Gold Cache - James W. Schultz




Chapter V

As I stood and watched Pi'tamakan ride toward the Cheyennes, I thought he must have gone crazy. "What can we do? What can we do?" I asked Jose, and got no answer.

At that moment Pi'tamakan turned his horse to the right, swung down on its off side and fired at the Cheyennes. One of them threw up his arms and toppled over, and then the whole party was obscured in the cloud of powder smoke that burst from their guns as they fired in turn. When the smoke cleared we were relieved to see that Pi'tamakan was still in the saddle; he had wheeled his horse and was riding straight toward us, loudly shouting the victory song. Some of the Cheyennes, hurriedly reloading, were running after him; others were bending over the man that had fallen.

"Crazy! Actually crazy!" Jose thundered at Pi'tamakan, as the boy, his eyes shining with excitement, came up. Then as a ball spatted into a sagebrush near by, the Spaniard added, "Come, let's get away from here."

When we had ridden a little way, Jose said sternly to Pi'tamakan, "Listen to me, crazy boy! I know why you did this foolish thing—because at the next medicine-lodge time you want to stand up and count many brave deeds. But you two boys were put in my charge and told to do as I should direct. Well, there must be no more charging and shooting at the enemy unless I tell you to do so."

During all the excitement we had not noticed that the stray horse was no longer following us. We were several miles on our way up the valley before I noticed that the animal was missing. By that time the sun had set and the valley was in deep shadow; but with the aid of the glass Jose made out that the enemy had caught the horse.

"That is bad, very bad," he said. "Those Cheyennes now have a horse, and with it a man can hurry to their camp and get the whole tribe after us. Or one of them may take it, ride ahead and ambush us. I don't like this."

Keeping the horses at a lively trot, we went on. At midnight, when we had probably put twenty-five miles between us and the mouth of the river, a terrific thunderstorm came up, and we sought shelter from the rain in a grove of cottonwood trees. A steady, heavy downpour that lasted until daylight wet us to the skin.

"Well, the storm has been lucky for us in one way," Jose said, as we sunned ourselves next morning. "It has washed out our trail. I have a strong feeling that those Cheyennes were close after us last night."

"My feeling about it is different," Pi'tamakan declared. "They were on their way to the north country. After burying the man I killed, I think they kept on going north."

"Say you so! Well, then, look down there and tell me what you see."

Both of us turned, and saw the party of Cheyennes emerging from the timber not a quarter of a mile below. There were fourteen of them, and they were traveling at a swift walk.

"They havenít the horse!" I cried.

"They numbered sixteen yesterday," said Pitamakan.

"One you killed, and one is on the horse scouting for us up the valley," Jose replied. "These are hurrying after him as fast as they can go. I don't think they will come in here, but we must saddle the horses."

The party passed about three hundred yards from where we stood in the timber, and none of the men even looked our way. We watched them for several miles; never once did they slacken their swift walk or turn out of the well worn trail they followed.

We decided to remain right where we were for three or four days, hoping that in that time the party would cease searching for us and leave the valley of the Bighorn.

We followed out that plan, and on the evening of the fourth day started on up the valley. Our progress was necessarily slow, for we traveled at night and avoided game trails and bare places where the tracks of our horses would show. At the mouth of the Greybull River we unexpectedly discovered in one of the game trails the tracks of the Cheyenne war party. They headed up the valley and were not more than a day old.

That was an unpleasant surprise. Evidently the party had been lying in wait for us somewhere below. Jose said that they would probably watch for us again at the mouth of Wind River, for at that point the trail forked; one branch turned sharply to the west toward Jackson's Hole, and the other went straight on to the South Pass and the big trail.

We camped there for three days and then started for the mouth of Wind River, which was about one hundred miles farther on. We had no desire to make fast time; the main thing was to slip quietly through the country and escape the vigilant Cheyennes.

