When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again. — Edith Hamilton

With Lieutenant Pike - Edwin Sabin




"The Mountains! The Mountains!"

The Spanish trail again! They struck it toward evening of the day after Lieutenant Wilkinson had left—and they struck it just in time, too. Snow was falling once more, and dusk was at hand.

The trail came in from the north, and crossed the river. Lieutenant Pike ordered camp made. Then he and the doctor forded the river, through the floating ice, to see where the trail went on the other side.

They returned in the dark. They had lost the trail, among the buffalo tracks, but were going to try again in the morning.

"We'll have to take Stub, and use his eyes, too," said the doctor.

This was another cold night. The snow had quit, after falling two inches deep. The horses groaned, where they were picketed to graze; before rolling themselves in their blankets and buffalo robes, on the ground, the men huddled about their fires. There were now thirteen soldiers, and Chief Pike, the doctor, Barony and Stub.

"Heap winter, b' gorry; eh?" spoke Pat Smith, to Stub, and holding his hands to the blaze.

Stub gravely nodded.

"Winter come soon," he answered.

"An' aren't ye cold, boy?" queried John Sparks. "In only your skin an' a buff'lo robe?"

"No cold," Stub asserted. That was all the Pawnees wore. He was used to it.

The day dawned clear. After eating, Sergeant Meek marched the men up along the river. With Lieutenant Pike and the doctor, Stub crossed to help find the Spanish trail. They had to break a way through the ice. The ice cut the horses' legs, the stinging water splashed high, soaking moccasins and drenching the lieutenant and the doctor above the knees. The lieutenant wore thin blue cotton leggins—a sort of trousers called overalls; now these clung to him tightly.

Stub rather preferred his own skin, for it shed water.

The Spanish had camped over here. There were lots of horse sign showing through the snow, in a space of more than a mile. The Spanish seemed to have grown in numbers. It was an old camp, and the trail out of it had been flattened by buffalo tracks, and by the snows and rains. So they three—Lieutenant Pike, the doctor, and Stub—made circles, as they rode up river, to cut the trail farther on.

They did not find it until noon. But they found something else: Indian signs which were not older than three days. A party of warriors were ahead. Stub picked up a worn moccasin: "Pawnee—Grand Pawnee," he announced, when he handed it to the lieutenant. "War party. All on foot. Mebbe so many." And he opened and shut his fingers five times.

The lieutenant and the doctor examined the moccasin. After that they rode more rapidly, as if anxious to get to their soldiers.

The soldiers also had crossed the river, on account of bad travel, and were camped on this, the south side. In the morning they all marched by the Spanish trail, along the river, into the west, over a country covered with salt. There were more Indian signs. It looked as though twenty warriors had been marching in the same direction only a short time before; and fresh horse tracks pointed down river.

Whether the Indians were the same Pawnees or not, was hard to tell. But the horse tracks looked to be wild-horse tracks.

"Sure, wouldn't it be fun to ketch a few o' them wild hosses, Stub, lad?" proposed John Sparks, in camp. "We need 'em. Would ye know how?"

"Chase 'em, with rope. Chase 'em all day, make tired, mebbe no ketch 'em," Stub answered.

"Or if ye shoot one jest right, through the nape o' the neck an' graze the nerve there, ye'll down him like as if lightning struck him an' he won't be hurt," asserted Hugh Menaugh.

"Yes, but it takes mighty fine shootin'," said soldier Bill Gordon. "You're like to kill him, or miss him complete."

The wild horses were sighted the next evening, from camp on an island where there was wood and shelter. The lieutenant and the doctor and Baroney had come in with two antelope that they had killed among their own horses, while they themselves were lying on the ground and resting. They might have killed more, but they did not need the meat. Now while spying on the country around, through his long glass, the lieutenant saw a bunch of moving figures out there on the prairie, north of the river.

Indians? No—wild horses, more than one hundred! Good! Out he went, and the doctor, and Baroney, and Stub followed, to get at nearer view.

They were of many colors, those wild horses—blacks and browns and greys and spotted. They waited with heads high, as curious as if they had never seen men before. Then they came charging, in a broad front, and their hoofs drummed like thunder. Only a short way off they stopped, to start and snort.

"Ma foi, quelle beaute (My gracious, how beautiful)!" cried Baroney.

"Try to crease that black, lieutenant," the doctor proposed.

The lieutenant rested his gun upon his empty saddle, took long aim, and fired. But he did not stun the black—he missed him entirely—he had not dared to draw fine enough.

At that, around the wild horses wheeled, as if by command, and pelted off, to halt and gaze again.

"To-morrow we'll see if we can run some down," said the lieutenant. "Shall we, Stub?"

"Pawnee sometimes run all day. Mebbe ketch one, mebbe not. Too swift, have too much wind."

"Well, we can try," laughed the doctor.

The camp was excited, to-night, with the thought of catching wild horses. The men busied themselves tying nooses in their picket ropes.

