For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 4
SOMETHING ABOUT THE INDIANS IN TEXAS.
While the two boys are waiting for their father's return, and wondering what will be the next movement of the Comanches surrounding the ranch home, let us turn aside for a moment to consider the state of affairs in Texas in this momentous year of 1835.
As said before, Texas and the territory known as Coahuila, lying on the southern bank of the Rio Grande River, formed one of the states of the Mexican Confederation. At the time Texas became bound to Coahuila there was a clause in the constitution which allowed her to become a separate state whenever she acquired the requisite size, although what the requisite size must be was not specified.
The Texans were satisfied, at that time, to belong to the Mexican Confederation, but they soon discovered that to be tied fast to Coahuila was going to become very burdensome. The latter-named territory was inhabited almost entirely by Mexicans who had nothing in common with the Americans, and these Mexicans kept the capital city of the state at Monclova or Saltillo, so that the settlers in Texas had to journey five hundred miles or more by wagon roads for every legal pur pose. Besides this, the judiciary was entirely in the hands of the inhabitants of Coahuila, and they passed laws very largely to suit themselves.
The first troubles came over the land grants. A number of men, headed by Stephen Austin, had come into Texas, bringing with them hundreds of settlers to occupy grants given to these leaders, who were known as empresarios, or contractors. Each settler's grant had to be recorded, and the settlers grumbled at journeying so far to get clear deeds to their possessions. At the same time, Mexico herself was in a state of revolution, and often one so-called government would not recognise the grant made by the government just over thrown.
The next trouble was with the Indians. The Comanches, Apaches, Shawnees, Wacos, Lipans, and separated tribes of Cherokees, Delawares, and Choctaws, some driven from the United States by the pioneers there, overran the northern and central portions of Texas, and those on the frontier, like Mr. Amos Radbury, were never safe from molestation. The Mexican government had promised the settlers protection, but the protection amounted to but little, and at one time only ninety soldiers were out to guard a frontier extending hundreds of miles, and where the different tribes of the enemy numbered ten to twenty thousand. The only thing which saved the settlers from total annihilation at this time was the friendliness of some of the Indians and the fact that the red men carried on a continual warfare among themselves.
Some of the Indian fights had been notable. One of the worst of them was an encounter between a band of over a hundred and about a dozen whites under the leadership of James Bowie, better known as Jim Bowie, of bowie-knife fame,—this knife having become famous in border warfare. In this struggle the whites were surrounded, and kept the Indians at bay for eight days, killing twenty odd of the enemy, including a notable chief. The loss to the whites was one killed and two wounded.
This fight had occurred some years before the opening of this tale, but, only a month previous to the events now being related, another encounter had come off, on Sandy Creek, but a few miles from the Radbury home. A party of French and Mexican traders, thirteen in number, had gone up to the house of one John Castleman, and during the night the Indians came up, murdered nearly all of the number, and made off with the traders packs. Castleman hastened to Gonzales with the news, and a posse was organised to follow the red men. This resulted in another battle, in the cedar brakes along the San Marcos, and some of the Indians were killed. But the majority got away, taking most of the stolen goods with them.
The mentioning of these two encounters will show with what the early settlers of Texas had to contend while trying to raise their crops and attend to their cattle. Often a bold settler would go forth into the wilderness, erect his rude hut, and then never be heard from again, his habitation being found, later on, either deserted or burnt to the ground. And men were not the only sufferers, for women and children were often either killed or carried off into captivity. Once two well-known ladies were spirited away in the most mysterious fashion, and they were not returned to their homes until both had spent several years among the red people.
Dan and Ralph thought over many of these affairs as they set about preparing the ranch home against any attack which might be made upon it. Ralph especially was much agitated, for, some six months before, several Indians had stopped at the ranch for the purpose of trading ponies, and one of them had eyed the soft-haired boy's scalp in a manner which had given the youth a shiver from head to foot.
