A dozen times she had been upon the point of going to the bunk house and sending the entire outfit out to search for him, but each time she had shrunk from the ridicule that she well knew would be slyly heaped upon both her father and herself if she did so without good warrant; but now with a new day come and no word from him, she determined to swallow her pride and carry out her plan, however foolish it might appear.
Persistent knocking on the bunk house door finally elicited a profane request for information as to what was “eating” her.
“Dad’s not back yet,” she shouted.
“Oh, hell, is that you Miss? I didn’t know it was you.”
“Never mind. Rollout and get busy. We’re goin’ to find him if we have to ride to Boston,” she cried.
Luke Jensen, being the youngest man in the outfit, both in years and point of service; was first from the bunk house, it being his duty to bring the saddle horses in from pasture. At the barn, he found that Wichita had already bridled the horse that was kept up for the purpose of bringing the others in and was on the point of swinging the heavy saddle to its back.
He greeted her cheerily, took the saddle from her, and completed its adjustment.
“You worried about your Paw, Miss?” he asked as he drew the latigo through the cinch ring.
“Something might have happened to him,” she replied. “It won’t hurt to look for him.”
“No, it won’t do no hurt, though I reckon he kin take keer o’ hisself about as good as the next man. I wouldn’t worry none, Miss,” he concluded, reassuringly, as he stepped into the stirrup and swung his leg over the horse’s rump.
Wichita stood by the corral gate watching Luke riding down into the east pasture at an easy lope. She saw him disappear among the willows that grow along the draw a mile from the corrals and two thirds of the way across the pasture; and then “Smooth” Kreff, her father’s foreman. joined her.
“Mornin’, Miss,” he greeted her. He looked at her sharply. “You-all been up all night, aint you?”
“Yes,” she admitted.
“Pshaw! Why didn’t you rout us out? We’d a-gone lookin’ fer him any time.”
“There wouldn’t have been much use looking for him at night.”
“No, and there aint much use lookin’ fer him now; but it would a-made you-all feel easier,” replied the man.
“Why isn’t there any now?” she demanded.
“Because the Boss kin take keer of himself. He aint a-goin’ to thank us none, I’m figgerin’.”
“No, if he’s all right, he won’t; but if he isn’t all right we’ll be glad we did.”
“Them hosses must a-gone plumb to the fer end of the pasture,” remarked Kreff.
“They always do, if we’re in a particular hurry to get them up,” said Wichita.
The other men had come from the bunk house by now and were standing around waiting.
“Thet dog-gone ‘cavvy’ must a-knowed we wanted ’em bad,” said one.
“Like as not they seed Luke comin’ an’ hid out in the willows,” suggested another.
“They shore are an ornery bunch,” admitted a third.
“I could of ridden down there backwards on a bicycle an’ rounded ’em up before this,” boasted a fourth.
“Here they come now,” exclaimed Wichita, as several horses broke from the willows and trotted toward the corrals.
In twos and threes they emerged from the dense foliage until some forty or fifty horses were strung out on the trail to the corrals, and then Luke Jensen rode into sight from out the willows.
“What’s thet critter he’s leadin’?” demanded one of the men.
“It’s saddled,” volunteered another.
“It’s Scar Foot,” said Kreff.
After that there was silence. Some of the men glanced at Wichita; but most of them stood looking away, embarrassed. Scar Foot was Billings’ favorite horse—the animal he had ridden out on the previous day.
The men walked out of the corral into the pasture to head the horses through the bars that had been let down to receive them. No one said anything. Kreff walked forward toward Luke; and the latter reined in and, leaning down, spoke to the foreman in a low voice. Wichita approached them.
“Where did you find Scar Foot?” she asked. “Where is Dad?”
“Scar Foot was jest outside the east gate, Miss,” explained Jensen. “The other hosses was all up there by him, jest inside the fence.”
“Did you see anything of Dad?” she demanded again.
“We-all’s goin’ to ride right out an’ look fer him, Miss,” said Kreff.
