America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. — Abraham Lincoln

With Lieutenant Pike - Edwin Sabin




In the Hands of the Spaniards

In a few minutes the two strangers crawled through the hole. They were clad in blanket-coats and deer-hide trousers and fur caps; looked like French traders—and Frenchmen they proved to be, for the lieutenant called to them, in French, "Come here," and he and they talked together in that language.

Stub might catch only a word now and then; the men listened, puzzled, prepared to grasp their stacked guns.

The lieutenant finished the conversation. The Frenchmen bowed politely again, he saluted them and spoke to his party.

"These are two Frenchmen from Santa Fe, lads," he said. "They inform me that the governor of New Mexico is fearful of an attack upon us by the Utah Indians, and has sent a detachment of fifty dragoons for our protection. The detachment is within two days' march of us. You know your duty. I rely upon you to act in a manner that will reflect credit upon our Country."

Scarcely had he spoken when they all heard the sentinels outside hailing loudly, with "Halt! Who comes there? Corp'ral of the guar-rd! Post Number One!"

Out dived Corporal Jerry, once more.

"To arms! Man the works, men!" the lieutenant rapped.

They grabbed guns and hustled for the platforms under the loopholes. There were more loop-holes than men. Peeping through his, Stub might see out into the prairie before the stockade. From up the fork a large body of mounted soldiers had ridden into the edge of the clearing. John Brown, who had come in from his hill, and Hugh Menaugh were holding them back, Corporal Jerry was hastening to the scene.

The lieutenant also had seen.

"That is the company?" he demanded, of the two Frenchmen.

"Oui, Monsieur Lieutenant."

"Tell the commander with my compliments to leave his men in the woods where he now is, and I will meet him on the prairie before the fort."

"Oui, oui."

Out went the two Frenchmen.

"They look like a hundred," remarked Jake Carter. "We're only eight, and an officer an' a boy. But what's the difference?"

"Sure, in case of a dust, Meek and Terry an' the rest of 'em will be sorry to miss it" replied soldier Mountjoy.

"Hooray for a brush, if that's the word. We're equal to it, no matter how many they send ag'in us."

The men were keen for a fight. 'Twas a great thing, thought Stub, to be an American. But the Spanish soldiers, halted at the edge of the prairie within short gunshot, looked strong. About fifty, in one body, were the dragoons; fifty appeared to be a mixture—a part Indians. But all were well armed with short muskets, pistols, swords, lances and shields—some in one style, some in another.

The lieutenant had left and was striding into the prairie, to meet two Spanish officers. He had taken only his sword, by his side. That would show his rank, for his clothes certainly did not Nevertheless, the two Spanish officers, all in their heavy crimson cloaks, and decorated hats, and long boots, did not look any more gallant than he in his ragged blanket-coat, torn trousers, moccasins and fur-lined bedraggled makeshift cap.

The three saluted, and talked for a short time. Beyond, at the timber, the horses pawed and snorted. Corporal Jerry and the two sentries stayed, vigilant. At the loopholes, inside the stockade, the five men and Stub peered, ready.

Presently one of the Spanish officers shouted a command to the soldiers; they relaxed, at ease—some dismounted, to stretch their legs; he and the other officer followed Lieutenant Pike to the stockade.

"No fight, hey?" uttered Alex Roy.

"But no surrender, either, you can bet," grunted Freegift. "The cap'n likely has something up his sleeve."

The lieutenant entered, through the hole; the two Spanish officers crawled in after—and an odd sight they made as they straightened up, to stare about them curiously. It was plain that they were much astonished by the completeness of the trap.

The lieutenant led the two officers to his brush shelter. Stub heard his own name called—the lieutenant beckoned to him. So he jumped down and went over.

"These two gentlemen of the Spanish army of New Mexico are to be my guests at breakfast, boy," said the lieutenant. "I wish you to serve us. Bring out the best we have. The provisions given me by the Indian we met can now be put to good use."

It was fortunate indeed that the lieutenant had saved the meal, goose and pieces of bread particularly. They were a treat—although doubtless the Spanish soldiers were used to even that fare. At any rate, most of the stuff soon disappeared, washed down by water, after the table had been set, so to speak.

The lieutenant and his guests chatted in French. When they had finished eating, and the two Spanish officers had wiped their moustaches with fine white handkerchiefs, the lieutenant said, crisply:

"Have I the pleasure to understand that this is a friendly call upon me by his Majesty's troops, at the instance of the New Mexico government?"

The elder officer coughed. He answered politely.

