The angry historians see one side of the question. The calm historians see nothing at all, not even the question itself. — G. K. Chesterton

With Lieutenant Pike - Edwin Sabin




The Coming of the Spaniards

"Ai-ee! I see them!" panted Iskatappe, over his shoulder, and pointing to the west. "The Spanish!"

"It may be running buffalo, or a big wind," answered Skidi.

"Shall we halt and wait?" proposed Letalesha.

"No. It is they. It does not move fast enough for buffalo or wind. It is on this side of the river. We will cross the river and hide on the other side. Then we will be safe," ordered Iskatappe.

Boy Scar Head, at the rear, peered hard and he, too, sighted a dust cloud far westward, tinging the horizon above the rolling, sandy landscape.

This was the Corn month, July, 1806. The four were travelling in single file at fast dog-trot down through the northern end of Texas where the Canadian River crosses. Iskatappe, or Rich Man, led. He was second chief of the nation. Skidi, or Wolf, came next. He was a warrior. Letalesha, or Old Knife, trotted third. He was a sub-chief. And at the rear there trotted Scar Head, who was not yet even a warrior, because he was just a boy; but some day he should be a warrior, and a chief, if he proved brave and smart.

They were odd-looking Indians, clad in only moccasins and buffalo-robes. The three men had their heads closely shaven except for a short pompadour ridge like a rooster comb, ending in the scalp-lock. With a paste of buffalo tallow and red clay this scalp-lock was made to stand up stiff and curved forward in shape of a horn. By that sign, and by the sign of their travelling afoot, and by their tall stature and high cheek-bones, friends and enemies would have known them at once as Pawnees from a nation of fierce fighters.

However, nobody would have taken Scar Head for a Pawnee. He did not wear the horn—he was not yet a warrior. He wore a red cloth band around his head, to keep his long brown hair out of his eyes. He was short and stocky, with a pug nose and with freckles showing through his darkly tanned skin. No, he did not appear to be a Pawnee, nor an Indian at all.

Still, he ranked as a son of Charakterik, head chief of the Pawnee Republic nation. Chief Charakterik had sent him out on the warrior trail to get experience. He was called Scar Head by reason of the patch of white hair that grew over a queer, hot spot on his head. He felt like an Indian and acted like an Indian; but all he knew was that he had been traded by the mountain Utahs to the plains Pawnees, several years ago, and that Chief Charakterik had adopted him.

The four had set out from the main Pawnee Republic village of round mud huts on the Republican River in present northern Kansas two weeks back. The Pawnees always started from home on foot, except when hunting game. They thought that they could take care of themselves better that way. A man on foot could hide in country where a man on horse might be seen. But they were expected to return on horseback, with other horses stolen or captured, for to win horses was the test of a Pawnee brave.

Scar Head hoped to learn a great deal about horse-stealing, although this was not really a horse-stealing scout. Nevertheless

"If we are not given horses by the Spaniards, we will get them elsewhere," had said Rich Man.

"Yes; we will get them from the Spaniards, anyway," had replied Skidi. "They will have many horses, easy to steal. But in order to keep friendly with us, they will surely give us some, when they see we are poor and afoot."

The dust cloud was welcome. It was time that the Spaniards should be sighted—those Spanish soldiers who, according to the report received by Chief Charakterik, were marching from New Mexico into the Indian country, no one knew why. To find out was the business of the Iskatappe squad.

The dust cloud hung in the air, moving slowly with the distant breeze. When finally the four reached the bank of the river, the cloud was much nearer.

"We will cross, and watch them; and to-night we will go into their camp," said Iskatappe.

So they swam and waded the shallow river, and crawled out into a clump of willows, to wait until the strangers should pass.

Soon, to the west they might see a column of mounted figures coming on, following the course of the river but staying back from it on account of the deep washes, or maybe from fear that their thirsty horses might bolt into quicksands.

"They are many times ten," murmured Skidi, counting by the fingers on his hands.

"It is only an advance guard," Letalesha said. "A bigger dust cloud is behind them."