Inside the corral two men were roping, and the others were busy saddling their horses as they were caught.
Wichita climbed to the top of the corral. “I’ll ride Two Spot,” she called to one of the ropers.
Finally all the horses they needed had been caught and the others turned back into the pasture. One of the men who had been among the first to saddle was saddling Two Spot for Wichita. Luke Jensen, who had transferred his outfit to one of his own string, kept as far from Wichita as he could; but as she was about to mount, Kreff approached her, leading his own horse. “I wouldn’t come along, Miss, ef I was you,” he advised. “We may have some hard ridin’.”
“When did I get so I couldn’t ride with any of you?” she asked, quietly.
“There may be some fightin’,” he insisted, “an’ I wouldn’t want you-all to get hurted;”
The girl smiled, ever so slightly. “It’s good of you, ‘Smooth,’” she said; “but I understand, I think.” She swung into the saddle, and Kreff said no more.
Luke Jensen leading, they rode at a run down through the pasture, scattering the “cavvy,” and into the dense willows, emerging upon the opposite side, climbing the steep bank of the draw, and away again at top speed toward the east gate. In, silence they rode, with grim faces.
There, just beyond the fence; they found Billings—where Luke Jensen had found him. Wichita knelt beside her father and felt of his hands and face. She did not cry. Dry eyed she arose and for the first time saw that one of the men who had brought up the rear had led Scar Foot back with them; but even had she known when they started she would not have been surprised, for almost from the moment that she had seen Luke Jensen leading the horse back toward the corrals and had seen him whisper to Kreff she had expected to find just what she had found.
Tenderly the rough men lifted all that was mortal of Jeffrson Billings across the saddle in which he had ridden to his death, and many were the muttered curses that would have been vented vehemently and aloud had it not been for the presence of the girl, for Billings had been shot in the back and—scalped.On walking horses the cortege filed slowly toward the ranch house, the men deferentially falling behind the led horse that bore the body of the “Boss” directly in rear of the girl who could not cry.
“He never had a chanct,” growled one of the men. “Plugged right in the back between the shoulders!”
“God damned dirty Siwashes!” muttered another.
“I seen an Injun here yestiddy evenin’,” said Luke.
“Why the Hell didn’t you say so before?” demanded Kreff .
“I told Miss Chita,” replied the young man; “but, Lor’, it warnt him did it.”
“Wot makes you-all think it warnt?” asked Kreff.
“He’s a friend of hern. He wouldn’t have hurted her old man.”
“What Injun was it?”
“Thet Shoz-Dijiji fellow what saved me thet time I was hurted an’ lost. I know he wouldn’t hev done it. They must hev been some others around, too.”
Kreff snorted. “Fer a bloke wot’s supposed to hail from Texas you-all shore are simple about Injuns. Thet Siwash is a Cheeracow Apache an’ a Cheeracow Apache’d kill his grandmother fer a lead nickel.”
“I don’t believe thet Injun would. Why didn’t he plug me when he had the chancet?” demanded Jensen.
“Say!” exclaimed Kreff. “Thet there pinto stallion thet thet there greaser brung up from Chihuahua fer King warnt with the ‘cavvy’ this mornin’. By gum! There’s the answer. Thet there pony belonged to Shoz-Dijiji. He was a-gettin’ it when the Boss rid up.”
“They had words last time the Siwash was around here,” yolunteered another.
“Sure! The Boss said he’d plug him if he ever seen him hangin’ around here again,” recalled one of the men.
At the ranch house they laid Jefferson Billings on his bed and covered him with a sheet, and then “Smooth” Kreff went to Wichita and told her of his deductions and the premises upon which they were based.
“I don’t believe it,” said the girl. “Shoz-Dijiji has always been friendly to us. I ran across him by accident in the hills yesterday, and he rode home with me because, he said, there were other renegades around and it might not be safe for me to ride alone. It must have been some other Indian who did it.”
“But his cayuse is gone,” insisted Kreff.