"Senor, the Governor of New Mexico, being informed that you have missed your route, has ordered me to offer you in his name mules, horses, money, or whatever you may need, for the purpose of conducting you to the head of the Red River. From Santa Fe that is eight days' journey, before open to navigation. We have guides and know the routes."

"What! Missed my route, sir? Is not this the Red River?"

"No, senor. This is the Rio Grande del Norte, of New Mexico. The Red River is many leagues to the southeast."

The lieutenant flushed red. His thin hands clinched, and he gazed bewildered.

"Impossible. Why was I not told this by those two men ten days ago, and I would have withdrawn?"

The officer twirled his moustache and shrugged his shoulders.

"Quien sabe (Who knows), Senor Don Lieutenant? But I now have the honor to inform you, and am at your service."

The lieutenant recovered, and stepped outside a few paces.

"Stout!"

"Yes, sir."

"Lower the flag and roll it up. It will not be hoisted again without my orders."

"Sir?" Freegift stammered. And—

"Oh, no, sir! Not that! Not haul down the flag! Let us keep it flyin', sir. We can do it."

Those were the cries. The lieutenant lifted his hand.

"Silence. I thank you, men. This is not surrender. I have no thought of surrender. But we are not upon the Red River. We are upon the Rio del Norte, in Mexican territory, and in courtesy to that government I am lowering the flag of my own free-will. By building this stockade we have unwittingly trespassed."

The men muttered; the two visiting officers sat uneasy; but Freegift lowered the flag, caught it in his arms, and with rather a black glance at the red cloaks folded it carefully.

"By thunder, when we raise it ag'in, it'll stay," he grumbled, as he went to stow it away.

"His Excellency Governor Alencaster requests the pleasure of a talk with you at Santa Fe, senor," said the elder officer, with a smile, to the lieutenant. "He is desirous of entertaining you and learning the story of your journey. For your accommodation he has provided me with one hundred animals, to carry your baggage."

"I thank His Excellency, but it is impossible for me to accept the invitation," replied Lieutenant Pike, seating himself again. "I can only send him my apologies for trespassing, by mistake, upon his domain. I will wait here merely until the return of my sergeant and the remainder of my company, and then withdraw at once to American soil. My orders forbid me entering into Spanish territory."

"His Excellency will be much distressed not to see you, senor," the officer insisted. "I must beg of you to take advantage of our escort. Otherwise I cannot answer for your safety."

At this, the lieutenant straightened, and his eyes flashed.

"My safety will be attended to, sir. I shall not move until the safety of my sergeant and party, some of whom may be suffering, is assured also. Do I understand that your intent is to use force to convey me to the governor?

The officer spread his hands and shook his head.

"No, no, senor! Not in the least. But it is necessary that for the information of the governor-general the governor of New Mexico should receive from you personally an explanation of your presence within his frontier, that he may send in the proper report. If you wish to go with us now, very well; or if you wish to wait for the return of your other party, very well. But in that case we shall be obliged to obtain more provisions from Santa Fe, and dispatch a small number for that purpose." Even Stub, who had been listening agog, and catching most of the words, knew that this meant reinforcements. "If you decide to march with us now," the officer added, "I will leave here an Indian who speaks English, and a part of my dragoons, to greet your sergeant and escort him and his men to join you at Santa Fe."

The lieutenant bit his lip and fidgeted. He was of two minds; but one thing was certain: he could not get rid of these Spanish without a big fight. And the worst of that would be, that he was an invader and had broken the law.

He did not hesitate long.

"I shall not yield to force, sir," he said. "We are American soldiers and prepared to defend ourselves, as you have seen. However, in consideration of your courteous attitude I am disposed to go with your escort to His Excellency, and give him the explanation that is due from one friendly nation to another. But I must leave two of my men here, to receive the sergeant and reassure him; otherwise, I promise you, he will not come on without a fight, except by direct orders from me."

"That is agreed, senor," bowed the officer. "And we may consider the matter very happily settled. You have my respectful thanks."

The lieutenant's eyes fell upon Stub.

"Tell Stout to send Corporal Jackson in to me." He spoke to the Spanish officer. "I will instruct my men to permit yours to approach, and would suggest that you inform your company we are willing to receive them as friends, if their actions so warrant"

"Thanks, senor."

Stub sought Freegift Stout.

"The lieutenant says for you to tell Jerry to come in."

Freegift climbed down.

"What's it all about? Say! Is it true we're not on the Red River yet, but on what they call the Rio del Norte? Sure, that's not so."