When at last, about two o'clock one night, we neared the junction of the Bighorn and Wind Rivers, we were rather nervous. A moon three quarters full and well up in the sky gave much more light than we cared to have just at that time. And ahead of us, at the forks of the trail, we knew, were our enemies, waiting to attack us. Of course we had no intention of going to the forks; our plan was to cross the Bighorn close at hand and the Wind River above its junction, and then circle round to the South Pass trail.

Jose led off and found a good ford for us, and an hour later we approached Wind River at a point a mile or more above its mouth. At the very place at which we came upon the stream the moon showed a wide, shallow ford.

We worked the horses very slowly into the water, in order that they should make no loud splashings with their feet. We were halfway across, when from the timber directly in front came the shrill whinny of a horse. We knew that whinny; it was that of the stray horse that the Cheyennes had captured. Each one of our horses pricked up its ears and neighed in answer; back in the brush a gun was discharged.

"Turn back! Turn back!" Jose ordered. And back we went on the jump, surging through the ford and never stopping until we were some distance away from the stream.

"Well, we couldnít have done much worse," I complained. "There we were, almost into the enemy's camp."

"It is just the other way," said Jose. "We know now where the camp is. We will go back a little farther, recross the Bighorn, and then go straight south on the trail past the forks. Come on."

Jose did not speak again until we were once more on the east side of the Bighorn; then he called a halt and said, "You heard that shot when our horses whinnied? Well, that was the call for all the watchers to hurry to the place where the gun was fired. I am sure that the trail at the forks is clear; let us hurry and get by there before the daylight comes."

"Then I take the lead!" Pi'timakan exclaimed.

"I have the best eyes, best ears; so I am the one to lead. Keep behind me about a hundred steps, both of you."

"Go on, then," Jose said.

Daylight was coming, and while we were still half a mile from the forks the whole country was lighted up by the reddening sky. Ahead not a living thing was to be seen, but there was no telling what might be hiding in the sparse timber at the forks.

As we turned out toward the hills, Jose called to us to look back. Five of the enemy were leaving the timber and scattering out across the bottom in order to block our retreat. Anxiously we looked ahead again, and there, high up on the slope of the valley, stood an Indian with his face toward the forks, wildly waving his robe—the well-known signal that he had made a discovery and that his comrades were to hurry toward him. The rest of the party, then, were somewhere along Wind River, and there was a chance that we could pass the forks before they could head us off.

"Take courage! Ride! Ride fast!" Jose called out, and we urged our horses forward.

A moment later a Cheyenne, mounted on the stray horse, burst out of the timber at the forks. Shouting the Blackfoot war cry, Pi'tamakan waved him a challenge to come on. That was an exciting time, but somehow I was confident that my brother would be victorious. Both were lying low on their horses; swiftly they rode toward a common point. Watching them, I still had eyes to see that all the rest of the party were scurrying out from the timber on the trail of their leader; but they were hopelessly behind.

When the riders were about fifty yards apart the Cheyenne fired—and missed. As he wheeled his horse in swift retreat, crack went Pi'tamakan's rifle, and the Cheyenne tumbled off into the sage-brush. The party running out from the timber howled and fired at us. We yelled in a different tune, and Jose and I each took a shot at the signalman, who had dropped his robe and was leaping down the slope to get within range. Pi'tamakan jumped from his horse, and in a moment was back on it with the scalp of his victim. On we went up the valley, with the stray horse once more closely following us. When we looked back for the last time the Cheyennes were standing in a sad group round their fallen comrade.

"That ends our troubles!" Jose exclaimed. "To-morrow night we will be camping at the big trail of the white men."

"And the next day we will raise the cache of gold," I added.

It was not, however, until the morning of the second day that we came to the overland trail. The sight of it so impressed us that for a time we had not a word to say. It was not one trail; there were a hundred trails, all worn deep in the dusty soil.

"Why, a multitude of people and animals and wagons have passed here!" Pi'tamakan finally exclaimed. "The whites must be as many as are blades of grass."

"Ai! They are," said Jose. "Soon they will fill up the land of the going-down sun, and then they will make trails northward into our country and kill off all the game."