“He may have taken his pony;” admitted the girl. “I don’t say that he didn’t do that. It was his; and he had a right to take it, but I don’t believe that he killed Dad.”
“Your Paw didn’t have no use fer Injuns,” Kreff reminded her. “He might have taken a shot at this Siwash,”
“No; his guns were both in their holsters, and his rifle was in its boot. He never saw the man that shot him.”
Kreff scratched his head. “I reckon thet’s right,” he admitted. “It shore was a dirty trick. Thet’s what makes me know it was a Siwash.”
The girl turned away sadly.
“Don’t you worry none, Miss,” said Kreff; “I’ll look after things fer you, jes’ like your Paw was here.”
“Thanks, ‘Smooth,’” replied Wichita. “You boys have been wonderful.”
After the man had left the room the girl sat staring fixedly at the opposite wall. A calendar hung there and a colored print in a cheap frame, but these she did not see. What she saw was the tall, straight figure of a bronzed man, an almost naked savage. He sat upon his war pony and looked into her eyes. “Shoz-Dijiji does not kill anyone that you love,” he said to her.
The girl dropped her face into her hands, stifling a dry sob. “Oh, Shoz-Dijiji, How could you?” she cried.
Suddenly she sprang to her feet. Her lips were set in a straight, hard line; her eyes flashed in anger.
“Oh, God!” she cried. “You gave me love; and I threw it away upon an Indian, upon an enemy of my people; and now in your anger, you have punished me. I was blind, but you have made me to see again. Forgive me, God, and you will see that I have learned my lesson well.”
Stepping through the doorway onto the porch, Wichita seized a short piece of iron pipe and struck a triangle of iron that hung suspended from a roof joist. Three times she struck it, and in answer to the signal the men came from bunk house and corrals until all that had been within hearing of the summons were gathered before her.
Dry eyed, she faced them; and upon her countenance was an expression that none ever had seen there before. It awed them into silence as they waited for her to speak. They were rough, uncouth men, little able to put their inmost thoughts into words, and none of them ever had looked upon an avenging angel; otherwise they would have found a fitting description for the daughter of their dead Boss as she faced them now.
“I have something to say to you,” she commenced in a level voice. “My father lies in here, murdered He was shot in the back. He never had a chance. As far as we know no one saw him killed, but I guess we all know who did it. There doesn’t seem to be any chance for a doubt—it was the Be-don-ko-he war chief, Shoz-Dijiji, Black Bear.
“If it takes all the rest of my life and every acre and every critter that I own, I’m going to get the man that killed my father; and I’m starting now by offering a thousand dollars to the man who brings in Shoz-Dijiji—dead!”
When she had ceased speaking she turned and walked back into the house, closing the door after her.
The men, moving slowly toward the bunk house, talked together in low tones, discussing the girl’s offer.
Inside the house, Wichita Billings threw herself face down upon a sofa and burst into tears.
Shoz-Dijiji slid from the back of the pinto war pony, Nejeunee, in the camp of Geronimo and stood before the great war-chief of the Apaches.
“Seven times, my son,” said the old chief, “have I cast hoddentin to the four winds at evening since you rode away; seven times have I cast hoddentin to the four winds at dawn; twice seven times have I prayed to the spirits whose especial duty it is to watch over you to bring you back in safety. My prayers have been answered. What word do you bring?”
“Shoz-Dijiji went to the reservation at San Carlos,” replied the young man. “None of our friends or relatives who went out upon the war-trail with us is there. I heard many stories, but I do not speak of anything that I did not see with my own eyes or hear with my own ears.
“There are many soldiers scouting everywhere. There are so many that I think all the soldiers that were sent to Mexico after us must have been called back to hunt for us here.
“The reservation Indians say that now that Miles is after us we shall all be killed. They advise us to lay down our arms and surrender. I think that very soon the soldiers will find our camp here.”
“You are a war chief, my son,” said Geronimo. “Already you are very wise. At the councils even the old men listen to you with respect. What would you advise?”