And that was so. The advance guard of horsemen seemed to be scouting along the river, as if seeking a good trail to water for the others. Boy Scar Head strained his eyes to see as much as the warriors saw. Over the yellow desert shimmering with the hot air the riders steadily cantered, under several fluttering pennons borne on lances; and anybody might tell by the way they rode that they were warriors themselves.

They were going to strike the river only a short distance below. Suddenly Skidi drew quick breath. "Apaches! Look! It will be a fight."

"Hi!" Iskatappe uttered. "Let nobody move. We are safe here, if we don't move."

The scene had changed in a twinkling. A perfect swarm of Indians had burst from the very ground out there, and with shrill yells were racing to hem the Spanish between them and the river. How they had hidden themselves so well was remarkable, but it was an Indian trick and these were Apaches, who knew how to hide in the sand itself.

They outnumbered the Spanish three to one. The Spanish leader rapidly formed his column—he rode a white horse, the horses of his men were dark. On charged the Apaches, whooping and brandishing their bows and lances, as if they did not intend to stop until they had ridden right over the enemy; when on a sudden the guns of the Spanish puffed white smoke. Instantly every Apache fell to hang on the side of his horse; and back and forth they all scurried, shooting with their bows. The arrow stems glinted in the sun like streaks of hail.

"That is a good chief," Iskatappe praised. "He knows how to fight."

For the Apache chief had ordered half his men to dismount, and turn their horses loose. The other half stayed in the saddle. They charged, with the footmen running behind; the Spanish horsemen charged to meet them; then the Apache horsemen separated to right and left and the footmen volleyed with arrows.

This made the Spanish halt, to answer with guns. The Apache footmen darted back, behind their horsemen, and these charged again, to lure the Spanish on into bow-shot.

Boy Scar Head quivered with excitement. It was the first real battle that he remembered to have seen. The others were tense, too, and staring eagerly.

"With half that number of Pawnees I would eat those Spanish up," Skidi boasted. "We all would take scalps and horses and be rich."

"Those Spanish have guns and much powder and lead," replied Old Knife. "It is hard to fight guns with bows. But one big charge, and all would be over."

The battle slowly traveled. It was getting directly opposite, as the Apaches gradually gave ground and the Spanish took ground. Scarcely anybody appeared to have been hurt yet; there were no dead on the sand and all the wounded stayed in their saddles. The column in the distance was making a larger dust, as if hastening to the rescue.

The Apaches no doubt knew this. Now on a sudden the noise quieted. The Apache chief had cantered forward from among his men, shaking his lance. He was a very heavy man, with a very long lance; upon his arm was a red shield. He rode a fine spotted horse.

"The chiefs will fight, maybe," quoth Letalesha. "That is the way to settle it."

The Apache chief spoke in a loud voice, holding his lance high; but the Spanish chief on the white horse waved him back and evidently said no.

"The Spanish chief is a coward," Skidi asserted. "He has a small heart."

"Why should he risk losing his scalp, when he is winning and he has enough men coming to burn the Apaches like dry grass?" argued the wise Old Knife.

The Apache chief sat a moment, waiting; then he turned back for his own party. From the Spanish a great shout arose, that made him again turn, quickly.

"Ai-ee! It will be a fight, man to man, after all!" Iskatappe exclaimed.

A Spanish soldier had dashed past his chief, and was galloping into the clear, flourishing his sword. It was a challenge. The chief sped to meet him. They both crouched behind their round shields. A moment—and they came together. The Spanish horseman thrust his shield forward, to throw aside the chief's lance point. But he did not catch it full. He only threw it higher, so that it glanced on and struck him in the throat—went straight through. He fell off, backward. Jerking the lance out, the Apache chief scoured by, in a half circle, with a whoop of victory.

"Hi, yi!" Old Knife grunted. "There is blood and a scalp."

What a yell broke from the Apaches and the Spaniards both—a yell of triumph from the one, a yell of vengeance from the others! The Spanish charged, firing their guns, to save the scalp, and to kill. The Apaches scattered; their chief galloped hither-thither, urging them to stand, but they had no stomachs for more fighting at close quarters and the rest of the Spanish were spurring in.