"They shall not!" Pi'tamakan almost shouted. "We will fight for our country and our game. We are a strong people, we Blackfeet. We can keep out the whites."

Jose sadly shook his head. "So said the Sioux and the Pawnees and other great tribes away off there to the east. They fought and they killed, and for every white that they killed came four more—ten more—a hundred more—and drove them ever westward."

"The Blackfeet are different. They are better fighters than all of those tribes together. But let us talk about this no more; it is not a pleasant thing to think of."

Mounting to a rise in the ground, we got a view of the trail for miles, both to the east and to the west. It was like a monstrous snake on the plain, and at intervals along its length rose clouds of dust that marked the slow advance of emigrant wagons on their way to the far Pacific.

We rode on, and within a quarter of a mile passed the tail end of the emigrant train—two heavy, canvas-covered wagons, drawn by six of the skinniest horses I ever saw. A half-dozen dust-covered men trudged beside the wagons, in one of which rode some women and children, who peered out at us with anxious faces.

The men were all heavily armed. They glared at us threateningly, and to my "How! How!" of greeting answered not a word. It is true that we were suspicious-looking. Jose was dressed, like Pi'tamakan, in full Indian costume; I wore Indian leather leggings, blanket capote, with beaded moccasins on my feet. My hair was long, in accordance with the style affected by all the Company men. Jose even had his braided.

We rode on and passed four more of the wagons. Ahead of the outfit were two men on horseback who hailed us as we were passing. Both were big, coarse-looking, bushy-whiskered fellows, and I took a dislike to them even before they spoke.

"You-all needn't think that you can steal our critters!" one of them shouted. "We got a guard on 'em nights that you and yer hull gang back there in the hills can't faze."

These "tenderfoot" travelers believed us to be horse thieves! When I told my companions what the men had said they could hardly restrain their anger.

"You will both have to bear it," I said. "We must keep clear of these travelers, raise our cache, and get out of the country."

We hurried on through the pass, until at last we sighted the creek that we were looking for—the creek of the gold cache. I learned later that it was called the Little Sandy.

When we came in sight of the ford we brought up short. Two emigrant trains were halted beside it, with the wagons of each drawn up in a close circle. Smoke was rising from half a dozen camp-fires and a number of people were moving among them. We realized at once that we could not raise the cache until they and those behind us on the trail had all moved on. So we rode away toward the northeast, and several miles from the ford, in a canon at the mouth of the creek, made camp.

The next afternoon we were saddling the horses to take another look at the ford, when, with a great clatter and jangling of metal and thud of hoofs, a whole company of soldiers came rushing into our camp on their big horses. Pi'tamakan and I instinctively grabbed our rifles and stood ready to defend ourselves; but Jose saw that resistance was useless, and shouted to us to lower our weapons.

A slim, short, gray-haired man rode a few steps toward us and coldly looked us over. Then he looked at the horses.

"Fine animals!" he exclaimed; and then suddenly bellowed, "Where did you steal 'em?"

"We didnít steal them!" I answered angrily.

"You didnít steal 'em, hey? Well, you-all pack that dunnage there onto your saddles and come along with me!" he ordered.

I told him that we were American Fur Company employees, but he would not listen; and when I tried to show him my uncle's letter, he refused to look at it.

"Oh, letters!" he contemptuously exclaimed. "Every one skulking about on these plains has letters, and they're all of them lies. Now, then, pack up and get into the saddle."

There was nothing to do except obey him, and we were all soon on the way to the ford. One of the soldiers led the stray horse. The emigrants were still encamped by the stream, and the whole crowd of them, headed by the two men who had led the outfit that we had pissed the day before, came out to meet us.

[Illustration] from The Gold Cache by James W. Schultz

PITAMAKAN AND I INSTINCTIVELY GRABBED OUR RIFLES.


"Well, captain, I see you got 'em," said one of the men. "Them's the very ones. They and their band been follerin' us a good many miles, and twicet they come nigh gittin' all our hoses."

"Well, you and any other witnesses report at our camp to-morrow morning at nine o'clock," the captain said.

