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The Second Lieutenant
Guy Preston was a young and beardless boy fresh from "The Point." He was now attached to the —th cavalry and was one of three hundred men who had been ordered to that faraway country to assist in building the fort, which was named after the lamented hero, Phil Kearney. He had left the fort a short time before, and was out after prairie chickens, being armed with a double-barreled shotgun. The brace of birds which was tied to the pommel of his saddle proved that he was something of an adept at shooting on the wing. He was dressed in the uniform of the cavalry service, with a pair of straps on his shoulders that were decidedly the worse for wear, and his horse, a Kentucky thoroughbred, which, although seemingly impatient to exhibit the mettle that was
in him, was obedient to the rein and stopped or went ahead when his owner commanded him.
"There do not seem to be many chickens here, Tom, and so I think we will go back to the Fort," said Guy, raising himself in his stirrups and casting impatient glances on all sides of him. "We were told to stay within sight of the fortifications, but that last prairie chicken was too much for me. It made me disobey orders. There does not seem to be any Sioux here either, and I don't see why they cannot let us alone. We could see plenty of fun in hunting if that miserable Red Cloud was out of the way."
Guy Preston was not the only one who wished that same thing of Red Cloud. His regiment had been stationed, in the first place, at Fort Robinson in Nebraska, which was the central point from which operations against the hostiles were organized. And what had caused this Red Cloud to go on the warpath? It was simply because the United States government had determined to open a
road to Montana by way of Powder River. The way the road was laid out made it necessary that it should pass through the favorite hunting ground of the Sioux Indians, and some of them were fiercely opposed to it. The authorities made treaties with the hereditary chiefs by whom the right of way was granted, but the dissatisfaction that arose on account of it was so great that it led to an open rupture.
Red Cloud was not an hereditary chief; that is, he was not a chief of any sort. He belonged to "the rank and file" of the band, but he was ambitious to become something better. The uneasiness among the Indians gave him a glorious chance. He denounced the treaties and their makers, and declared war to the knife against every white man who came over that road or ventured into that country.
There are always some discontented ones among the Indians, men who cannot rest easy unless they are on the warpath, and crowds of these warriors flocked to his standard. The Sioux nation was the most powerful of any
tribe on this continent. They were rich in everything that goes to make up an Indian's idea of wealth,—ponies, furs, and weapons; and, more than all, the countless numbers of buffalo that roamed through the Powder River country made them independent of the whites. They numbered 20,000 in all, and could put 3,000 warriors in the field. The hereditary chiefs very soon found themselves deserted and powerless when Red Cloud raised his standard, and in some instances were only too glad to preserve their control over their bands by acknowledging the new chief as their master. Finding himself at the head of so strong a force, Red Cloud took to the warpath at once, and a long, tedious war ensued, during which he made a great reputation. Avoiding any serious engagement, he so harassed all trains and expeditions sent against him that the few troops then in his country could scarcely be said to hold even the ground they actually stood upon. Several forts were established, but they protected only what was
inside their palisades. A load of wood for fuel could not be cut outside without a conflict, and it finally culminated in the terrible tragedy which it is the purpose of this story to reveal,—for this is a true tale, and we tell it just as it happened.
At last the commanding officer at Fort Robinson became out of all patience and determined to bring the Sioux to close quarters; so he sent Colonel Carrington on a long campaign with a force strong enough to follow the Sioux wherever they went, destroying their villages and reducing them to submission. The Colonel was also instructed to build a strong post upon the Powder or Tongue rivers and operate against them from there. The Fort was built at last and named after one of the bravest generals who gave up his life during our Civil War; but it was only after long months of toil and hardship. Red Cloud's warriors followed him all the way, stealing such stock as strayed away from the camp and cutting off small bodies of men that were sent
out any distance from the main body. Guy Preston was there and saw how the hostiles operated, and we will venture the assertion that more than once he thought of home, and, if the truth must be told, he did not blame the Indians for fighting. The lands which they were forced to give up were their home, and they were about to surrender their only means of subsistence. The buffalo comprised all they had. It furnished them with food and raiment, coverings for their beds and the tepees in which they lived. The whites did not kill what they wanted for use, but wantonly slaughtered thousands simply to make a "record." All the scum of civilization fled to the frontier, and Bills and Dicks whose reputations were not of the best swaggered about the streets of canvas cities during the winter and roamed the plains during the summer to shoot buffalo. These people did not know or did not care what the buffalo meant to the Indian. It meant that when they were gone, the Indian would starve to death. No
matter what treaties our government made with the Indians, it had no effect upon the reckless whites. They encouraged the slaughter of the game. Future historians will have to record that all our Western Indian wars were brought about by the acts of irresponsible and disreputable characters who usurped all the best hunting lands and attacked every band of Indians they saw, whether friendly or hostile, Sioux or Pawnees.