“We are very few,” replied Shoz-Dijiji, thoughtfully. “We cannot take the war-trail successfully against the pindah-lickoyee in this country where we are. Sooner or later they will kill us or capture us. This is no longer a good country for the Apache. It is our country that Usen made for us, but we cannot be happy in it any longer because of the pindah-lickoyee. Shoz-Dijiji does not wish to live here any more. Let us go to Mexico, perhaps the soldiers of the pindah-lickoyee will not again follow us into Mexico. There we may live as we would wish to live and not as the pindah-lickoyee want us to live.”
“And we can punish the Mexicans for inviting the soldiers of the pindah-lickoyee to come down to their country and kill us,” added Geronimo. “I think you have spoken true words. I think we should go to Mexico. Perhaps there we shall find all of our friends and relatives from whom we became separated when the soldiers were hunting us in Sonora and Chihuahua. Perhaps we can even be happy again. Who knows?”
And so it was that when the troopers of “B” Troop rode into the camp of Geronimo a week later they found nothing but cold ashes where the cooking fires had been and the debris of a deserted Indian village that the Apaches had not taken their usual precautions to hide, since they expected never again to return to their beloved mountains.
Far to the south, below the line, frightened peons burned many candles and said many prayers, for they had heard stories. A man had found the bodies of three vaqueros, and he had seen the print of an Apache moccasin in the camp where they had been killed. They had not been tortured nor mutilated.
“The Apache Devil again!” whispered the peons.
A terrified freighter, a bullet through his shoulder, galloped an exhausted mule into a little hamlet. The wagon train that he had been with had been attacked by Apaches and all had been slain save he, and with his own eyes he had recognized Geronimo.
“Holy Mother, preserve us! the Apache Devil, both!”
Leaving a trail of blood and ashes behind them the renegades headed for the mountains near Casa Grande. Having committed no depredations north of the line they felt confident that the United States soldiers would not follow them into Sonora. Why should they? There was nothing for the soldiers of the pindah-lickoyee to avenge.
Thus the Apaches reasoned, since, in common with white men, they possessed the very human trait of easily forgetting the wrongs that they committed against others, even though they might always harbor those that were committed against them. So now they either forgot or ignored what the whites still considered just causes for righteous anger—burnt ranches, stolen stock, tortured men, women, and children, mutilated corpses that had emblazoned their trail through Arizona from San Carlos to the border over a year before, but the whites had no intention of permitting these occurrences to go brown in their memories.
From one end of the country to the other Geronimo and his bloody deeds occupied more front page newspaper space than any other topic, and to the readers of the newspapers of all the civilized world his name was a household word. For over a year the armies of two nations had been futilely engaged in an attempt to capture or kill a handful of men, women, and children. Geronimo and his renegades had outwitted, outgeneraled, and outfought them, and now, after again outwitting the army of the United States, they had come back to Mexico and were meting out punishment to those, whom they mistakenly believed were responsible for bringing United States troops below the border to fight them, and in carrying out this policy, they attacked every Mexican they saw after they crossed the border, all the way to Casa Grande. Nor did they desist then.
South of Casa Grande, near a place which the Apaches called Gosoda, a road wound out of the town through a mountain pass. Many were the freight trains that lumbered through the dust along this road; and near here hid Geronimo, the Apache Devil, and their followers.
Here the renegades remained for some time, killing freighters, taking what supplies they desired, and destroying the remainder; but the reputation that this road achieved was such as to discourage freighting for the nonce, though it attracted Mexican soldiers in embarrassing numbers. Geronimo then led his followers into the Sierra de Antunez Mountains where they found all that now remained of their depleted tribe and learned that the United States soldiers had not left the mountains of Mexico but, on the contrary, were becoming more active than ever.
Geronimo was disheartened when he learned of this, for he had banked wholly on the belief that he would be rid of the menace of United States troops if he returned to Mexico without committing more depredations in the United States.
