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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWarrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 1
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Warrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 1 Post by :Bill999 Category :Long Stories Author :Charles King Date :May 2012 Read :1610

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Warrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 1

CHAPTER I

Riding at ease in the lazy afternoon sunshine a single troop of cavalry was threading its way in long column of twos through the bold and beautiful foothills of the Big Horn. Behind them, glinting in the slanting rays, Cloud Peak, snow clad still although it was late in May, towered above the pine-crested summits of the range. To the right and left of the winding trail bare shoulders of bluff, covered only by the dense carpet of bunch grass, jutted out into the comparative level of the eastward plain. A clear, cold, sparkling stream, on whose banks the little command had halted for a noontide rest, went rollicking away northeastward, and many a veteran trooper looked longingly, even regretfully, after it, and then cast a gloomy glance over the barren and desolate stretch ahead. Far as the eye could reach in that direction the earth waves heaved and rolled in unrelieved monotony to the very sky line, save where here and there along the slopes black herds or scattered dots of buffalo were grazing unvexed by hunters red or white, for this was thirty years ago, when, in countless thousands, the bison covered the westward prairies, and there were officers who forbade their senseless slaughter to make food only for the worthless, prowling coyotes. No wonder the trooper hated to leave the foothills of the mountains, with the cold, clear trout streams and the bracing air, to take to long days' marching over dull waste and treeless prairie, covered only by sage brush, rent and torn by dry ravines, shadeless, springless, almost waterless, save where in unwholesome hollows dull pools of stagnant water still held out against the sun, or, further still southeast among the "breaks" of the many forks of the South Cheyenne, on the sandy flats men dug for water for their suffering horses, yet shrank from drinking it themselves lest their lips should crack and bleed through the shriveling touch of the alkali.

Barely two years a commissioned officer, the young lieutenant at the head of column rode buoyantly along, caring little for the landscape, since with every traversed mile he found himself just that much nearer home. Twenty-five summers, counting this one coming, had rolled over his curly head, and each one had seemed brighter, happier than the last, all but the one he spent as a hard-worked "plebe" at the military academy. His graduation summer two years previous was a glory to him, as well as to a pretty sister, young and enthusiastic enough to think a brother in the regulars, just out of West Point, something to be made much of, and Jessie Dean had lost no opportunity of spoiling her soldier or of wearying her school friends through telling of his manifold perfections. He was a manly, stalwart, handsome fellow as young graduates go, and old ones wish they might go over again. He was a fond and not too teasing kind of brother. He wasn't the brightest fellow in the class by thirty odd, and had barely scraped through one or two of his examinations, but Jessie proudly pointed to the fact that much more than half the class had "scraped off" entirely, and therefore that those who succeeded in getting through at all were paragons, especially Brother Marshall. But girls at that school had brothers of their own, girls who had never seen West Point or had the cadet fever, and were not impressed with young officers as painted by so indulgent a sister. Most of the girls had tired of Jessie's talks, and some had told her so, but there was one who had been sympathetic from the start--a far Western, friendless sort of girl she was when first she entered school, uncouthly dressed, wretchedly homesick and anything but companionable, and yet Jessie Dean's kind heart had warmed to this friendless waif and she became her champion, her ally, and later, much to her genuine surprise, almost her idol. It presently transpired that "the Pappoose," as the girls nicknamed her because it was learned that she had been rocked in an Indian cradle and had long worn moccasins instead of shoes (which accounted for her feet being so much finer in their shape than those of her fellows), was quick and intelligent beyond her years, that, though apparently hopelessly behind in all their studies at the start, and provoking ridicule and sneers during the many weeks of her loneliness and home-longing, she suddenly began settling to her work with grim determination, surprising her teachers and amazing her mates by the vim and originality of her methods, and, before the end of the year, climbing for the laurels with a mental strength and agility that put other efforts to the blush. Then came weeks of bliss spent with a doting father at Niagara, the seashore and the Point--a dear old dad as ill at ease in Eastern circles as his daughter had been at first at school, until he found himself welcomed with open arms to the officers' mess-rooms at the Point, for John Folsom was as noted a frontiersman as ever trod the plains, a man old officers of the cavalry and infantry knew and honored as "a square trader" in the Indian country--a man whom the Indians themselves loved and trusted far and wide, and when a man has won the trust and faith of an Indian let him grapple it to his breast as a treasure worth the having, great even as "the heart love of a child." Sioux, Shoshone and Cheyenne, they would turn to "Old John" in their councils, their dealings, their treaties, their perplexities, for when he said a thing was right and square their doubts were gone, and there at the Point the now well-to-do old trader met men who had known him in by-gone days at Laramie and Omaha, and there his pretty schoolgirl daughter met her bosom friend's big brother Marshall, a first classman in all his glory, dancing with damsels in society, while she was but a maiden shy in short dresses. Oh, how Jess had longed to be of that party to the Point, but her home was in the far West, her father long dead and buried, her mother an invalid, and the child was needed there. Earnestly had old Folsom written, begging that she who had been so kind to his little girl should be allowed to visit the seashore and the Point with him and "Pappoose," as he laughingly referred to her, adopting the school name given by the girls; but they were proud people, were the Deans, and poor and sensitive. They thanked Mr. Folsom warmly. "Jessie was greatly needed at her home this summer," was the answer; but Folsom somehow felt it was because they dreaded to accept courtesies they could not repay in kind.

