Thursday, 8 September 2011

life with the apaches and commanches part2

We were now fairly started on our journey, and but for a singular feeling of depression which weighed down my spirits and seemed a presentiment of evil to come, I should have had little doubt of our ability to overtake the train and travel safely with it to our destination. This feeling, however, caused me to become taciturn and apprehensive, so much so, that I was frequently rallied upon the subject by my companions.
For many days, however, we followed the trail without special incident; the tracks of wagons giving us an easy guide. We found grass, wood and water in abundance, and traveling light and unimpeded by others, felt confident that we were gaining upon the train and would undoubtedly overtake them shortly.
We crossed several rivers and streams, most of them fordable, but one or two we found wide and deep and were compelled to float our wagon across. We saw some game, antelopes and deer, and shot a few, forming a welcome addition to our larder; but they were generally shy and kept out of reach,

without wandering too far from the track. For two days we had been journeying through an entirely different country from that which we had passed. It was almost a barren desert, treeless, without game, and, but little water; on its hard surface the wagon wheels made scarcely an imprint, and it was with the greatest difficulty that we could take up the trail. The evening of the second day found us still on the road, as we could find no water, without which we could not camp. Before sunset we had noticed a low fringe along the horizon which looked like timber, and knowing there must be water there, determined to push on and reach it, if possible, before camping for the night.

After a weary march we reached the edge of the desert plain, and found a small stream, clear but shallow; its banks lined with tall cottonwood trees. Here we rested, and our tired animals fully appreciated the cool water and the luxuriant "gramma" grass which abounded.
While standing watch, a precaution we never neglected, I fancied I heard a distant rifle shot, and roused my father and brother, fearing Indians might be near at hand, for we were now in very dangerous country and father declared that he had seen "Injun sign" the day previous, but a scout through the cottonwood grove revealed nothing, and as the sound was very faint and was not repeated, we concluded it was only fancy; father muttering as he crawled

under his blanket that I was getting too almighty scarey for a backwoodsman.

This incident however aroused those apprehensive feelings that had before troubled me, but which had been quieted for a time by the uneventful nature of our journey. We were not again disturbed that night, but at sunrise we made a discovery that filled us with disma
We had lost the trail! This we were convinced was the result of our night journey, and father was confident that we could recover it; but, when after several hours spent in a fruitless endeavor to find where it crossed the stream, I urged that we should take our own trail back to the point at which it diverged from that of the train, he positively refused to do so; declaring that he wasn't a greenhorn to get scared at so small a matter, and that he should push on in a southwesterly direction, and take his chance of intersecting the trail, he asserting that we must have strayed to northward of it. My brother and myself protested against so rash an undertaking, but in vain; and we finally started on what was destined to be our last day's journey together.
Our route now lay across a verdant and apparently boundless prairie. Far as the eye could reach it was a level plain, without landmarks, trackless as the sea, covered with a living carpet of emerald green. At another time I could have spent hours in gazing upon its vast expanse, and fancying its changed appearance when its surface should be furrowed by the plow and [Pg 16]its fruitful soil reward the farmer's labor; but the presentiment of evil which I found it impossible to shake off, oppressed my spirits rendering me anxious and fearful.
A few moments took us out of sight of the cottonwood grove, and but for the aid of father's pocket compass we could have had little idea of our direction, but by its assistance we traveled steadily in a southwesterly coarse, father being confident that we had strayed north of the trail and that by taking this course we must sooner or later regain it. Until nearly noon we kept steadily on, seeing nothing to indicate that we were near the trail. Just before noon we halted to rest and feed the animals and prepare a meal for ourselves.

