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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWarrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 21
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Warrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 21 Post by :tlomax Category :Long Stories Author :Charles King Date :May 2012 Read :1574

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Warrior Gap: A Story Of The Sioux Outbreak Of '68 - Chapter 21

CHAPTER XXI

A week went by at Fort Emory, and not a word came back from Dean. The furious storm that swept the hills and swelled the rivers was the talk of every army post within two hundred miles, while in the gambling halls and saloons of Laramie, Cheyenne and Gate City men spoke of it in low tones and with bated breath. If ever the bolts of heaven were launched to defeat a foul crime it was right there at Canon Springs, for the story was all over Wyoming by this time how the worst gang of cutthroats that ever infested the wide West had galloped in strong force to that wild, sequestered nook to murder Dean and his whole party of the hated "blue bellies," if need be, but at all hazards to get the precious package in his charge. Fifty thousand dollars in government greenbacks it contained, if Hank Birdsall, their chosen leader, could be believed, and hitherto he had never led them astray. He swore that he had the "straight tip," and that every man who took honest part in the fight, that was sure to ensue, should have his square one thousand dollars. Thirty to ten, surrounding the soldiers along the bluffs on every side, they counted on easy victory. But the warning thunder had been enough for the young troop leader, and prompted him to break camp and get out of the gorge. They were starting when Birdsall's scouts peered over the bank and the outlaw ordered instant pursuit, just in time to meet the fury of the flood and to see some of his fellows drowned like rats in a sewer.

But who betrayed the secret? What officer or government employe revealed the fact that Dean was going with so much treasure?--and what could have been his object? Birdsall had taken to the mountains and was beyond pursuit. "Shorty," one of his men, rescued from drowning by the mail carrier and escort coming down from Frayne, confessed the plot and the General was now at Emory investigating. Major Burleigh had taken to his bed. Captain Newhall was reported gone to Denver. Old John Folsom lay with bandaged head and blinded eyes in a darkened room, assiduously nursed by Pappoose and Jessie, who in turn were devotedly attended by Mrs. Fletcher. Possessed of some strange nervous excitement, this energetic woman was tireless in her effort to be of use. Minus ten of their very best, "C" Troop still camped at Emory, the General holding it for possible escort duty, and, to his huge delight, young Loomis was assigned to command it until Dean should return. There came a day when the news arrived from Frayne that the Laramie column had crossed the Platte and marched on for the Big Horn, and then John Folsom began to mend and was allowed to sit up, and told the doctor he had need to see Major Burleigh without delay, but Burleigh could not leave his bed, said the physician in attendance--a very different practitioner from Folsom's--and the old man began to fret and fume, and asked for writing materials. He wrote Burleigh a note, and the doctor forbade his patient's reading anything. Major Burleigh, said he, was a very sick man, and in a wretchedly nervous condition. Serious consequences were feared unless utter quiet could be assured.

Then Folsom was pronounced well enough to be taken out for a drive, and he and Pappoose had the back seat together, while Jessie, with Harry Loomis to drive, sat in front, and Jess was shy and happy, for Loomis had plainly lost his heart to his comrade's pretty sister. Marshall had now been gone nine days and could soon be expected home, said everybody, for with a big force going up there the Indians would scatter and "the boys" would have no trouble coming back. And so this lovely summer afternoon every one seemed bright and joyous at the fort, listening to the band and wondering, some of the party at least, how much longer it would be before they could hope to hear from the absent, when there arose sudden sounds of suppressed commotion in the camp of "C" Troop. A courier was coming like mad on the road from Frayne--a courier whose panting horse reined up a minute, with heaving flanks, in the midst of the thronging men, and all the troop turned white and still at the news the rider briefly told:--three companies at Warrior Gap were massacred by the Sioux, one hundred and seventy men in all, including Sergeant Bruce and all "C" Troop's men but Conroy and Garret, who had cut their way through with Lieutenant Dean and were safe inside the stockade, though painfully wounded. This appalling story the girls heard with faces blanched with horror. Passionate weeping came to Jessie's relief, but Pappoose shed never a tear. The courier's dispatches were taken in to the colonel, and Folsom, trembling with mingled weakness and excitement, followed.

It was an impressive scene as the old soldier read the sad details to the rapidly growing group of weeping women, for that was Emory's garrison now, while the official reports were hurried on to catch the General on his way to Cheyenne. Some one warned the band leader, and the musicians marched away to quarters. Some one bore the news to town where the flags over the hotel and the one newspaper office were at once lowered to half staff, although that at Emory, true to official etiquette and tradition, remained until further orders at the peak, despite the fact that two of the annihilated companies were from that very post. Some one bore the news to Burleigh's quarters at the depot, and, despite assertions that the major could see no one and must not be agitated or disturbed, disturbed and agitated he was beyond per-adventure. Excitedly the sick man sprang from his bed at the tidings of the massacre and began penning a letter. Then he summoned a young clerk from his office and told him he had determined to get up at once, as now every energy of the government would doubtless be put forth to bring the Sioux to terms. It was the young clerk who a few weeks back had remarked to a fellow employe how "rattled" the old man was getting. The major's doctor was not about. The major began dictating letters to various officials as he rapidly dressed, and what happened can best be told in the clerk's own words: "For a man too sick to see any one two hours before," said he, "the major had wonderful recuperative powers, but they didn't last. He was in the midst of a letter to the chief quartermaster and had got as far as to say, 'The deplorable and tragic fate of Lieutenant Dean points, of course, to the loss of the large sum intrusted to him,' when I looked up and said, 'Why, Lieutenant Dean ain't dead, major; he got in all right,' and he stared at me a minute as if I had stabbed him. His face turned yellow-white and down he went like a log--had a fit I s'pose. Then I ran for help, and then the doctor came and hustled everybody out."

