For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 8
"FOLLOWING THE TRAIL OF THE COMANCHES."
AN UNSUCCESSFUL PURSUIT.
After leaving the vicinity of the cabin, the Comanches struck a trail leading through a cedar brake over the hill back of the cattle shed. Here they came together, and without halting swept straight along the Guadalupe River, as previously mentioned. They felt that the whites would follow them, and their one hope of safety lay in gaining the wilderness about San Saba Hill, sixty to seventy miles north of San Antonio.
The leadership of the whites naturally fell to Colonel Jim Bowie, for he had been in numerous Indian quarrels, and was a good man on the trail. It may be here mentioned that Bowie, who was afterward to become so well known in Texas, was one of two brothers who came to that territory from Louisiana, after having been engaged for years in the slave-trade. The man was as bold as he was daring, and it was said that he knew not the meaning of the word fear.
The Indians were all on horseback, and as their steeds had had a long rest they were fresh, and made rapid progress. On the other hand, the mustangs of the whites were tired from the hard night's ride from Gonzales and vicinity, and they could not keep up the pace, although urged to do their best by their riders. All of the whites bewailed the fate of Whippler, and swore to be revenged if given "the ghost of a chance."
When Amos Radbury, Stover, and the two boys gained the other whites, they found Bowie's party fording one of the creeks running into the Guadalupe. The Indians had passed there about ten minutes before, and it was to be seen that they had not even stopped to water their horses. All of the settlers' horses were thirsty, and some refused to budge from the stream until they had slaked their thirst.
"Do you think they will be caught?" asked Dan, as he swept along beside his father.
"They will not be caught if they can help it," replied Mr. Radbury, with a faint smile. "They know it will go hard with them if we do come up with them."
"What of the wounded?" asked Ralph, But his father merely shrugged his shoulders.
"They'll crawl off in the bushes, and either git away, or die," answered Poke Stover, philosophically. To him the life of an Indian was of no account. He had never considered that an Indian might be educated into becoming a useful member of the great human family.
On and on swept the little body of determined whites, each with his gun in his hands, and his eyes on the alert for the first sign of danger. The trail was still along the river, but presently it branched off, and entered an arrayo, or gully, thick with thorny plants and entangling vines. At the end of the arrayo was a rocky plateau, and here for the time being the trail was lost.
"The Indian that's leading them knows his business," remarked Colonel Bowie, as he brought his command to a halt.
"That's right, but we'll soon be on his tail ag'in," returned Poke Stover, who had come to his side. "Let's spread out in a fan, colonel;" and this was done, each man examining his part of the great semicircle with extreme care. A short while after, the trail was again struck, and they swept on. But at both this place and at the ford valuable time had been lost.
Noon found the Comanches still out of sight and hearing. But the trail was fresh and easily seen, and it seemed only a question of endurance upon one side or the other.
"If it wasn't for the jaded hosses," sighed Poke Stover. His own steed was fairly fresh, but it would have been foolhardy for him to have gone on ahead of the main body, with perhaps only one or two others being able to do likewise. The Comanches would have liked nothing better than to have gotten at the whites one at a time.
As the afternoon came and went, the party in pursuit began to grow hungry. A few of the horsemen had brought rations with them, and these were divided, each man and boy eating as he rode on. Some of the men likewise carried liquor, and this was also divided, although Ralph and Dan procured drinks of water at a spring instead. In those days it was share and share alike with all of the settlers, and one man was considered as good as another so long as he was honest and willing to work. For dandies, from Philadelphia, New York, or other large cities, the Texans had no use, nor did they love those who tried to show off their learning. They were whole-souled, as it is called, to the core, and they wanted every body else to be so, too.
It was growing dark when Bowie called a halt on the edge of a small clearing leading up to a hill thickly overgrown with scrub pines.
"We must be careful here, men," he said. "They may be scattered along yonder timber belt, watching for us to uncover ourselves. We had better move to the right and the left, and give the old signal if any of the redskins appear in sight."
The split was made, but the Radburys and Poke Stover kept together. One Indian was discovered, and the settler who saw him at once shouted, as prearranged. Then the Indians, seeing that the attempt to draw the whites into the open had failed, dashed along up the hillside, as rapidly as the tangle of growth permitted. A number of shots were exchanged, but nobody was hit.
During the afternoon one of the men had brought down a wild turkey, and another several hares, for game of all kinds was still thick.
"That will do for supper," said Mr. Radbury. "But we will have to be careful how we build a fire."
At seven o'clock the chase came to an end for the day, the jaded ponies refusing to climb the hill that loomed up before them. One of the ponies was a bucker, and threw his rider over his head into a mesquite-bush.
"Thet settles Bill Darson," drawled the Texan, as he extricated himself from his difficulty. "When the pony kicks, I kick, too. We don't go no further jest now, hyer me!"