"As if I could ever repay Jess for all the loving kindness to my little girl in her loneliness," said he. No, there was no delicious visiting with Pappoose that summer, but with what eager interest had she not devoured the letters telling of the wonderful sights the little far Westerner saw--the ocean, the great Niagara, the beautiful Point in the heart of the Highlands, but, above all, that crowned monarch, that plumed knight, that incomparable big brother, Cadet Captain Marshall Dean. Yes, he had come to call the very evening of their arrival. He had escorted them out, Papa and Pappoose, to hear the band playing on the Plain. He had made her take his arm, "a schoolgirl in short dresses," and promenaded with her up and down the beautiful, shaded walks, thronged with ladies, officers and cadets, while some old cronies took father away to the mess for a julep, and Mr. Dean had introduced some young girls, professors' daughters, and they had come and taken her driving and to tea, and she had seen him every day, many times a day, at guard mounting, drill, pontooning or parade, or on the hotel piazzas, but only to look at or speak to for a minute, for of course she was "only a child," and there were dozens of society girls, young ladies, to whom he had to be attentive, especially a very stylish Miss Brockway, from New York, with whom he walked and danced a great deal, and whom the other girls tried to tease about him. Pappoose didn't write it in so many words, but Jessie, reading those letters between the lines and every which way, could easily divine that Pappoose didn't fancy Miss Brockway at all. And then had come a wonderful day, a wonderful thing, into the schoolgirl's life. No less than twelve pages did sixteen-year-old Pappoose take to tell it, and when a girl finds time to write a twelve-page letter from the Point she has more to tell than she can possibly contain. Mr. Dean had actually invited her--_her_, Elinor Merchant Folsom--Winona, as they called her when she was a toddler among the tepees of the Sioux--Pappoose as the girls had named her at school--"Nell," as Jessie called her--sweetest name of all despite the ring of sadness that ever hangs about it--and Daddy had actually smiled and approved her going to the midweek hop on a cadet captain's broad chevroned arm, and she had worn her prettiest white gown, and the girls had brought her roses, and Mr. Dean had called for her before all the big girls, and she had gone off with him, radiant, and he had actually made out her card for her, and taken three dances himself, and had presented such pleasant fellows--first classmen and "yearlings." There was Mr. Billings, the cadet adjutant, and Mr. Ray, who was a cadet sergeant "out on furlough" and kept back, but such a beautiful dancer, and there was the first captain, such a witty, brilliant fellow, who only danced square dances, and several cadet corporals, all hop managers, in their red sashes. Why, she was just the proudest girl in the room! And when the drum beat and the hop broke up she couldn't believe she'd been there an hour and three-quarters, and then Mr. Dean escorted her back to the hotel, and Daddy had smiled and looked on and told him he must come into the cavalry when he graduated next June, and he'd show him the Sioux country and Pappoose would teach him the Indian dances. It was all simply lovely. Of course she knew it was all due to Jessie that her splendid big brother should give up a whole evening from his lady friends. (Miss Brockway spoke so patronizingly to her in the hall when the girls were all talking together after the cadets had scurried away to answer tattoo roll-call.) Of course she understood that if it hadn't been for Jessie none of the cadets would have taken the slightest notice of her, a mere chit, with three years of school still ahead of her. But all the same it was something to live over and over again, and dream of over and over again, and the seashore seemed very stupid after the Point. Next year--next June--when Marshall graduated Jessie was to go and see that wonderful spot, and go she did with Pappoose, too, and though it was all as beautiful as Pappoose had described, and the scene and the music and the parades and all were splendid, there was no deliriously lovely hop, for in those days there could be no dancing in the midst of examinations. There was only the one great ball given by the second to the graduating class, and Marshall had so many, many other and older girls to dance with and say good-by to he had only time for a few words with his sister and her shy, silent little friend with the big brown eyes to whom he had been so kind the previous summer, when there were three hops a week and not so many hoppers in long dresses. Still, Marshall had one dance with each and introduced nice boys from the lower classes, and it was all very well, only not what Pappoose had painted, and Jessie couldn't help thinking and saying it might all have been so much sweeter if it hadn't been for that odious Miss Brockway, about whom Marshall hovered altogether too much, but, like the little Indian the girls sometimes said she was, Pappoose looked on and said nothing.

