For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 1

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"Dan! Dan! Come quick and see what I brought down with the gun!"

"Why, Ralph, was that you I heard shooting? I thought it was father."

"No; I was out, down by the river bank, and I brought down the finest deer you ever set eyes on. He was under the bunch of pecan-trees, and I let him have it straight in the neck and brought him down the first crack. Now what do you think of that?"

Ralph Radbury's rather delicate face was all aglow with excitement and pardonable pride, as he spoke, leaning on his father's gun, a long, old-fashioned affair that had been in the family's possession for many years. Ralph was but a boy of eight, although years of life in the open air had given him the appearance of being older.

"What do I think?" cried Dan, who was Ralph's senior by six years. "I think you'll become a second Davy Crockett or Dan'l Boone if you keep on. It's a wonder the deer let you come so close. The wind is blowing toward the stream."

"I trailed around to the rocks where we had the tumble last winter, and then I came up as silently as a Comanche after a scalp. I was just about ready to fire when the deer took alarm, but I caught him when he raised his head, and all he gave was one leap and it was all over. Where is father? I must tell him." And Ralph looked around impatiently.

"I don't know where father is, if he isn't down by the river. I thought he went off to look up those hogs that got away last Saturday. In these times, so he says, we can't afford to lose six fat porkers."

"Perhaps those rushers who were on their way to Bexar rounded them up on the sly."

"No; father put the crowd down for honest men, and he rarely makes a mistake in judging a man, Ralph. Either the hogs got away by themselves or else some of those sneaking Comanches have been around again."

"Oh, Dan, that puts me in mind,—when I was up at the rocks I was almost certain I saw one of the Indians farther up the river. As soon as I looked that way he dodged out of sight, so I only caught one glimpse of him if he really was an Indian."

At his younger brother's words, Dan Radbury's face took on a look of deep concern. "You are not real sure it was an Indian?" he questioned, after a pause.

"No, but I'm pretty sure, too. But even if it was an Indian it might have been Choctaw Tom, you know."

"You're wrong there, Ralph. All the Caddo Indians are friendly to the whites, and if it was Tom he wouldn't hide away after you had spotted him. More than likely it was a dirty Comanche, and if it was—well, we had better tell father about it, that's all."

"Why, you don't think—" Ralph paused, abruptly.

"I know a Comanche isn't to be trusted. Come, let us look at the deer, and let us try to find father at the same time. Is the gun loaded?"

"No." Ralph looked sheepish. "I—I was so pleased to bring down the deer I forgot all about loading again."

"Then you're not such a famous hunter, after all, Ralph. The wise man, especially in these parts, loads up before his gun-barrel has a chance to cool. Put in your load at once, and I'll bring along that Mexican escopeta father traded in for a mustang last week. I don't believe the old gun is of much account, but it will be better than nothing."

"Father wouldn't take it from the greaser if it wasn't all right. But why must we both be armed? Do you think the Indians are close by?"

"As I said before, I don't believe in trusting these bloodthirsty Comanches. Poke Stover knows them like a book, and he says they are just aching to go on the war-path, now the government is having so much trouble of its own."

"If the Indians are around it won't be safe to leave the cabin alone," was the younger boy's comment.

"I reckon we can leave it for awhile, Ralph. We won't be gone more than an hour, at the most," concluded Dan Radbury, as he disappeared into the cabin for the firearm he had mentioned.

The scene was that of a typical frontier home, in the heart of Texas, close to the Guadalupe River, and about ten miles from what was then the village of Gonzales. It was the year 1835, and the whole of northern and western Texas could truthfully be put down as a "howling wilderness," overrun with deer, bison, bears, and other wild animals, wild horses, and inhabited only by the savage and lawless Comanche, Apache, Cherokee, and numerous other tribes of Indians. As regards the rest of the State, it may briefly be stated that this immense territory of thousands of square miles contained not over twenty-two thousand white and black people combined. How many Indians there were is not definitely known, but they have been estimated at fifteen to eighteen thousand. The main cities were San Antonio de Bexar, San Felipe de Austin, Nacogdoches, San Augustine, Columbia, and the seaport town of Velasco, but not one of these boasted of more than thirty-five hundred inhabitants.

To this territory had come, three years before, Amos Radbury, the father of the two lads introduced at the beginning of this chapter. The family were from Georgia, where Mr. Radbury had once owned a large interest in a tobacco plantation. But a disastrous flood had robbed him not only of the larger portion of his property, but also of his much beloved wife, and, almost broken-hearted, the planter had sold off his remaining interest in the plantation for five thousand dollars, and emigrated, first to New Orleans, and then to his present home. The trip from New Orleans had been made in a prairie wagon, drawn by a double yoke of oxen, and had consumed many weeks, and that trip over the prairies, through the almost trackless forests, and across numerous dangerous fords, was one which the boys were likely never to forget. On the way they had fallen in with a small band of treacherous Indians, but they had been saved by the timely arrival of some friendly Caddos, under the leadership of Canoma, a chief well known throughout the length and breadth of Texas.

On reaching the Guadalupe River, a stop of two weeks had been made at Gonzales, and then Mr. Radbury had obtained possession of a grant of land embracing over five hundred acres, the tract lying on both sides of the stream. The price paid for the land was ten cents per acre. This is not to be wondered at, since land in other portions of the State was sold as low as two cents per acre!

The three years spent in the wilderness had done wonders for all of the members of the family. The hard work of clearing off the timber, planting, and of building a cabin and a cattle shelter, had done much to make Mr. Radbury forget his grief over the loss of his wife and property, and the rough outdoor life had made Daniel Radbury "as tough as a pine-knot," as he was wont to say himself. It had likewise done much for little Ralph, who had been a thin and delicate lad of five when leaving the old home in the magnolia grove in far-off Georgia. Even yet Ralph was not as strong as Dan, but he was fast becoming so, much to his parent's satisfaction.

Amos Radbury's venture had prospered from the start. The land was rich and his crops were consequently heavy, and no disease reached his cattle, which speedily grew to the number of several hundred heads. In addition to his beeves he had nearly a hundred hogs, and during the last year had taken to raising horses and mustangs, for the market at Bexar, as San Antonio was commonly called.

The raising of mustangs had been a source of much satisfaction to the boys, who speedily learned to ride so well that even the liveliest of the animals failed to shake one or the other off, although, of course, neither could do a thing when the beast got down and began to roll over.

"It's immense, to ride like the wind!" Dan would cry. "There is no better sport in the world! I don't wonder the Indians enjoy it so much."

"Yes, the Indians enjoy it, and they'll enjoy getting our mustangs, too, if we give them the chance," had been Mr. Radbury's reply. But so far only one mustang had been taken, and that by a Comanche half-breed named Hank Stiger. Stiger had been accused of the crime by Mr. Radbury, but had pleaded his innocence, and the pioneer had dropped the matter rather than have more trouble, since it was known that the half-breed and the Comanches in the neighbourhood were closely related in all their underhanded work. In those days it was no uncommon thing to hang a horse thief, but had this happened to Hank Stiger, it is likely that the Comanches under Bison Head, who had their hunting-grounds in the Cross Timbers, so-called, of the upper Colorado River, would have gone on the war-path immediately following.