But Bowie, Mr. Radbury, and several others insisted upon gaining the brow of the hill, as a point of vantage, and all plodded to the top, where they went into camp in the midst of the trees, half a dozen men being sent out to do picket duty, so that Bison Head's band might not crawl up during the night and surprise them.
"I'd like to know what became of Wolf Ear and Hank Stiger," remarked Dan, as he flung himself on the ground, glad enough to get out of his high and uncomfortable Mexican saddle.
"They know enough to git out o' sight when thar's a fight on," answered Poke Stover, with a broad laugh. "Them kind o' varmin always does." Usually the frontiersman spoke fair English, but at times he dropped into the vernacular of the plains.
"I hope he doesn't go back to the cabin, now it's deserted," put in Ralph.
"He may do that!" burst out Dan. "I never thought of it before." And he mentioned the matter to his father.
"He will hardly dare to go back, for other settlers will be coming up from time to time," said Mr. Radbury. "He knows only too well that he is already in bad favour with all straight forward men."
"He's a sneak," said Ralph. "But by the way, father, you haven't told us your story yet, although we have told ours."
"There is not much to tell, Ralph. I went for the deer, as you know. I was dragging it back to the cabin, when I caught sight of several Indians, and, by their movements, I saw that they wanted to cut me off and, more than likely, slay me. I at once abandoned the deer and ran deeper than ever into the woods."
"Of course they followed you?" came from Dan.
"Yes, they followed me, but only one or two shots were exchanged, and I was not hit. I think I wounded one Indian, but I am not certain. Then I gave them the slip and climbed into the king pine, as you boys named the tree. You remember the signal I gave you?"
"To be sure."
"I meant I would try to get help near by, if possible. I had seen several lumbermen around, and I fancied they might be down the river a mile or so. I ran along the river with all my might, and there met Poke Stover and told him what was happening. He at once agreed to go to your aid, and urged me to arouse the settlers around Gonzales. He promised to hold the cabin and stand by you as long as he could draw his breath."
"And he did it!" cried Ralph. "He's a noble man."
"At first I could find nobody at home," went on Mr. Radbury. "Joel Nalitt was away, and at the Runyons' only the women folks were in. But over to the Powers's ranch I met Powers, Anderson, Striker, and a German, who was a stranger, and they said they would all come along. Anderson rode over to Whippler's, and those two brought along the other men. It's too bad that Whippler was killed."
All in the party agreed with Mr. Radbury in this, although some said that it was better Whippler should be killed than some man with a wife and children. Whippler and his late wife had never had any offspring.
The night was raw and cold, and toward morning a fine rain set in, adding greatly to the discomforts of the whites. The game brought down proved but a scanty meal all around, and for breakfast there remained absolutely nothing.
"This is too bad," said Dan, referring to the rain. He was soaked to the skin, and so was everybody else in the party.
The trail was taken up as soon as it was light enough to see, and the Indians were followed fully fifteen miles, over a winding way leading over hills and rocks, and through immense belts of timber land. They had to ford several streams, and at one of these points they stopped for an hour to catch and cook some black bass, which were plentiful. Toward nightfall the chase came to an end.
"It's no use," said one of the oldest of the settlers. "They've got too good a start of us, and it will be foolishness for a mere handful of whites to ride right into the Indian country. They'll lay a trap and massacre every one of us."
All of the others agreed with the spokesman, and it was not long before the party was riding back toward Gonzales. At first they followed the winding trail, but, coming to one of the numerous creeks of the vicinity, they branched off and took almost a direct route to the town.
"Will you go back with us?" asked Mr. Radbury of Poke Stover, when it came time for the Radburys to separate from the others. The ranch home could be seen from the top of a neighbouring hill, and all seemed to be as they had left it two days before.
"Yes, I reckon I will," answered the frontiers man. "I ain't got nothin else to do, and ye may want an extra man about fer a day or two, jest for to keep his eye open."
The storm had cleared away, and the sun was shining brightly as the party of four rode up to the battered door of the deserted cabin. Down around the cattle shed the cows were browsing away as usual, and several of the pigs gave Ralph a grunt of recognition as he passed them.
"Home again!" cried Dan, and hopping to the ground he crawled through the doorway into the living-room of the cabin. As he went in he noticed that the body of the dead red man had been removed from the doorstep.
"Is it all right?" asked Ralph, when a cry from his brother aroused him.
"An Indian!" came from Dan. He had discovered a wounded red man lying on the floor in the corner. Then he gazed around the room and glanced into the sleeping apartment.
"Father, come in, quick!" he went on. "Somebody has been here, and has carried off a dozen or more things. And your desk is broken open, too, and all your papers are scattered about. Did you have any money in the desk?"