The morning had been sultry and we were all sufficiently fatigued to find a brief rest very acceptable. Refreshed by half an hour's rest, we were preparing to start, when my brother who had moved off in advance, suddenly exclaimed, "father's right after all, there are mounted men ahead, it must be the train!" Animated by the hope that our solitary wanderings were nearly over and our perils past, we pushed ahead, urging our animals forward with all possible speed.
The distant horsemen were moving parallel to our route, and apparently had not perceived us. We shouted and fired our rifles, a commotion was visible among them, they halted, wheeled, and a number suddenly galloped towards us with the speed of the
wind. My brother, who had ridden far ahead of us swinging his cap and hallooing loudly, suddenly pulled up his horse and with a cry of terror rode back to us with his utmost speed. We were not long at a loss to understand the meaning of this proceeding; as he neared us his warning shout of Indians! Indians! was borne to us upon the breeze. But it needed not that to apprise us of our peril; ere he reached us the advancing horsemen had approached so near that we could plainly, see instead of the friends we sought, a horde of hideous savages, naked to the waist, besmeared with war paint in many strange devices, their tall lances waving, their ornaments glittering in the sun—on, on they came, giving vent to the most blood-curdling yells it had ever been my fortune to hear.
In this desperate strait my father alone preserved his coolness; the warlike spirit of the old frontiersman was roused in an instant. With lightning-like rapidity he had unhitched his team and so disposed them with our horses and the wagon as to form a sort of square, the horses and mules were tied together and to the wagon, thus avoiding the danger of their being stampeded. Inside this square we placed ourselves, and levelling our rifles across the backs of our living bulwark awaited the attack. My poor mother and wife, terrified almost to the verge of insensibility, we compelled to lie down in the bottom of the wagon, and so arranged its cargo as to protect them from any stray shot which might strike it.
[Pg 18]At first it seemed that the savages intended to ride us down by sheer force of numbers, which they might easily have done; but our determined aspect and the three shining tubes aimed at them, each ready to send forth its leaden messenger of death, evidently changed their determination; for before getting within range, their headlong gallop became a moderate lope, then a walk, and they finally halted altogether. A short council followed, during which we had an excellent opportunity to observe our foes, and concert our plans for defence. Father cautioned us to hold our fire until absolutely certain of our mark, and that, if possible, but one must fire at a time, as it was of the utmost importance to be prepared for a sudden dash. We examined the loading of our rifles and pistols, put on fresh caps, and with wildly beating hearts and nerves strained to their utmost tension, awaited the onslaught.
Our enemies now seemed to have arrived at some determination, for their consultation was at an end—an old Indian who, from his dignified bearing and authoritative manner appeared to be their chief, made a sign with his hand, and spoke a few words in a loud tone. The incessant jabbering which they had kept up from the moment they halted instantly ceased, and one after another a number of young warriors, perhaps twenty, rode out in single file upon the prairie. After gaining a distance of about one hundred yards from the main body they increased the intervals separating them to some fifty paces, and then inclining the [Pg 19]course so as to form a sort of half circle, they increased their speed and came on with the evident intention of circling round us.
These manœuvres had not escaped our notice, but neither my brother nor myself understood their import. That my father did so, however, was evident.
"Surround!" he muttered, the instant the movement began. "I thought they'd try it, blame their ugly picters." "Now boys," he continued, "keep cool and keep your eyes skinned, don't throw away a shot, and don't fire 'till I give the word." He then explained the method of this peculiar stratagem of Indian warfare. The twenty picked men were about to ride around us in a circle, at top speed, delivering flights of arrows as they passed, their object being to disconcert us and draw our fire; our guns once empty, the main body whom we observed held themselves in readiness, would ride in, and by a sudden dash, end the skirmish by our death or captivity.
Father's warning was delivered in far less time than it has taken to write this—and it was barely concluded before the attacking party were circling round us, uttering their vengeful war cries, and gradually drawing nearer and nearer. Standing back to back, we watched their every movement, my brother and myself expecting every moment to have an opportunity to tumble one or more of the bold riders from their horses; but a few seconds showed us the futility of this. As they came within range, each Indian disappeared [Pg 20]behind the body of his horse. A hand grasping the withers of the horse, and a foot just showing above his back, were all that could be seen—perhaps a painted face would be seen for an instant under the horse's neck, but instantly disappearing—while the hiss of an arrow would tell that the rider had sped the shaft to its mark; the horse all the while going at full gallop. At no moment could any one of us have fired with any chance of hitting an Indian. The horses we could have shot without difficulty, but this was just what our enemies wanted. Could they but induce us to waste our fire upon the horses, we would soon be at their mercy. So, with an effort, we restrained our inclination to risk a shot, and watched their every movement with the cat-like vigilance of men who knew that their lives were trembling in the balance.
Round and round went the circle of the hunt, flight after flight of arrows whistled past us, or spent their force against the wagon, still we were unharmed; although our escapes were narrow and incessant. The mules and horses were struck repeatedly, but so tightly were they bound together with leathern thongs that not even death could separate them. As our tormentors came around for the fifth time, one of the horses stumbled and fell and rolled completely over, pitching his rider headlong upon the prairie. Before he could regain his horse, father's rifle cracked and the unlucky equestrian rolled prone upon the ground with a bullet in his brain.
The Capture
The Capture.

"That's one less," muttered father, grimly. "I thought I'd fetch ye, ye painted varmint." "Don't fire for your lives, boys," he continued, "'till I'm loaded." They were the last words he ever uttered. Simultaneously with their utterance came the hiss of an Indian arrow, and with a deep groan he sank to the ground. Terror stricken, and with anguished hearts we raised him in our arms. Alas, the deadly aim had been too true; the shaft, entering his right eye had penetrated the brain, and we saw at a glance that our dear father was no more. Racked by contending emotions, we had almost forgotten our imminent peril; as we turned to confront the foe, we saw that our hesitation had been fatal; the red warriors were upon us like a living tide, and for a few seconds a wild melee followed; we battled hand to hand with the desperation of fiends; it was but for an instant; my brave brother fell covered with wounds, and his death shriek was still ringing in my ears, when I received a blow upon the head which stretched me senseless upon the ground. I seemed to experience the sensation of falling from a vast height, then came a sudden shock and all was blank

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