But not till late that night did these details reach "Old Pecksniff" at the post. A solemn time was that veteran having, for many of the women were almost in hysterics and all were in deep distress. Two of their number, wives of officers, were widowed by the catastrophe, and one lay senseless for hours. It was almost dark when Mr. Folsom and the girls drove homeward, and his face was lined and haggard. Pappoose nestled fondly, silently at his side, holding his hand and closely scanning his features, as though striving to read his thoughts. Jessie, comforted now by the knowledge that Marshall was rapidly recovering, and the words of praise bestowed upon him in the colonel's letters, was nevertheless in deep anxiety as to the future. The assurance that the Sioux, even in their overwhelming numbers, would not attack a stockade, was not sufficient. Marshall would be on duty again within a very few days, the colonel said. His wounds would heal within the week, and it was only loss of so much blood that had prostrated him. Within a few days, then, her loved brother would be in saddle and in the field against the Indians. Who could assure her they would not have another pitched battle? Who could say that the fate that befell the garrison at Warrior Gap might not await the troop when next it rode away? And poor Jess had other anxieties, too, by this time. Loomis was burning with eagerness for orders to lead it instantly to join the field column, and importuned Colonel Stevens, even in the midst of all the grief and shock of the early evening. Almost angrily the veteran colonel bade him attend to his assigned duties and not demand others. "C" Troop should not with his advice and consent be sent north of the Platte. "First thing you know, sir, after they've got all the troops up along the Big Horn you'll see the Sioux in force this side of the river, murdering right and left, and not a company to oppose them. No, sir, more than enough of that troop have already been sacrificed! The rest shall stay here."

And well was it, for one and all, that "Old Pecksniff" held firm to his decision. It was one of his lucid intervals.

Late that evening, after ten o'clock, there came the sound of hoof-beats on the hard road and the crack of the long-lashed mule-whip, and the fort ambulance clattered up to Folsom's gate, and the colonel himself, his adjutant by his side, came nervously up the gravel walk. Folsom met them at his door. Instinctively he felt that something new and startling was added to the catalogue of the day's disastrous tidings. Pecksniff's face was eloquent of gravest concern, mingled with irrepressible excitement.

"Let me see you in private, quick," he said. "Mr.--Ah--Mr. Adjutant, will you kindly remain in the parlor," and, taking Folsom by the elbow, Pecksniff led impetuously into the library. The girls had gone aloft only a moment before, but, dreading news of further evil, Pappoose came fluttering down.

"Go in and welcome the adjutant, dear," said Folsom hurriedly. "The colonel and I have some matters to talk of." Obediently she turned at once, and, glancing up the stairs, noted that Mrs. Fletcher's door must have been suddenly opened, for the light from her room was now streaming on the third-floor balusters. Listening again! What could be the secret of that woman's intense watchfulness? In the parlor the young staff officer was pacing up and down, but his face lighted at sight of Elinor.

"Do you know--Is there anything new?--anything worse?" she quickly asked, as she gave her slim young hand.

"Not concerning our people," was the significant answer. "But I fear there's more excitement coming."

Barely waiting for Elinor to withdraw, "Pecksniff" had turned on Folsom. "You know I opposed the sending of that party? You know it was all ordered on Burleigh's urging and representations, do you not?"

"Yes, I heard so," said Folsom. "What then?"

"You know he planned the whole business--sent 'em around by Canon Springs and the Sweetwater?"

"Yes, I heard that, too," said Folsom, still wondering.

"You know some one must have put that Birdsall gang on the scent, and that Burleigh has had alleged nerve prostration ever since, and has been too ill to see any one or to leave his bed."

"Yes, so we were told."

"Well, he's well enough to be up and away--God knows where, and here is the reason--just in from the north," and, trembling with excitement, Pecksniff pointed to the closing paragraph of the letter in his hand:


"Cords, seals and wrapping were intact when handed to the quartermaster, but the contents were nothing but worthless paper. It must have been so when given to Lieutenant Dean."


Folsom's eyes were popping from his head. He sank into a chair, gazing up in consternation.

"Don't you see, man!" said Pecksniff, "some one in the depot is short ten thousand dollars or so. Some one hoped to cover this shortage in just this way--to send a little squad with a bogus package, and then turn loose the biggest gang of ruffians in the country. They would have got it but for the storm at Canon Springs, and no one would have been the wiser. They couldn't have got it without a murderous fight. No one would ever dare confess his complicity in it. No statement of theirs that there wasn't a cent in the sack could ever be believed. Some one's shortage would be covered and his reputation saved. The plot failed, and God's mercy was over Dean's young head. He'd 'a been murdered or ruined if the plan worked--and now Burleigh's gone!"

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CHAPTER XXA day had dawned on the Big Horn never to be forgotten by those who watched the conflict from the stockade, never to be recalled by those who went forth to fight. Broad daylight had come and the sun was peeping over the far horizon as strong arms bore the unconscious officer within the post, and the commander eagerly questioned the men who came with him. Their story was quickly told. They had fled before overpowering numbers of the Sioux the night before, had made their way through the timber in the darkness and come ahead all night, groping their
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