"But we haven't a critter that could ketch a badger," John Sparks complained; "unless it be the doctor's black an' that yaller pony o' Stub's."

Stub doubted very much whether his yellow pony would amount to anything, in racing wild horses. The Pawnees always used two or three horses, each, so as to tire the wild horses out.

However, the lieutenant was bound to try. In the morning he picked out the six best horses, which included the yellow pony, and appointed the riders. They were himself, the doctor, Baroney, soldier John Sparks, soldier Freegift Stout, and Stub. Only Baroney and Stub had seen wild horses chased before.

All the camp, except the camp guards, followed. The wild horses were in about the same place, a mile distant. They waited, curious, pawing and snorting and speaking to the tame horses, until within short bow shot, or forty steps. On a sudden they wheeled.

"After 'ern!" the lieutenant shouted.

"Hooray!"

Ah, but that was sport! Stub's yellow pony sprang to the fore; he was nimble and he carried light. No—another horse and rider forged alongside him. They were the medicine-man and his black; a good rider and a good horse.

Stub hammered and yelled. "Hi! Hi! Hi!" The doctor lashed and yelled. Already they had gained the heels of the flying herd. The clods of earth thrown by the rapid hoofs bombarded them lustily. Baroney and soldier Sparks and soldier Stout, and even the lieutenant had been dropped behind

But working hard, they two never got quite far enough in, to cast the ropes. The wild horses were playing with them. After about two miles the yellow pony and the doctor's horse began to wheeze and to tire; the wild band were running as strongly as ever only romping along, biting and kicking at each other. Then as if to show what they really could do, led by their black stallion, they lengthened their strides, opened the gap wider and wider, and were away.

The doctor hauled short.

"No use, Stub," he called.

So Stub pulled down, and turned.

"No use," he agreed. "But heap fun."

"You bet!" pronounced the doctor, panting. "What do you say 'heap' fun for? That's not American; that's Injun. Americans say 'much ' fun, or 'great ' fun."

"All right," Stub admitted—for the doctor knew. "Heap chase wild horse, much fun."

"Oh, pshaw!" the doctor laughed. "If I could only get into that head of yours I'd take the 'heaps ' out of it. How's your white spot, these days? Burn any?"

"Some days burn, some days no. Some days heavy, some days light." And with that, Stub kept his distance. He wished that the doctor would quit talking about "getting into "his head. A medicine-man had dangerous power.

The lieutenant and Baroney and the two soldiers had come as fast as they could. There was a great deal of laughing and joking as the doctor and Stub joined them, and all rode back for the main party, and camp. The lieutenant joked the least. He never did joke much, anyway; he was stern and quiet.

"We'll delay no more for wild horses, men," he said. "Our Country expects something better of us than such child's play at the impossible. Forward again, now. We will hunt only for food, in line of duty."

This afternoon they marched thirteen miles.

The Spanish trail continued, up the river, and ever westward. It was a pity that some of the wild horses had not been caught, for the other horses were beginning to give out. The grass was short and thin, and eaten off by the buffalo, and at night the men cut cottonwood boughs for the horses to feed upon.

This was a rich meat country, though. Buffalo were constantly in sight, by the thousand, many of them fat cows, and the hunters brought in humps and tongues. The Spanish had left camp signs—at one camp almost one hundred fires might be counted, meaning six hundred or seven hundred warriors. A whole Spanish army had been through here, but the lieutenant and his little army of sixteen marched on.

There were several old camp-places of Indians. One showed Comanche signs; near by, the Spanish also had camped, as if making ready to meet the Comanches, and Baroney and the lieutenant thought that the Comanche range must be close at hand.

But where were the mountains? How far were the mountains, now? The river was getting narrower and deeper, the country higher and rougher. Two horses became so weak that they could not carry their packs. The horses had been traveling, starved and footsore, under heavy loads more than twenty miles a day.

John Sparks, who had been out hunting, returned with news.

"I sighted an Injun hossback," he reported. "He made off up a little ravine south of us. Don't know whether he saw me or not."

Before night fresh moccasin tracks not over a few hours old were discovered. A large war party were somewhere just ahead. This night the camp guards were doubled, but nothing happened.

In the morning the lieutenant took the doctor, John Sparks, and Stub for interpreter, and circled south, to find the lone horseman. Only his tracks were found; so they rode back again and the column marched on.

Nothing special occurred today, but everybody kept sharp lookout. The country was lonely, broken by rocky spurs and uplifts, and the buffalo herds seemed to be less in number.

The next day the lieutenant and the doctor led, as usual, with Baroney and Stub behind them, and the column of toiling men and horses under Sergeant Meek, following. The two weak horses had fallen down, to die, and another was barely able to walk.

Lieutenant Pike frequently used his spy-glass, which made things ten miles off appear to be only a few steps. In the middle of the day he halted and leveled it long.

"Sees something," said Baroney, in French.

