MoboReader> Literature > The Sunset Trail

   Chapter 3 INEZ OF THE ’DOBE WALLS

The Sunset Trail By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 28344

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Inez was a mustang-a small, wild-born thing, and the pet of the 'Dobe Walls. Those Indians who came calling at the 'Dobe Walls sniffed suspiciously at Inez and said she was the "White Man's Medicine." When put on the scales and weighed, Inez kicked the beam at seventy pounds, or about one-eighth of what she might have weighed had she lived out the life designed for her by Providence, and escaped the dwarfing influences of bread and milk as furnished by Mr. Hanrahan's black cook.

Inez's share in the life of the 'Dobe Walls began in this way. The horse-hustler had found Inez and her little mustang mother visiting among the ponies when he went to make his morning round-up. The mother fled like a shadow, but Inez, then in her babyhood and something the size of a jackrabbit, fell into the hands of the horse-hustler. That personage of ponies rode into camp with Inez in his arms, and presented her as a common charge. She was adopted and made much of, and soon forgot her griefs and her little mother whinnying among the hills.

Except that she ceased to grow, civilization agreed with Inez. Whether from the fright of capture or the menu of the 'Dobe Walls, and although with time she slimmed and shaped up to be the silken image of a full-grown mustang, Inez stood no higher than nine hands. One might pick her up and carry her under one's arm like a roll of blankets; and occasionally, for the fun of the thing, one did. To be thus transported, threw Inez into a temper; she was a petulant mustang, and when again on her four small hoofs-as black as jet and as shiny-she ran open-mouthed after her tormentor.

If time hung heavy Mr. Wright or Mr. Masterson would cinch a small saddle-tree onto Inez. Thereat, our peevish one arched her small spine, dropped her velvet muzzle between her fetlocks-as slender as a woman's wrists-and sunfished about the scene. Inez did not have to be trained to this trick; it was in her blood and she "bucked" by instinct.

The 'Dobe Walls consisted of Mr. Wright's store, Mr. Kimball's blacksmith shop, and Mr. Hanrahan's saloon. This latter mart, of course. The West without a barroom would be London without a club. The 'Dobe Walls was a casual camp of prairie commerce, pitched on the banks of the Canadian, and meant for trade with the buffalo hunters, taking skins for calico, flour, fire-water, sugar, coffee, cartridges and guns. It lay two hundred miles to the back of no-where, and Dodge, ten days' journey away on the Arkansas, called itself the nearest civilization. The fixed population counted eleven at roll-call; but what with the coming and going of the buffalo hunters there were few moments of any day or night when a count of noses would not have shown more than a score. The public ate its meals in the saloon, which Mr. Hanrahan turned into a restaurant three times a day.

Inez came with the rest to these repasts, and stood about behind the benches and looked over the shoulders of her feeding friends. This she did because it was her privilege, and not by virtue of any tooth of hunger. If by design or accident the door were closed, Inez wheeled indignant tail and testified to a sense of injury with her heels. Since she broke a panel on one of these spiteful occasions, Mr. Hanrahan had been taught to open his portals with speed. The door being opened, Inez would enter, snorting her small opinion of him who had sought to bar her from her rights.

When it rained, Inez took shelter in the saloon. Also, she passed her hours of leisure there, for while Inez declined intoxicants and went committed to water as much as any temperance lecturer, the company she found in Mr. Hanrahan's was to her liking, being more unbuckled and at ease than were those busy ones of the stores-deep with their foolish barter.

This was in the year when the Panhandle coyote rolled in fat from much buffalo meat, and a buffalo's skin brought five dollars. The June night had been sweltering hot. In the store and about the clay floor of Mr. Hanrahan's saloon, blanket-bedded and sound asleep, lay twenty-one men. Most of them were buffalo hunters, all were equal to death at four hundred yards with one of their heavy guns. There were no pickets since there were no suspicions; for were not the Comanche, the Arrapahoe, the Cheyenne, and the Kiowa their friends; and had not delegations of these aboriginal clans been smilingly about the 'Dobe Walls but the day before? The snores and deep-lunged breathings told of a sense of sure security.

Suddenly a pattering racket of rub-a-dub-dub broke on the sleeping ears. It was Inez beating an ecstatic longroll with the door for a drum.