Red Cloud was a man of great foresight, although born in a humble position. He saw that the government could not or would not keep their treaties and forbid these adventurers from trespassing on their hunting grounds, and forthwith, relying upon his assumed popularity, which came to him the moment he declared war on the whites, he called a convention of all the Sioux and allied tribes. When that convention met he rehearsed their wrongs and it was decided that they would do what any brave people would do under the same circumstances—fight the whites as
long as possible. As I said, a long war was the result; so when Colonel Carrington entrenched himself behind the stockade of Fort Phil Kearney, he shut himself off from the civilized world. He was there, and the Indians resolved that he should stay there. Even his most experienced and bravest scouts could not get through to take dispatches to his superiors. They found Indians all around them, and they were seen and driven back. The wily chief located his village at no great distance away, and established a code of signals by which he could be informed at any time just what the soldiers were doing in the Fort. Every wood train that went out was attacked, and a strong force was necessary for their protection. In spite of all the precautions they could use, between fifteen and twenty soldiers were killed during the months of November and December.
But Red Cloud was by no means satisfied with what he had done. He wanted to get rid of the whites entirely, but he had not
taken measures to do it; so he called another convention to meet in his village some time in December. Then he broached his program. After repeating that the buffalo would all be killed, which was the worst thing that could happen to a plain Indian, he said: "We must take this Fort. If we once whip these soldiers and burn their palisade, the government will not send out any more." All the other chiefs believed that, and they decided upon a stratagem which will appear as our story progresses.
Guy Preston, as well as all the younger officers in the Fort, was not very well pleased to be shut up inside those log walls with no chance to make themselves famous by fighting the Indians, and, worse than all, he could look over the stockade at almost any time of the day and see the prairie chickens flitting about as if there were not a hostile Sioux within a hundred miles of them.
"What is the reason the Colonel will not let one of us go out and knock over a few of them for dinner?" he said to a sentry one
day while he stood by his side watching them. "I don't see a single Sioux in sight."
"No, sir," replied the sentry. "But they are there, sure enough. Every little tuft of grass hides one."
"But why don't they show themselves?"
"They do when they can make anything by it. Have you forgotten Mike and Tony?"
The sentry called the names of two plainsmen,—experienced scouts they were too,—who had attempted to leave the Fort only a few nights before with some papers that the Colonel wished particularly to send to his superior officer. They had been gone about three hours, but when they returned they looked as though they had been through three or four wars. They barely escaped and that was all; and Tony carried with him the mark of an arrow which came near ending his career then and there.
"But this is daytime," said Guy. "I don't see what harm there can be in riding around over the prairie in plain sight of the post.
I believe I will ask the Colonel to let me try it on."
"Very good, sir," replied the sentry. "But he won't let you go."
The Lieutenant did not catch all this reply, but hurried away to find the commanding officer. He sent in his name by the Orderly and presently entered the room to which young officers of his rank seldom went unless to receive orders or listen to a reprimand. The Colonel was in his shirt sleeves and pacing back and forth, and now and then he took one of his hands out of his pockets to run it impatiently through his hair. He seemed to have forgotten that he was a soldier and commander of the Fort besides, for he was so impatient at being shut up without remedy that he could scarcely control himself. He stopped and turned toward Mr. Preston with something like a frown upon his face.
"Well, what is it now?" he inquired. "Do you know where the Indians are?"
"No, sir, and I don't believe there is one within two miles of the Fort," answered the Lieutenant.
The Colonel walked to his table, picked up his eyeglasses and put them on. He wanted to look at the officer who could give such an opinion as this.
"I should like permission to ride out on the prairie a little way and shoot some of those prairie chickens which are so thick out there," said Mr. Preston. "I saw some within twenty yards of the post."
The Colonel stared hard at Mr. Preston and then drew up the nearest chair and sat down. At first he opened his mouth as if to give a very emphatic reply to this strange request, but on second thought he shouted:—
"Orderly, tell the Adjutant I want to see him."