Presently all the Apaches, the footmen on horse again, tore away, making down the river. Without trying to pursue them the whole Spanish army gathered on the battlefield. They were too heavily clothed to overtake Indians.

"They are as many as a herd of buffalo," said Letalesha. "They are a large war party. Where are they going and what do they want?"

"We shall find out from them at sundown," Rich Man answered. "We will let them camp, first. They are blood hungry now, and very mad."

"It will be no trouble for us to get horses," laughed Wolf. "Even a boy like Scar Head could steal some."

"Will you let me try?" Scar Head asked, hopefully.

"You shall be a warrior and get horses," Iskatappe promised, "unless they make us presents of them."

"The Apache chief was Big Thunder," Old Knife declared. "I know him. Red is his medicine, and as long as he carries that red shield nothing can kill him."

"Perhaps the Spanish chief knew, too," Wolf proposed. "Of course, nobody wishes to fight against medicine."

"The Spanish soldier's medicine was very weak," remarked Iskatappe.

Thus they chatted, waiting and watching. Pretty soon the Spanish, also, moved on, down river. There were at least six hundred of them, all mounted, and twice that number of unsaddled horses and mules, some packed with supplies. To jingle of trappings and murmur of voices they proceeded, in a long column. Rich Man, Old Knife, Wolf and Boy Scar Head followed, by the other river bank, keeping out of sight in the brush and hollows.

At sunset the Spanish halted to form camp, beside the river.

"We had better go in before dark," Rich Man directed. "Or they might shoot at us. We had better go in while their pots are full, for my belly is empty."

So they rose boldly from their covert under the bank of the river, and crossed for the Spanish camp, their buffalo-robes tightly about them.

The camp was spread out in a circle over a wide area. Several chiefs' lodges had been set up, countless fires were smoking, horses whinnied, mules brayed, medicine pipes (horns) tooted, and a myriad of figures moved busily, getting water, going on herd, arranging the packs, marching to and fro as if in a dance, or clustering around the fires.

These were the Spanish, were they, from the south? Scar Head had not supposed that so many could come so far, all together. The nation of the Spanish must be a great and powerful nation.

A guard saw the Iskatappe file approaching. Be shouted warning of them, and leveled his gun.

Iskatappe lifted his hand in the peace sign.

"Amigos—friends," he called. He knew a little Spanish. So did most of the Pawnees—a little Spanish picked up from the Comanches and southern Utahs, and a little French picked up from the St. Louis traders who visited the Pawnee country.

"Que tiene—what do you want?" the guard demanded, stopping them with his gun. He was dressed in a blue cloth hunting-shirt with red trimmings, and leather wrappings upon his legs, and huge loose-topped leather moccasins reaching to his knees, and a broad-brimmed high-crowned hat with ribbons on it; and all his face was covered with bushy black hair. He was armed with a short-barreled gun, and a long knife in a scabbard. He certainly looked like a stout warrior.

"El capitan," Iskatappe replied, meaning that he wished to see the chief.

Other Spanish soldiers came running. Their head warrior said: "Come," and with the Iskatappe file stalking proudly after he led the way through the staring camp to the lodge of the chief.

He was a black-eyed, dark-skinned, slim young war chief, splendidly clad in those same high, loose-topped shiny leather moccasins, and a bright red cloak flowing to his knees, and a hat turned up at one side and sparkling with gilt.

Of course the first thing to do was to eat. Therefore, after shaking hands with the Spanish war chief, Rich Man, Old Knife and Wolf sat down; boy Scar Head sat down likewise. They were served with plenty of meat, from a pot.

Gazing curiously about, Scar Head might see indeed that these Spanish were rich and powerful. Such quantities of horses and mules, of saddles, arms, supplies, and soldiers warmly dressed, and fiercely whiskered not only with hair on cheeks and chin, but sticking out like horns on either side of the nose! What did the Spanish wish?

Having eaten, Iskatappe began to find out. The Spanish chief filled a pipe and passed it out; Rich Man, Old Knife and Wolf smoked each a few puffs, the Spanish chief smoked a few puffs, and Iskatappe spoke.

"The Pawnee wish to know why their Spanish father is sending so many of his soldiers into the buffalo country."