"It's what they say. The lieutenant believes it. And we're going to Santa Fe."

"For what?"

"The governor wants to talk with him."

"But not without a dust! Oh, no, now! Leave these good works, an' go without a dust?"

Stub nodded soberly. Freegift dared not delay longer. He went off muttering. The other men also murmured. The plan was not to their liking.

Freegift returned with Corporal Jerry. The men trooped after him, to the lieutenant. Freegift acted as speaker. He saluted

"What's this? Why have you left your posts?" the lieutenant demanded.

"Please, cap'n. Beggin your pardon, sir—but 'tain't true, is it, that were layin' down our arms an' givin' up to them Spanish, to march out, an' no fight offered? Sure, sir, we're only eight and a boy; but we're behind good walls, an' you're the proper kind of an officer, an' 'twould be no great job at all to hold them fellers off till we could slip away with colors flyin'. You can't trust them fellers, sir. An' if you'll only give us the orders, sir, we'll hand out a dose of Yankee Doodle; eh, boys?"

"Yes, sir! We're ready for a dust, cap'n, sir. ' We'd rather trust to our muskets than to those Spanish. We're not afeared of 'em."

"That will do," Lieutenant Pike answered, but not unkindly. "You're brave lads. I know I can depend on you—and with you I'd like to test our defences at which you've worked so faithfully. But we are marching of our own free will, and shall retain our arms. My orders are to avoid a conflict with the Mexican forces, unless attacked. Since we are unfortunately in Spanish territory, it will be better if we proceed boldly to the New Mexican capital, at the invitation of the governor, rather than put ourselves in the wrong by resistance."

"Yes, sir. If you say so, sir," they replied, with glum faces.

"Corporal, you may draw the sentries in," continued the lieutenant. "The Spanish soldiers are to be allowed to move freely outside of the works.

Some of the men may meet them, to treat them civilly, for I wish no sign of suspicion to be shown."

The two Spanish officers had gone to their troops. A great cheering arose, from that direction, as if the soldiery had been told that there would be no fighting, and were heartily glad.

The Spanish flocked forward, into the prairie in front of the stockade. Freegift and several of the other men, and Stub, did sally out, curious to inspect their new friends. The Spanish soldiers were regular dragoons, fifty; and mounted militia, fifty—a mixture, these, of Spaniards and Mexicans and Indians.

And they were kind and friendly, indeed. They brought food and blankets and insisted that the Americans accept. Freegift himself finally admitted:

"Well, I'd still prefer a little dust, for the honor of the army an' a proof that a half-froze American is as good a man as a dozen foreigners; but I don't deny they're treatin' us mighty handsome, the same as brothers-at-arms. The colors of 'em are a bit peculiar, yet their hearts seem white."

Toward noon Corporal Jerry sought out all the garrison and called them together, inside.

"Mountjoy, you an' I are to stay here, with some of the Spanish, an' a letter from the cap'n to hand to the sergeant when he comes. The rest of you are to get ready to march at once. So good luck to you—an' we'll see you later."

"That you will," they answered. "And be sure you fetch Sparks and Dougherty. They're the ones who need all these fine fixin's."

Horses were provided, as promised by the Spanish officer. Riding comfortably on these, and escorted by fifty of the dragoons and militia and the two officers (whose names were Lieutenant Don Ignatio Saltelo and Lieutenant Don Bartholomew Fernandez), after dinner they rode twelve miles westward up the fork to the Spanish camp. Now they numbered only Lieutenant Pike, Privates Freegift Stout, Alex Roy, Hugh Menaugh, William Gordon, Jacob Carter, John Brown, and Jack Pursley otherwise Stub. Corporal Jerry Jackson and Private John Mountjoy remained at the stockade, with the other fifty Spanish soldiers, to wait for Sergeant Meek, and Private Terry Miller, who were bringing in, across the mountains, John Sparks and Tom Dougherty (lacking feet and fingers), Baroney Vasquez and interpreter, Pat Smith, and the horses.

Truly, the little American column had become much scattered.

"Jinks! I'd like to be there at the reception and see the sergeant's face," Alex Roy chuckled. "'Specially when he learns we ain't been on the Red River at all!"

"It may seem like a joke, but it's a rough one," quoth William Gordon. "A look at the cap'n's face is enough for me. To think, after all these months he's never got anywhere. 'Twill be a great report that he'll have to turn in, 'less he aims to learn something of the Spanish country. At any rate, we've hauled down our flag, and given up our fort and I'm sorry for him. He deserved better."