Boys' Book of Frontier Fighters - Edwin Sabin

The Hottest Chase on Record

Two in an Army Wagon

When in the eastern part of the United States the Civil War flamed up, another war broke out in the western part. The Indians of the Plains saw their chance. While the white men, who had been busy forcing peace upon the red men, were foolishly killing each other, the red men saw themselves free to strike, and clean the buffalo country.

So the Sioux, the Cheyennes, the Kiowas and many of the Arapahos arose, to close the wagon trails, plunder the stage stations, drive out the settlers, and save the buffalo.

The result was the great Indian war of 1864. The Government hastily sent what troops it could—mainly Volunteer cavalry and infantry, assigned to fight the Western Indians instead of the Southern soldiers. Thus two wars were being waged at once.

The white Americans had extended their towns and ranches clear across the continent. Through Kansas and Nebraska there were ranches scattered clear to the Colorado mountains. Denver was growing into a city. Beyond the mountains the Mormons had built another city at the Great Salt Lake. The Overland Stage was making daily trips over the trail between the Missouri River and California. Another well-traveled stage and emigrant trail ran from the Missouri River through central Kansas, south of the Overland Trail, to Denver. And the freight wagons for New Mexico plied between Leavenworth and Kansas City, and Santa Fe, over the old Santa Fe Trail.

There were yet no railroads across the plains. But the Union Pacific of the Government's Pacific Railway was surveyed out of Omaha, for Salt Lake City and beyond; and its Kansas Division, known as the Kansas Pacific, was starting up the Kansas River, for Denver.

To protect the wagon route through Kansas, and the advance of the railroad (which was following the stage road), the Government located a line of military posts; the same as upon the Overland Trail farther north, in Nebraska and westward.

The first was Fort Riley, just outside of Junction City, where the Republican River joined the Kansas River. Beyond, there was Salina; and Ellsworth on the Smoky Hill River; and southward, to guard the Santa Fe Trail over which huge quantities of Government supplies for the Southwest were being hauled, there were Camp Zarah at Walnut Creek of the Arkansas River, Fort Larned up the Arkansas, and so forth.

Many of the posts were only camps or cantonments, and received their fort name later.

In November, 1864, Captain Henry Booth started from Fort Riley to inspect the posts south to the Arkansas River in Colorado. Lieutenant Hallowell was his companion. They had planned to travel comfortably in Lieutenant Hallowell's light spring wagon instead of in a heavy jouncing army ambulance—a hack arrangement with seats along the sides and a stiff oiled-cloth top.

Lieutenant Hallowell had a canvas or wagon-sheet cover fitted over his wagon: stretched tightly upon bows and puckered to enclose the rear end with the exception of a hole in the middle there about the size of one's head. Now the spring wagon looked like a small prairie-schooner or emigrant outfit.

Captain Booth obtained from the quarter-master department the best span of Missouri mules at the fort. He and the lieutenant would do their own driving, and be independent. Whereupon, provisioned for the trip, they gaily set out, in the frosty morning, escorted by a mounted detachment of Kansas United States Volunteers under Lieutenant Van Antwerp.

This was particularly Kiowa and Cheyenne country, as soon as they left the Kansas River; and if any Indians were more dreaded than the boldly riding, hard fighting Cheyennes, those were the never quitting Kiowas.

They and their allies the Comanches were the guardians of the Santa Fe Trail. The Kiowas ranged the farthest north and fought the soldiers on the Leavenworth cut-off or Government road which entered from the Kansas River.

Going down, on this road, Captain Booth and Lieutenant Hallowell had no trouble at all. They arrived safely at Camp Zarah, without having sighted a sign of Indians. The captain inspected the post. The next morning he directed his escort to ride on; he and Lieutenant Hallowell would catch them in about half an hour.

But it was nearer three hours later when the wagon rattled over the log corduroy bridge across Walnut Creek, on the road for the Arkansas River and Fort Larned, west upstream.

They had the road all to themselves. The escort were out of sight, but probably would wait for them; and anyway they felt no fear as they jounced over the rutty, frozen road. They rather looked forward to shooting buffalo from the wagon with their revolvers. The mules were lively; Lieutenant Hallowell drove (he was an expert with the "ribbons"); the captain helped him with the whip; and they caroled songs together.

After a time the lieutenant changed his tune, to remark:

"What's the matter with the buffalo? They're grazing wide of the road to-day. That looks as though Injuns were about."

This was Captain Booth's first season on the plains, so he only laughed easily.

"Oh, pshaw! They say back at Zarah that there hasn't been an Injun seen from the trail in ten days. I fancy our escort scared the buffalo. Now like as not we won't get a shot."

"Just the same, it's queer the buffalo are all out yonder in the open instead of grazing on the river bottoms. If any Injuns are at hand, they'd be hiding along the river."