All the same, Mr. Dean had had a glorious graduation summer of it, though Jessie saw too little of him, and Pappoose nothing at all after the breakup of the class. In September the girls returned to school, friends as close as ever, even though a little cloud overshadowed the hitherto unbroken confidences, and Marshall joined the cavalry, as old Folsom had suggested, and took to the saddle, the prairie, the bivouac, and buffalo hunt as though native and to the manner born. They were building the Union Pacific then, and he and his troop, with dozens of others scattered along the line, were busy scouting the neighborhood, guarding the surveyors, the engineers, and finally the track-layers, for the jealous red men swarmed in myriads all along the way, lacking only unanimity, organization, and leadership to enable them to defeat the enterprise. And then when the whistling engines passed the forks of the Platte and began to climb up the long slope of the Rockies to Cheyenne and Sherman Pass, the trouble and disaffection spread to tribes far more numerous and powerful further to the north and northwest; and there rose above the hordes of warriors a chief whose name became the synonym for deep rooted and determined hostility to the whites--Machpealota (Red Cloud)--and old John Folsom, he whom the Indians loved and trusted, grew anxious and troubled, and went from post to post with words of warning on his tongue.

"Gentlemen," he said to the commissioners who came to treat with the Sioux whose hunting grounds adjoined the line of the railway, "it's all very well to have peace with these people here. It is wise to cultivate the friendship of such chiefs as Spotted Tail and Old-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses but there are irreconcilables beyond them, far more numerous and powerful, who are planning, preaching war this minute. Watch Red Cloud, Red Dog, Little Big Man. Double, treble your garrisons at the posts along the Big Horn; get your women and children out of them, or else abandon the forts entirely. I know those warriors well. They outnumber you twenty to one. Reinforce your garrisons without delay or get out of that country, one of the two. Draw everything south of the Platte while yet there is time."

But wiseacres at Washington said the Indians were peaceable, and all that was needed was a new post and another little garrison at Warrior Gap, in the eastward foothills of the range. Eight hundred thousand dollars would build it, "provided the labor of the troops was utilized," and leave a good margin for the contractors and "the Bureau." And it was to escort the quartermaster and engineer officer and an aide-de-camp on preliminary survey that "C" Troop of the cavalry, Captain Brooks commanding, had been sent on the march from the North Platte at Frayne to the headwaters of the Powder River in the Hills, and with it went its new first lieutenant, Marshall Dean.

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