In a moment the lieutenant galloped forward to the doctor, who had gone on, and they both looked. But they did not signal, and they did not come back; so what it was that they thought they saw, nobody knew. Stub and Baroney strained their eyes, seeking. Aha!

"Smoke sign," uttered Baroney.

"Heap smoke. Big fire. Mebbe cloud," Stub answered.

From the little rise they could just descry, far, far to the northwest, a tiny tip of bluish color, jutting into the horizon there. It did not move, it did not swell nor waver. No smoke, then; cloud—the upper edge of a cloud. The lieutenant and the doctor had read it, and were riding on. In another minute it had sunk, swallowed by the land before.

"N' importe (does not matter)," murmured Baroney. "Perhaps more snow, my gracious! But who cares?"

In about two miles more, the lieutenant and the doctor halted again, on the top of a low hill that cut the way. They gazed, through the spy-glass, examining ahead. They did not leave the hill. They stayed—and the lieutenant waved his hat. He had seen something, for sure. Baroney and Stub were a quarter of a mile from him. The soldiers were a quarter of a mile farther.

"Come! He signals," rapped Baroney. Now he and Stub galloped, to find out. Behind, the soldiers' column quickened pace, for the orders of Sergeant Meek might be heard, as he shouted them.

The lieutenant and the doctor were gazing once more, with eyes and spy-glass both.

"What is it? The savages?" cried Baroney, as he and Stub raced in, up to the top of the flat hill.

Or the Spanish? The Spanish trail had been lost, for the past day or two. Maybe the Spanish were encamped, and waiting. The lieutenant answered.

"No. The mountains, my man! The mountains, at last!"

"Hurrah!" cheered the doctor. "See them?"

Baroney stared. Stub stared. It was the same bluish cloud, only larger and plainer. It jutted sharply—no, it sort of floated, but it did not move. It was fastened to the earth. And north from it there extended a long line of other clouds, lower, as far as one might see; while southward from it were still lower clouds, tapering off.

"One big mountain! A giant! Ma foi, how big!" Baroney gasped.

"All mountains. The Mexican mountains, on the edge of the United States," announced the lieutenant. "Take the glass. Look—you and Stub."

Look they did. The spy-glass worked wonders. It brought the clouds much closer, and broke them. They were no longer clouds—they changed to mountains indeed. In the spy-glass they shimmered whitely. That was snow! Or white rocks! They were medicine mountains. And the big mountain, so high, so mysterious, so proud: a chief mountain.

"You have been there?" asked the doctor, eagerly, of Stub. "With the Utahs?"

"No." And Stub shook his head. "Not there. No remember."

"Pshaw!" the doctor answered.

The column came panting up. The doctor and the lieutenant again waved their hats.

"The mountains, men! You see the Mexican mountains—the Great Stony Mountains. Three cheers, now, for the Mexican mountains!"

Everybody cheered three times: "Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!" Only the horses stood with heads drooping; they did not care.

"How far, would you think, cap'n?" Sergeant Meek queried.

"We ought to reach their base day after to-morrow."

"Hooray!"

But although they all marched ten more miles to-day, and more than eleven miles the next day, and more than twenty-three miles the next day, from camp on the third evening the big chief mountain and the lesser mountains seemed no nearer than before.

"Sure, they're marchin' faster'n we are," said John Sparks.

"Spirit mountains," Stub decided. "See 'em, no get 'em."

Another horse was about to die. There were fresh Indian signs, again. The Spanish trail had been found—it led onward, toward the mountains. The country was growing more bare, the air thinner and chillier. Through the spy-glass the mountains looked bare.

When the next herd of buffalo were seen, the lieutenant ordered camp made, and sent hunters out to kill meat enough for several days. There might be no buffalo, farther on. It was a poor country. He himself did not hunt. He went up on a hill and drew pictures of the mountains, on a piece of paper.

Stub did not hunt, either; he was almost out of arrows. He followed Lieutenant Pike to the hill, and watched him. But the pictures were only crooked lines, like Indian pictures.

The lieutenant glanced aside at him, and smiled. His smile was sweet, when he did smile.

"Would you like to climb that big blue mountain?" he asked.

Stub had to think, a moment. The big blue mountain! Yes, big and blue it was—and white; and very far. The thunder spirit might live there. Winter lived there. Could anybody climb it? It never was out of sight, now, except at night (and it never was out of sight, for days and days afterward), but it seemed hard to reach."

(This was the celebrated Pike's Peak, of Colorado, later named for Lieutenant Pike, first white man to tell about it.)

"Top?"

"Yes, clear to the top," smiled the lieutenant. Stub's eyes widened; and he smiled also. "Sure. No afraid, with you."

"Good!" the lieutenant praised. "We'll see."

The hunters killed seventeen buffalo, and wounded many more. When the best of the meat had been smoked, there were nine hundred pounds of it, and one hundred and thirty-six marrow-bones. The camp finished off the marrow-bones in one meal, as a feast before marching on to storm the big blue mountain.