“What are we to do?” he demanded at the council fire. “Every man’s hand is against us. If we return to the reservation we shall be put in prison and killed; if we stay in Mexico they will continue to send more and more soldiers to fight us.”
“There is but one thing to do,” replied Shoz-Dijiji when Geronimo had finished. “We must continue fighting until we are all killed. Already we are reckless of our lives, let us be more so, let us give no quarter to anyone and ask no favors. It is better to die on the war-trail than to be put in prison and choked to death with a rope about the neck. I, Shoz-Dijiji, shall continue to fight the enemies of my people until I am killed. I have spoken.”
“You are a young man,” said Geronimo. “Your words are the words of a young man. When I was young I wanted nothing better than to fight, but now that I am getting old I should like a little peace and quiet, although I should not object to fighting to obtain them if I thought that I might win them thus.
“But now,” he continued, sadly, “I cannot see any hope of winning anything but death by fighting longer against the pindah-lickoyee. There are too many of them, and they will not let us rest. I would make a peace treaty with them, if I could.”
“They do not want to make a peace treaty with us,” said Shoz-Dijiji. “They want only to kill us all that there may be no more Apaches left to dispute the ownership of the land they have stolen from us. Let the old men and the women and the children make a peace treaty with the pindah-lickoyee. Shoz-Dijiji will never make peace if it means that he must return to San Carlos and be a reservation Indian.”
“I think that we should make peace with them,” said Na-chi-ta, “if they will promise that we shall not be killed.”
“The promises of the pindah-lickoyee are valueless,” growled a warrior.
Thus they spoke around their council fires at night, and though most of them wanted peace and none of them saw any other alternative than death, they clung doggedly to the war-trail. During three months they had many skirmishes with the white soldiers; and five times their camps were surprised, yet in no instance were the troops of the pindah-lickoyee able either to capture or defeat them; never was there a decisive victory for the trained soldiers who so greatly outnumbered them.
In July 1886 Geronimo’s force numbered some twenty-five fighting men, a few women, and a couple of boys. Outside of their weapons and the clothing that they wore they possessed a few hundred pounds of dried meat and nineteen ponies—the sole physical resources at their command to wage a campaign against a great nation that already had expended a million dollars during the preceding fourteen months in futile efforts to subjugate them and had enlisted as allies the armed forces of another civilized power.
Moving farther and farther into Old Mexico as the troops pressed them, the renegades were camped on the Yongi River, nearly three hundred miles south of the boundary, late in July. They believed that they had temporarily thrown their pursuers off the track and, war weary, were taking advantage of the brief respite they had earned to rest. Peace and quiet lay upon the camp beside the Yongi. The braves squatted, smoking, or lay stretched in sleep. The squaws patched war worn moccasins. There was little conversation and no laughter. The remnant of a once powerful nation was making its last stand, bravely, without even the sustaining influence of hope.
A rifle cracked. War whoops burst upon their ears. Leaping to their feet, seizing the weapons that lay always ready at hand, the renegades fell back as the soldiers and scouts of Lawton’s command charged their camp. The surprise had been complete, and in their swift retreat the Apaches lost three killed; whom they carried off with them, as they abandoned their supply of dried meat and their nineteen ponies to the enemy. Now they had nothing left but their weapons and their indomitable courage.
Clambering to inaccessible places among the rocks, where mounted men could not follow, they waited until the soldiers withdrew. Shoz-Dijiji arose and started down toward the camp.
“Where are you going?” demanded Geronimo.
“The white-eyes have taken Nejeunee,” replied the war chief. “Shoz-Dijiji goes to take his war pony from them.”
“Good!” exclaimed Geronimo. “I go with you.” He turned and looked inquiringly at the other warriors before he followed Shoz-Dijiji down the steep declivity. After the two came the balance of the grim warriors.
Keeping to the hills, unseen, they followed Lawton’s command in the rear of which they saw their ponies being driven. As the hours passed, Geronimo saw that the distance between the main body of troopers and the pony herd was increasIng.