Crossing the ford, we went on down the wide, parched plain; we did not stop until we reached the next stream—the Big Sandy—about dusk. Here was the soldier camp. Our captors took our weapons and horses from us and put us under guard in one of the tents. One of the men brought us some supper. We were so low in spirits that we did not talk to one another.

Later in the evening, as we were preparing to sleep, we heard a great splashing of water in the creek and then the tramp of horses, mingled with the commands of officers; more soldiers had arrived.

One of the camp-fires was in front of our tent, and here the new arrivals' settled down for their evening meal. Presently some one approached the fire and began to sing the Sioux war song; we pricked up our ears, and in another minute Jose leaped to the door of the tent, flung wide the flap and cried:

"Jeem! Jeem Br-r-r-reegar! Salvanos! Salvanos!" (Save us! Save us!)

Then he burst into a torrent of Spanish that a tall man, who, we learned, was Jim Bridger, chief of scouts, interrupted by exclaiming:—

"Why, it's my old friend, Jose! Slow now, slow now. I'm here; I'm your friend."

"Then come! Come quick!" Jose urged, pulling him into the tent, where Pi'tamakan and I stood amazed and delighted at the turn in our affairs. "See, they have us prisoners! They say that we are horse thieves. We horse thieves! And the boy here, it is Thomas Fox. You know his uncle, Wesley Fox, of the great Company."

Bridger put out his hand as he towered over me; he was more than six feet tall and of powerful build. "So you are Thomas Fox. I'm glad to meet you, boy. Of course I know Wesley Fox; a better man never came into the West. Now, what's the matter? Jose here talks so fast that I can't follow him."

I explained our predicament briefly and, as I was talking, got out my uncle's letter.

When I had finished, Bridger gave a long, hearty laugh. "These emigrants and these soldiers! What with their mistakes and their foolishness, they're setting me plumb crazy. I don't get any rest from 'em; no, sir, none whatever. Now, then, I'll get you all out of this guard tent in no time."

With that he hurried off to the commanding officer, and in a few minutes was back with an order for our release. He hustled us out to the camp-fire and made us roast some meat for a second supper.

It was getting late by this time; one by one the soldiers went into their tents to sleep, and only we four were left at the fire.

"They're gone at last," Bridger said in a low tone. "Now, then, what's this errand you speak of? What's old Wesley Fox got you all piking down into this country after?"

On the instant I made up my mind to tell him, and I did, as shortly as I could and leaving out nothing except the exact location of the gold cache. Two or three, times during the course of my story I caught a gleam of amusement in his eyes. When I finished he broke out laughing.

"I hadnít ought to laugh," he said, "but this is one on your Uncle Wesley and you boys here. That gold was cached at a big rock near the ford of the Little Sandy, wasnít it?"

"Yes," I admitted. A sudden fear made me feel very uncomfortable.

"Well, it isnít there now," Bridger said. "It's safe in the bank in San Francisco."

His words fairly stunned me. The gold cache was lifted! Our journey had been for nothing. It was some time before I could control my voice sufficiently to ask about it.

"There ain't much to tell. Not long ago some emigrants were camped at the creek when a rain-storm raised it out of its banks. Next day one of the tenderfeet was strolling along the shore and saw the corner of a small box that had been exposed by the flood. He dug it out and found it full of gold; dug some more and found more boxes of it—about nineteen thousand dollars in all. Well, sir, he got the colonel to send some of us to help him bring it to this camp; and when the stage came along he turned the stuff over to the Wells-Fargo messengers, got aboard himself, and now he has it in the Frisco bank all O. K."

"What matters gold!" Pi'tamakan exclaimed, when I repeated what Bridger had said. "I am rich; I count two coups. I have killed two of the enemy."

Nor did Jose show much disappointment because of our failure to raise the cache. "Never mind, there is more gold," he said. "I know where there's plenty of gold. I will take you to it."

"Where? Where is the place?" I demanded. "Oh, off south of here; maybe as far as one moon's travel."

"We'll start for there to-morrow!" I cried.