said the story the Pawnees had told was only partly correct. The Kaw chief's version was that after the antelope had won the race, the deer said to him, 'You have won, but that race was not fair, for it was over the prairie. We ought to try again in the woods to decide which of us is really the faster.' So the antelope agreed to run the second race, and on it they bet their dew-claws. The deer beat the antelope that time, because he could run faster than the antelope through the timber, over the fallen trunks of trees, and in the thick underbrush, and he took the antelope's dew-claws."

"Well, Joe, that is a very funny story; I never heard it before." Then, looking out of the front of his tent, the Colonel turned to Joe, and said, "There comes the company of infantry, so we may go on our hunt to-morrow."

Joe ran out and watched the infantry as they filed into the timber. It was after sundown, but far from dark. The men were soon settled in their tents, their camp-kettles bubbling over the fires, and preparations in full swing for their evening meal.

Joe wandered among the troops and soon picked up an acquaintance with them. They admired his Indian suit, and earnestly listened to the tale of his adventures with the Pawnees. Presently he was called by the Colonel's orderly to come to supper. He went back to the Sibley tent, where he sat down at the table with Colonel Keogh and his two lieutenants.

Their simple table was improvised out of the end gates of two of the wagons, and the cook, a colored soldier, had managed to provide an excellent meal, and as Joe was very hungry, he did ample justice to it.

When the trumpets and the bugles sounded the retreat, Joe went out with the Colonel, who inspected the men to see that everything was in good order for the night. They then returned to their canvas quarters, where the Colonel smoked his pipe, and again discussed to-morrow's hunt with the boy.

They were to make a very early start in the morning, so, as soon as "taps" had sounded, which meant that all lights must be put out and the soldiers retire to their tents, the Colonel suggested to Joe that he had better go to bed, while he would sit up a while and write out his report to the commander at Fort Harker. Calling in the orderly, the Colonel told him to fix up a sleeping-place for the boy. The man spread four heavy buffalo robes on the floor of the tent, and putting two blankets on top, the bed was ready for Joe, who tumbled into it and was soon fast asleep.

When the trumpeter sounded the reveille, at the first streak of dawn the next morning, the Colonel, who had already risen, called Joe, who bounded out of his soft bed like a cat. Breakfast was ready in a few moments, and after he and the Colonel had eaten, and the latter had given his orders to the officer who was to command the camp during his absence, Joe and he started out on foot for the hunt.

The night had been cold, and although it was the middle of May, the white rime of the late frost covered the earth. It was a good omen, as the sharp footprints of the animals could be more easily distinguished.

Carefully examining their rifles and cartridges as they walked briskly on, they soon struck the main branch of the Elkhorn, and continued along its margin in a southerly direction for a mile or more, when they came to a little opening.

There Joe suddenly stopped, and turning to Colonel Keogh, who had on the instant also halted, said, "Doesn't that look a little deerish, Colonel?"

The Colonel, though a good shot and hunter, could distinguish nothing out of the ordinary after scrutinizing the ground to which the boy had pointed. The earth looked the same everywhere in the Colonel's eyes.

"Here!" said Joe, as, noticing the bewildered appearance of his new friend, he turned over a fallen cottonwood leaf with his foot. There the Colonel saw, after carefully stooping down, the very faint impress of a hoof.

"Is that a fresh track, Joe?" he asked.

"You may be sure it is," replied Joe, "and only about an hour old!"

"Well, I want _that_ deer," said Colonel Keogh, enthusiastically. He rose from a stump on which he had been sitting for a few moments, with his rifle across his knees, and started quickly for a little patch of box-elder not a hundred yards distant.

"Hold on, Colonel!" said Joe, cautiously; "the deer isn't there now. Don't you see his hoof-marks point the other way? Look, here's where he's nibbled the grass," pointing with his rifle to a strip of bunch-grass in the opposite direction from the box-elders. "Let's go on, Colonel; deer don't stay long in one spot so early in the day, and if we don't get a move on us, it may be hours before we can get a shot at 'em."