A few miles ahead was a small meadow just beyond which the trail made a sharp turn around the shoulder of a hill. Geronimo whispered to Shoz-Dijiji who nodded understanding and assent. The word was passed among the other warriors; and at the same time Shoz-Dijiji turned to the left to make a detour through the hills, while a single warrior remained upon the trail of the troops.
At a smart trot the Be-don-ko-he war chief led his fellows through the rough mountains. For an hour they pushed rapidly on until Shoz-Dijiji dropped to his belly near the summit of a low hill and commenced to worm his way slowly upward. Behind him came twenty painted savages. In the rear of concealing shrubbery at the hill top the Apache Devil stopped, and behind him stopped the twenty.
Below Shoz-Dijiji was a little meadow. It lay very quiet and peaceful in the afternoon sun, deserted; but Shoz-Dijiji knew that it would not be deserted long. Already he could hear the approach of armed men. Presently they came into sight. Captain Lawton rode in advance. At his side was Lieutenant Gatewood. Behind them were the scouts and the soldiers. The formation was careless, because they all knew that the renegades, surprised and defeated, were far behind them.
Shoz-Dijiji watched them pass. In the rear of the column he saw Lieutenant King who had been temporarily detached from his own troop to serve with this emergency command of Lawton’s. The length of the meadow they rode. The head of the column disappeared where the trail turned the shoulder of a hill, and still Shoz-Dijiji and the twenty lay quietly waiting.
Now half the column was out of sight. Presently Shoz-Dijiji watched King disappear from view, and once again the little meadow was deserted, but not for long.
A little pinto stallion trotted into view, stopped, pricked dainty ears and looked about. Behind him came other ponies—nineteen of them—and behind the ponies three sun parched troopers in dusty, faded blue.
Silently Shoz-Dijiji arose, and behind him arose twenty other painted warriors. They uttered no war whoops as they raced silently down into the meadow in front of the ponies. There would be noise enough in a moment; but they wished to delay the inevitable as long as possible lest the main body of the command, warned by the sounds of combat, should return to the meadow before the mission of the Apaches was completed.
The first trooper to see them vented his surprise in lurid profanity and spurred forward in an attempt to stampede the ponies across the meadow before the renegades could turn them. His companions joined him in the effort.
Shoz-Dijiji and six other warriors raced swiftly to intercept the ponies, while the other renegades moved down to the turn in the trail where they could hold up the troop should it return too soon.
The Apache Devil whistled sharply as he ran and the pinto stallion stopped, wheeled, and ran toward him. Three ponies, frightened by the shouts of the soldiers, raced swiftly ahead, passing Shoz-Dijiji and his six, passing the balance of the twenty who had not yet reached their position, and disappeared around the turn.
Shoz-Dijiji leaped to Nejeunee’s back and headed the remaining ponies in a circle, back in the direction from which they had come and toward the six who had accompanied him.
It was then that one of the three soldiers opened fire, but the Apaches did not reply. They were too busy catching mounts from the frightened herd, and they had not come primarily to fight. When they had recaptured their ponies there would be time enough for that, perhaps, but it was certain that there was no time for it now. They had their hands full for a few seconds, but eventually seven warriors were mounted; and Geronimo and the remainder of the renegades were coming down the meadow at a run as Shoz-Dijiji and his six drove the herd along the back trail. Hopelessly outnumbered, cut off from their fellows, the three troopers looked for some avenue of escape and fell back in front of the herd, firing. It was then that the Apaches opened fire; and at the first volley one of the soldiers fell; and the other two turned and raced for safety, rounding the side of the herd, they spurred their mounts along the flank of the renegades. A few hasty shots were sent after them; but the Apaches wasted no time upon them, and they won through in safety while Shoz-Dijiji and the six urged the ponies at a run along the back trail toward camp, as those on foot took to the hills and disappeared just as Lawton’s command came charging to the rescue, too late.
Lawton followed the Apaches; but, being fearful of ambush, he moved cautiously, and long before he could overtake them the renegades had made good their escape.