"Who shut that mustang out?" growled Mr. Masterson.

Mr. Masterson sat up and rubbed his eyes. He glanced towards the door; it was not closed. Inez, standing inside, continued to beat it with her hoofs by way of tocsin. Mr. Masterson through the open door could see by the blue light on the eastern-southern sky that the sun was coming up.

"What's the matter with the baby?" thought Mr. Masterson. The "baby" was one of many titles given Inez. "What's she kicking about? That Congo hasn't fed her something that gives her a colic, has he?" Mr. Masterson arose to talk it over with Inez, and learn and locate her aches.

As Mr. Masterson drew near the door, his quick eye caught a movement under the cottonwoods that a half mile away fenced the Canadian. There were five layers of tan on Mr. Masterson's face, each the work of a Panhandle summer. A moment was all he required to solve the mystery of that move beneath the cottonwoods.

"Indians!" shouted Mr. Masterson.

Then Mr. Masterson closed and barred the door. The door closed, he blazed away from a window with a six-shooter by way of general notice.

Every man jack of the twenty-one in store and bar-room was on his feet like magic. In that Western day, rather from habit than apprehension, one would as soon think of going to bed without his blankets as without his guns. Once aroused, the 'Dobe Walls was instantly an armed fort.

The Indians made a gorgeous charge. There was a red line of them, five hundred strong-picked fighters of the Cheyennes, the Arrapahoes, the Kiowas, and the Comanches. To give them spirit and add éclat to the fray, two hundred of their friends from the Pawnees and the Osages, had come to see the fight. These copper gentlemen of peace and curiosity were seated upon a near-by hill, like an audience at a bull fight.

It was a pageant to remember-that swoop of the red five hundred over the half mile of grassy flat between the cottonwoods and the 'Dobe Walls. Great war-bonnets of eagles' feathers floated from every head. The manes and tails of the ponies streamed with ribbons. On they swept, each buck managing with his knees his saddleless, bridleless little war horse.

For a fortnight, the medicine man of the Comanches had starved and danced himself into a frenzy. He had burned "medicine" tobacco, and occult grasses, and slips of sacred cedar. Coming forth of his trances and his songs, he brought word that the Great Spirit would fight on the side of His red children. His medicine told him they might ride into the 'Dobe Walls and kill the palefaces in their sleep with clubs. There would be no resistance; it was no more than just riding in and stripping off the scalps.

Also, there were rifles and tons of cartridges which the Great Spirit designed for His red children. These would be as make-weight with the scalps, and pay His red children for the work of waging war. Thus preached the medicine man; and his hearers were prompt with their belief. And thereupon they made stealthy tryst on the Canadian that June morning, and without yelp or outcry or war-shout, swept down upon their prey as softly silent as spectres.

The medicine man's medicine would have been true medicine, had not the counter medicine of the white man been hard at work. Inez was so wholly of the palefaces that she disdained an Indian. Let one but cross her ladyship to windward, and with squeal of protest she furnished notice of her displeasure. Inez had gotten the taint of that line of copper battle, and fled for refuge to Mr. Hanrahan's saloon. It was her contempt for Indians, expressed on Mr. Hanrahan's door, that brought out the 'Dobe Walls to defend its hair.

There was no such Eastern foolishness as a pane of glass in any of the buildings. The mud walls were perforated with openings eighteen inches square. These let in light and air. Also, they made portholes from which to shoot. Ten seconds after Mr. Masterson's warning fusillade, two lynx-eyed gentlemen with buffalo guns were ready at each of those openings. They were a committee of reception likely to prove as warm as one might wish.

It is the vanity of the paleface to hold that he can whip twentyfold his weight in any alien race. He will prove this on the teeth of men red or yellow or black. No disaster drives this notion from his vainglorious pate. He believes it, and thereon he transacts his wars. Upheld by it, his steady, cool ferocity of heart, makes his enemies believe it also; and in the end they abandon him as the creature indomitable and above defeat. That cocky conceit of himself has gotten the paleface into uncounted trouble; and then brought him victoriously through it.

The twenty-one who waited with the buffalo guns were full-breathed specimens of their race. Wherefore, the fear of being beaten at the old game of war, which their fathers had played for a thousand years, never once crossed their slope of thought. They would cord up those flambuoyant savages; they would have a scalp to show and a new yarn to tell about their camp-fires. That was the most the coming trouble promised; looked on in that light, to repulse those savages was relaxation.