"The great king who owns all this country is anxious to be friendly with his children," responded the young war chief. "So he has sent me, his lieutenant, Don Facundo Melgares, with a guard, to march through, take his red children by the hand, give them presents, and make the chain of friendship stronger."

"That is good," said Iskatappe. "The Pawnee Republic is very poor. But if my father is sending presents to the Pawnee, why are his men marching east instead of north? And why does he send so many soldiers with guns?"

"We follow a long trail," explained the war chief. "There are Indians of bad hearts toward everybody, like the Apaches; and the Apaches we will punish. The great king knows how to punish his enemies, as well as how to reward his friends. We are marching east because we go first to visit the Comanches. We bear gifts and friendship to the Comanches, to the Pawnees, and to the Kansas. And we march east to clean the country from the Americans who are stealing in. The great king will look after his own children. He wishes no foreigners to view the land. He will not permit the American traders to cheat the Indians. The American king pretends to have bought part of the country, but he has no rights here in the south, and the great king of Spain still owns all the lands beyond the Pawnees and the Kansas. Now word has come to the Spanish governor that the Americans are sending soldiers westward through Spanish country, to spy out the land. They are led by a chief named Pike. So we march ready for battle, to meet these Americans and either turn them back or take them prisoner."

"The Americans of Chief Pike will fight?" asked Iskatappe.

The young war chief laughed, showing white teeth.

"They cannot fight the soldiers of the great king. We are many and brave; the Americans are small. We can punish or reward. The Americans are weak and poor. Should there be war, we will eat them up. If they do not keep out of the country, there will be war. We shall warn them. The Indians would do very foolishly to help the Americans who have nothing, and are only greedy, seeking to steal the Indians' hunting grounds. First a few will come, as spies; then more will come by the same trail, and with their guns kill all the buffalo."

"We know little about the Americans, but we see that the Spanish are many and strong," Iskatappe replied. "I will take word back to the Pawnee, about this Pike."

"Who is your head chief?"

"He is Charakterik—White Wolf."

"Where does he live?"

"In his town of the Pawnee nation on the river of the Pawnee Republic."

"Tell him that after we have marched east and talked with the Comanches and cleaned the foreign traders from the country, we will march north and visit him at his town on the River Republican. If the American chief Mungo-Meri Pike comes there, the Pawnees must stop him; for the great king will be angry if the Americans are allowed to pass through."

"I will tell him," Iskatappe promised. "It is best that we travel fast. We came down on foot, for we are very poor. If we have horses to ride back on, we shall travel faster."

"Bueno—good," answered the Spanish chief. "Your father the great king of us all is generous to his children. You shall have horses, so that you may carry the news quickly."

This night the Iskatappe squad slept in the Spanish camp, and ate frequently. Rich Man explained to Old Knife and Wolf what had been said to him and not understood by them. Boy Scar Head listened. In the morning they were treated to a marching dance, in which the Spanish soldiers moved to the beat of drums. They were presented with a horse apiece; and after having shaken hands again they left, well satisfied.

Once away from the river they rode fast; for Skidi had stolen three mules during the night while the guard was sleepy instead of watchful, and hidden the animals in a convenient place. But the Spanish did not pursue.

"We will tell Charakterik that the Spanish are strong," said Iskatappe. "They fought the Apaches; they have plenty of guns and horses. They will eat the Americans of that Pike."

"I think, myself, that the Pawnee will grow fatter by helping the Spanish father than by helping the strange American father," declared Old Knife.

"We have gained four horses and three mules," Skidi chuckled. "All the whites are stupid. If the Americans come they will go back afoot; hey?

"What kind of men are the Americans?" Boy Scar Head ventured to ask, from the rear.

"We are talking," Letalesha rebuked. "When chiefs and warriors talk, boys keep silent."

So Scar Head got no information. All he knew was, that the Americans were a white nation living in the far east, beyond St. Louis where the French traders lived. But three Pawnees had been taken by the great trader Pierre Chouteau, to visit the American father in Washington. When they returned, the Pawnees would know more about the Americans. And of course that Chief Pike was likely to appear if the Spanish did not stop him.