"Oh, pshaw!" laughed the captain. "We're safe enough. I'll get you back to Lizzie. Don't you worry yourself."

"Lizzie" was the lieutenant's bride, at Fort Riley. He had left her for the first time since they were married.

Drawn by its rapidly trotting mules the wagon trundled about three miles farther—and the captain had a glimpse of something new, moving over the low brush ahead and toward the river. It seemed to be a flock of wild turkeys bobbing along, now above the brush, now settling into it. N-no? What, then? Men on horses.

He clutched the lieutenant's arm.

"Look there, Hallowell. What is it?"

The lieutenant looked only once.

"Injuns, by Jiminy! We're in for it."

He whirled his team around and with voice and shake of lines quickened them to a gallop on the back trail for Zarah, six miles.

The captain objected.

"Wait! Hold on, Hallowell. They may be part of the escort."

Lieutenant Hallowell was wiser. This was his second year in Indian country.

"No, no! I know Injuns when I see 'em. Gid-dap! Yip!"

"Well, by thunder, I'll see for myself."

So the captain clambered from the seat to the side step, and hanging hard to the front wagon-bow, took a good look.

"Indians, aren't they?" asked the lieutenant, braced to the lines.

"Yes; and coming like blazes!"

That they were. The objects that had resembled turkeys were their feathered heads rising from a ravine. They were fully out now; had dropped their buffalo-robes, and all exposed in the open were tearing for the road.

"How many, Cap?"

"About thirty."

"Oh, dear!" sighed young Lieutenant Hallowell, "I'll never see Lizzie again."

"Never mind Lizzie. Let's get ourselves out of here, first."

"All right, Cap," replied Lieutenant Hallowell, briskly. "You do the shooting and I'll do the driving."

He snatched the whip, slipped from his seat to the very front end of the box; and letting the lines lie lax began to lash and yell. The mules bolted free, twitching the wagon over the ruts.

Captain Booth sprawled inside; grabbed the lieutenant's one navy revolver, and with his own two tumbled over the seat and dived to the pucker-hole at the rear end, to fight the Indians off.

There were thirty-four of them, racing on up the road at top speed.

"How far now, Cap?" called the lieutenant, while he yelled and lashed.

"Still coming fast, and getting closer."

"Yip! Yip! Gwan with you!" Pretty soon

"How far now, Cap?" The lieutenant could see nothing, behind, and the Indians had not uttered a sound.

"Still coming. 'Most within shooting distance."

"Yip! Hi! Yip! Yip!" And—"Whack! Whack!"

The captain, sitting upon a cracker-box and peering out through the hole, was tossed from side to side. He could see the Indians very plainly. They were paint-daubed Kiowas, and well mounted—armed with bows and lances and a couple of guns. Their striped faces grinned gleefully as their quirts rose and fell and their heels hammered their ponies' sides. The captain almost believed that he was dreaming a bad dream. But here they were, and how he and the lieutenant were going to escape he did not yet know.

"What they doing now, Cap?"

"Getting ready—"and he didn't need to report. The two guns of the Indians spoke, the whole band screeched horridly, the bullets passed diagonally through the wagon-cover between the passengers, Lieutenant Hallowell yelled louder and threshed faster, Captain Booth yelled, the mules lengthened a little, the wagon bounced higher, the Indians had reached it, they divided right and left and swooped past on either side while their arrows whisked and thudded, Captain Booth frantically fired his pistol and heard the lieutenant call:

"I'm hit, Cap!"

He turned quickly. Horrors! Lieutenant Hallowell had an arrow stuck in his head above his right ear! But he was whipping and yelling, regardless. The captain tumbled forward, to help him; grasped hold of the shaft.

"Hurt much?"

"No. Pull ahead. Hi! Yip! Gwan with you!" Out came the arrow. Its point had lodged only under the skin.

The Indians had charged beyond the mules, in delivering their arrows. They wheeled, and back they came. The captain fired, but he was being jounced so, that he could not aim. He started rearward, to receive them at that end

"I'm hit again, Cap!" called Lieutenant Hallowell, a second time.

So he was. This time an arrow had stuck over his left ear and was hanging down his shoulder. Whew! The captain had to pause and pull it out.

"Hurt, Hallowell?"

"No, not much. Hi! Yip! Gwan with you!" And—" Whack! Whack!"

The lieutenant had said: "You do the shooting and I'll do the driving;" and he had not changed his mind about it. But driving was no joke.

The captain hustled to rear. The Indians were about to make a third charge. They appeared to be having great sport, chasing this mule-wagon. There was one withered old warrior close behind now, following in the middle of the road, on a black pony, and shooting arrows at the pucker-hole. The captain ducked from the hole just in time. The arrow whizzed through, struck the walnut back of the seat and split it.