They trudged on for about a mile and a half, walking side by side, the Colonel telling the boy some of his experiences in the war of the Rebellion. Suddenly Joe, touching the Colonel's shoulder, said, "Hark!" in a hoarse whisper, at the same instant elevating his head like a stag-hound that has just winded game. In another minute they heard a rustling as though something were stepping on dead leaves.

"There's a buck deer in there, and a big one, too," said Joe, in a whisper, as he pointed to a bunch of upland willows whose slender tops were oscillating slowly as if disturbed by a gentle breeze, though there was not a breath of wind blowing. "He's probably got a half dozen or more does around him, and if we are mighty careful, we may both get a shot."

The willow copse was on the top of a little knoll, and the ground was smooth on the side of it where the Colonel and Joe stood. Here and there at intervals were great trees, but without any underbrush to snap under their feet as they quietly trod over the soft, black soil.

At Joe's suggestion, he and the Colonel separated, widening the distance between them to about twenty paces, Colonel Keogh on the right of Joe. They crept on as silently as savages on the trail of an enemy, and soon arrived at the base of the elevation, which was only some fifty yards to its crest. There they noticed that the dark earth had been cut up in every direction by the sharp, delicate foot-marks of the creatures supposed to be in front of them. A significant glance rapidly passed from one to the other as they drew nearer their quarry.

At that juncture, just as they reached the edge of the copse, each masked himself behind a good-sized cottonwood, which seemed to have grown where it did for their especial use. The Colonel in his enthusiasm could not repress the remark in a whisper to Joe:--

"Look there, Joe. There's a dozen deer!"

Sure enough, right in front of them were a dozen fat does lying down ruminating their morning meal. The old buck, the guardian of the whole herd, was standing up as if watching over his charge, and stamping the ground with his sharp hoofs to drive off the buffalo gnats that swarmed thickly around him.

In another instant, at a signal previously agreed upon, a low whistle from the Colonel, the rifles of the hunters were discharged simultaneously, and all but two of the terribly frightened animals bounded off through the timber.

Before the echoes of the pieces had died away, Joe was among the struggling deer with his hunting-knife, cutting their throats while they were yet in their death throes. The stately buck had been the Colonel's game, and he asked Joe to take its head to the ranche so that the Pawnees, when they arrived in the autumn, could preserve it with its magnificent set of antlers, which he desired to keep as a trophy of their hunt.

It was but a little more than two miles to camp, and they did not have to wait more than an hour for a wagon to arrive, as the driver had been told by the Colonel to start the moment the sharp double report of the rifles reached his ears. The dead animals were soon loaded into it, and the proud hunters walked leisurely alongside of it, back to camp, arriving there before eleven o'clock.

The deer were skinned by Joe. The meat was cut up into saddles and haunches, and hung on the limb of a great tree, to secure it from the prowling wolves, who already scented blood and began to make their appearance on the bluffs, so keen is the nose of that vicious and cowardly brute. The Colonel had brought with him from the fort, half a dozen hounds, among them some of General Custer's celebrated animals, but they were left tied up in camp that morning, as the Colonel had decided to make a still hunt the first day, and to chase with the dogs the next.

That evening, just as all were about to roll themselves up in their blankets, a scout arrived from Fort Harker with the intelligence that the Cheyennes and the Kiowas, under the leadership of the bloodthirsty Sa-tan-ta, the notorious war-chief, had made a raid upon the settlements near Council Grove, and Custer was leaving at once for the field with his regiment. As Colonel Keogh's company was part of it, he must return to Fort Harker immediately, and another detachment of colored infantry were on their way to take its place on the Elkhorn.

All was bustle in a few moments. Tents were struck, and in less than an hour the cavalry command was on its way, Joe riding at the head of the column with the Colonel.

They arrived at Fort Harker long before daylight, and Joe bade the Colonel good by and rode on to Errolstrath, where he pulled up his pony just as his father and Rob were coming out of the house to go to the spring to wash themselves.

The boy was gladly welcomed back by all the family, and they sat at the table for more than an hour after they finished eating their breakfast, listening to Joe's experiences at the scene of the massacre, and his hunt with Colonel Keogh.

 

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