"They sha'n't have my scalp," he murmured to himself. "I'll die first!" And, young as he was, it may be believed that he meant what he said.
"Do you see anything of father?" called out Dan, as he finished inspecting the last of the pistols.
"He ought to be coming up by this time."
"I really think we ought to fire a shot for a signal."
"We'll wait a few minutes longer."
They waited—every minute seeming like ten. It was a clear, sunshiny day, and outside only a faint breeze stirred the trees, otherwise all was silent. At the end of five minutes Dan stepped to the doorway.
"Father!" he called, at the top of his voice.
No answer came back, and then Ralph joined in the cry, which was repeated several times.
"He ought to hear that," said Ralph, as the silence continued. Then his face grew pale. "Perhaps they have killed him, Dan!"
"I heard no shot; did you?"
"No, but some of the Indians may have bows with them. I heard one of those Indians who was here last say he didn't like the white man's fire-bow because it made so much noise it scared all the game. If they've got bows and arrows they could easily crawl up behind father, and—" Ralph did not finish in words, but his brother understood what he meant only too well. Reaching for one of the pistols, Dan ran outside of the door, and fired it off.
Mr. Radbury had gone for the deer with his gun slung over his back, so he could easily fire a return signal if he wished. Eagerly the brothers listened, but the exasperating silence continued.
Then, as Dan reloaded, Ralph fired a second shot.
"Something is wrong," said the older brother, after several more minutes had gone by. "If father was coming with the deer he would be in sight sure. Either the Indians have surrounded him or killed him, or else they have got between him and the house so that he can't get in. I'm going up to the loft with the spy-glass and take a squint around."
Glass in hand, Dan ran up the rude ladder to the loft, which was some six feet high at the ridge-pole and two feet high at the edge of the sloping sides. There were windows on all four sides, but those at the slopes were small and only intended for observation holes.
Ralph had closed all of the shutters, so the loft was almost dark. With caution Dan opened one shutter after another and swept the woods and country around with the glass.
He could not see the hollow, but at the crest of the hill by the cattle shed he made out the heads of several Indians gathered back of some bushes and talking earnestly. Presently the Indians separated, and two of the number walked off in the direction of the river, on the opposite side of the ranch home.
"They are up to something," reasoned the boy, and took up a position on the other side of the loft. From this point he could see a small portion of the river as it wound in and out among the trees and brush. He waited impatiently for the Indians to reappear, and at last saw them cross a glade close to where he and his brother had met the half-breed. As the Indians came out into the open, Hank Stiger met them.
"He will join them now if he wasn't with them before," thought Dan, and in this he was right. The Indians and Stiger held a short talk, and then all three disappeared in the belt of timber surrounding the burn.
"Can you see anything?" called up Ralph.
"Yes, several Indians, and Stiger has joined them."
"Stiger! And what of father?"
"I see nothing of him. Ralph, I am afraid we are in for it this time, and no mistake."
"You think the Indians really intend to attack us?"
"No, they will probably wait until it grows dark, especially now, after they have seen us barring the windows."
"Then I had better be ready to bar up the door, too."
"Yes, but keep a lookout for father. He may come in on the run, you know."
Dan continued to use the glass, stepping from one window to another. But the Indians had disappeared from view, and not another glimpse of a feather or a painted face was to be seen.
Presently he found himself looking toward the burn. Back, in the timber bordering the river, was a tall tree which reared its head a score of feet above its fellow trees. As he turned his glass in that direction, something unusual in the top of the tree attracted his attention.
He gazed long and earnestly at the object, and at last made out the form of a man, who was waving some dark thing, probably his coat, to and fro.
"It must be father!" he thought. "I'll signal in return and make sure," and catching up a bed sheet he stuck it out of the window for a minute and swung it vigorously. As he did this, the party in the tree flung up the coat and caught it, then disappeared from view. At once Dan drew in the sheet, closed all the shutters of the loft, and went below.