The arrow point came out on the other side! That was a powerful bow.

The arrow shaft hummed so, as it quivered, that the captain killed it as he would a wasp; he jumped for a shot at the old warrior—missed him—another arrow, from the left, grazed his pistol-arm crazy-bone and his pistol fell into the road. He grabbed to catch it, the mules lurched and out he pitched, half through the pucker-hole, so that he hung doubled on his stomach, over the end-gate, clutching at nothing.

A fraction more, and he'd have been in the road, too. The Indians whooped gladly, ready to pick him up. He barely managed to reach for the wagon-bow, and haul himself back. Wh-whew!

There was no time for cogitating. He plucked a second revolver from his holsters

"Right off to the right, Cap! Quick!" called the lieutenant, sharply.

It was an appeal. To the front end scrambled Captain Booth. An Indian was just loosing an arrow at Hallowell; the captain let loose at the Indian; both missed—the arrow stuck in the side of the wagon, and the Indian himself veered away in a hurry, frightened if not hurt.

That was poor shooting, all around. But to shoot from galloping pony or from bouncing wagon is uncertain work.

Back scrambled the captain. He had a great deal to do. He found another warrior—a young fellow—keeping pace with the wagon, in the foot-trail where the wagon teamsters walked when traveling with their freighting outfits.

The pony's head was actually within arm's length from the pucker-hole. The captain struck at it with his revolver; the Indian, hanging low, kept whipping the pony and forcing him in again. The Indian began to notch an arrow upon the bow-string; he was going to shoot. As the captain leaned, to get a shot in first, the arrow point threatened not three feet from his breast!

He could not see the Indian's body; could see only half his leg, hooked over the pony's back. All that he might do was to strike at the arrow; then he dodged back. Up rose the Indian; out popped the captain. Down sank the Indian; back dodged the captain. Up rose the Indian; out popped the captain. Down sank the Indian—up he rose and "Bang!!" spoke the captain's navy six-shooter. It was a chance shot, but the bullet tore through the Indian's heart, and dropping the halter, he toppled, dead.

"I've killed one of 'em, Hallowell!" cheered the captain, excitedly.

Hurrah! Bully for you! Hi! Yip! Yip!" And —"Whack! Whack!"

He never quit driving, not Lieutenant Hallowell! The Indians had halted, to examine their dead warrior, and yell over him.

"What they doing now, Cap?"

"Holding a funeral."

"Gwan! Yip! Gwan with you!" urged the lieutenant, trying to squeeze more speed out of the lathered mules.

Captain Booth sat on the cracker-box, watching through the pucker-hole. Had the Indians given up?

"Cap! Quick! Here! Right off to the left!" That was the lieutenant. The captain whirled about; he saw a lone Indian racing close to the fore end of the wagon, aiming an arrow at Lieutenant Hallowell. There was no time to change position for a clear shot.

"Hit him with your whip! Hurry up! Hit him!"

The lieutenant flung the lash sideways, instead of over the mules. The knot of the cracker must have caught the Indian in an eye, for he lost his bow, clapped both hands to his face and scurried away, howling.

"Good shot! Hi! Yip! Betty! Joe! Gwan with you!"

The Indians behind were yelling louder.

"What's the matter, Cap?"

"They're coming again like Sam Hill!"

"All right. Guess we'll make it. Hi! Yip!" And —"Whack! Whack!"

Yes, the Indians were coming. In a minute they had overhauled the wagon, bombarding it with arrows as they passed on both sides. Captain Booth turned around on his box, to watch them through the front end. He did not know that his body bulged the wagon-sheet cover.

"Hit again, Cap!" called the lieutenant.

"Where now?"

"In the back."

The captain started to rise; could not get up. He was pinned fast to the canvas, by an arrow. But he wrenched free—never felt his wound and hurried to the lieutenant.

"Right in the back, Cap."

Sure enough. The feathered tip of an arrow was sticking out from under the slat of the seat-back behind the lieutenant. The captain pulled at it, the lieutenant squirmed.

"Hurt you much, Hallowell?"

"Some. No matter. Pull it out. Hi! Gwan! Yip!"

The arrow was red with blood for six inches, but the lieutenant did not even glance at it. He kept driving.

The captain scuttled for the rear. He did not get far. The lieutenant called.

"Off to the left, Cap! Right off to the left! Quick!"

Another Indian was there in the favorite position, scarcely three yards from the driver, and aiming his arrow. The captain sprang for the front, leveled his revolver—it was empty! So:

"Hey! Bang!" he shouted.

Ha, ha! Down lay the Indian, low upon his pony's neck; he hammered hard with his heels and away he scoured.

The captain sprawled for the rear once more, and tried to load. How those mules ran! How the lieutenant yelled and whipped! How that wagon jolted! And his powder spilled when he poured it into his old-style cap-and-ball pistol.

He had not succeeded in loading a single chamber when the lieutenant again called. He was constantly in trouble, poor Lieutenant Hallowell. The Indians knew that he couldn't shoot.

"Off to the left, Cap! Hurry!"

Still another Indian, making ready; occupying the same old spot. The captain hurried; leveled the revolver; shouted "Bang!"

But the trick did not work. This Indian was wiser. He only grinned and notched his arrow, and took his time for a sure shot. Something had to be done to get rid of him. Angry clear through, the captain leaned as far as he dared and hurled the revolver. Good! The heavy barrel landed full upon the Indian's ribs, cut a long gash—and much astonished the Indian veered off for repairs.

Only one revolver was left, and it had been emptied. But the captain was given no pause, to load.

"I'm hit again, Cap!" the lieutenant called.

"Whereabouts now?"

"In the hand."

An arrow was fastened to the base of the thumb of his whip hand. Its shaft waggled, but its head remained firm.

"Shall I pull it out?"

"No. Can't stop. Hi! Gwan! Yip! Yip with you!"

The lieutenant's hand did not falter, as he plied the whip. Presently the arrow flopped free and was gone, taking some of the flesh with it.

The Indians seemed to have shot most of their arrows, but were not done. Now one of them rode to the head of the left mule and commenced poking with his lance, to force the team into the hedge of tall, stiff sun-flowers that lined the trail.

Lieutenant Hallowell hauled with all his might on the rein; Captain Booth climbed forward to the step opposite the Indian and kicked the nearest mule. He threw his revolver. It did not strike the Indian, but it struck the pony, and the pony ran away.

Other Indians promptly came up. The captain threw both sabers, and both scabbards. Wagon and mules were being surrounded, and still more Indians were pursuing and closing in rapidly.

The captain had an idea. He tossed out his suit-case. The Indians behind stopped, to inspect. They slit the suit-case open. In a moment one was wearing the officer's sash tied around his head; another was wearing the captain's dress-coat, another his best shirt, another his undershirt and another his drawers! It was a funny sight. But others came on.

"What they doing?" gasped the lieutenant. "Wearing the clothes from my valise. Out goes yours, next."

"All right. Anything to gain time."

Camp Zarah was only a mile and a half before.

The clothes delayed the Indians behind; those already here were still prodding at the mules. The lances proved too slow. A warrior fitted an arrow, drew to the point, and let go. He had intended to kill a mule, but he only wounded it in the fore leg. The blood spurted—ah! Look out! Great Caesar! That was a lucky shot, for the wagon. The other mule saw the blood, and smelled it. He bolted at such a gait that he actually out-ran the Indians while he dragged the wagon and the disabled mule!

Camp Zarah was in sight. Would they make it? Alas! The mules were stumbling; were near spent. They had run a great race, but they could not hold to it forever. The Indians were gaining rapidly.

"If we're taken, Cap, we'll fight; we'll kick, scratch, bite, till they kill us. We won't stand for torture," panted the lieutenant.

"I agree."

The lieutenant yelled and whipped; the captain yelled and kicked the wounded mule in the flanks; the Indians arrived, and prodded; the mules dodged the lances—they seemed to know. Only a few yards from the bridge did the last Indian pursuer give up the chase; and as the wagon rattled over the corduroy the carbine of a sentry at the post sounded the alarm.

"No need to drive so fast now, Hallowell," spoke the captain. The jolting was terrific.

"I sha'n't stop till we're clear across," rapped the lieutenant.

The staggering mules white with lather and crimsoned with blood, the wagon as full of holes as a sieve, they pulled in to the commanding officer's tent. They were safe.

Lieutenant Hallowell could not stand up. Was he fatally hurt?

"What is it, Hallowell, old fellow?"

"I dunno. Can't move only so far."

"No wonder! It's your coat-tails, man!"

The tails of his overcoat had worked outside and were pinned fast to the wagon box by four arrows. He could not use his right arm, either. The steady threshing with the whip had almost paralyzed it.

He was helped into the surgeon's office. His right hand was badly torn, and the wound in his back serious. Captain Booth watched the wounds being dressed; didn't feel very comfortable, himself, somehow.

"What makes you shrug your shoulders so, captain?"

"I don't know. There's a curious smarting."

"I should say there was! Why, you're wearing an arrow-head, man!"

So he was. When he had wrenched free from the wagon-sheet cover he had taken an arrow-head with him. It had to be cut out.

They both got well. Twenty-two arrows were found in the wagon box; the whole vehicle was a sight! As for the plucky little mules, they never amounted to much for service, after that, but they managed to hobble around in their pasture and enjoy their reward as veterans, on a pension of the best grass and water.