The charging Indians were a minute covering the space between those river cottonwoods and the 'Dobe Walls where the buffalo guns so hopefully awaited them.

Every charging buck wore on his bow arm a round shield of double buffalo hide. It had been stripped from the shoulder of a bull, and would stop the bullet from a common rifle. The oncoming buck covered himself with this bull's-hide buckler. His quiver of arrows stood up above his left shoulder. As he charged, he would whip his right hand toward the quiver. Each time he brought away an arrow by the feather-end. With one motion the arrow was thrown across the bow; drawing it to the head, he sent it singing on like a hornet. The charging line of five hundred was preceded by an arrow-flight as thick as stubble, for these red experts shot so fast that the seventh arrow would leave the bow while yet the first was in the air. In that opening charge they did not employ rifles. At ranges not to run over one hundred yards the arrow would do as well. Every one of those missiles came twanging off the bowstring with a vengeful force that would have sent it smoothly, cleanly through a buffalo calf. And they must save their rifles for long range, should the war take on that shape.

"Billy," said Mr. Masterson to Mr. Dixon, his comrade of the loophole, "I'm going to hive that big one on the pinto pony." This to the end that Mr. Dixon pick out another target.

On came Mr. Masterson's selection, shield held forward and arrows streaming from his bow like splinters of white light. Mr. Masterson's finger, trained to wait instantly on his eye, unhooked his rifle the moment the shield showed through both sights. The great bullet struck the shield where the bunch of painted feathers floated. It went through bull's-hide, arm, and savage shoulder behind the arm. The stricken one seemed to rise in the air like a kite; and then he struck the grass in a half-stunned heap to roll and clutch, and at last to lie still. Mr. Masterson snapped in another cartridge, and laughed cheerfully.

"Did you see the look of surprise, Billy," asked Mr. Masterson, "on my Indian's face? That was because he found his shield no good. The bullet went through as though the shield were brown paper, and disturbed that Comanche's military theories."

Mr. Dixon, whom Mr. Masterson addressed, made no response. He had piled up an Indian of his own, and was watching him with the keenest interest, with intent to send another bullet into him if he moved, which he didn't.

As Mr. Masterson peered forth on the heels of the charge, he counted a round dozen of the Indians, scattered carelessly about, not one of whom would ride again. The buffalo hunters had been sedulous to aim low and to see their hind-sights before they pressed the trigger. With the dozen Indians were half as many ponies, kicking and tossing in the death-heave.

The volley broke the teeth of that charge; the Indians split on the buildings to right and left, as the stone piers of a bridge split the river's ice in the spring. They flashed by and ran into the low hills, a third of a mile to the rear. After the charge, those Osage-Pawnee spectators, on their hill of curious peace, lighted pipes; they saw that the fight was to be a long one.

"Bat," exclaimed Mr. Dixon, pointing to where Mr. Masterson's Indian lay waving his one good hand for a sign, "your buck ain't dead. Why don't you drill him ag'in?"

"Let him alone," returned Mr. Masterson. "It's like baiting a trap. If he lives long enough, you and I by being sharp can kill a dozen over him, for his people will swoop down and try to carry him off."

The big double door was the weak point. To strengthen it, Mr. Hanrahan tore loose the tall rum counter, and piled it across. This uncovered Inez, who for all her hot temper was timid and had crept behind the counter, regarding it as a cave of refuge in this trying hour. Stripped of her defences, Inez, who felt the peril though she might not understand, scuttled to the rear of the room and pushed in among a thicket of stools and poker tables, which had been thrown there to have them out of the way.

There was a lull, the Indians still hugging the hills. Taking advantage of it, Mr. Hanrahan sent round their morning whiskey to the people at the openings.

"After the next charge," observed Mr.

Hanrahan, who was not without wisdom concerning Indians, "they'll be so sick they'll give us time for breakfast."

Then a thing occurred that struck the colour from more than one brown cheek. It was the clear, high note of a bugle, sounding a rally, then a charge.

"This ain't a band of whites painted up, is it?" said Mr. Wright. "If it's another Mountain Meadow racket, boys, if we're up against white men, we're gone fawnskins!"

"One thing sure," returned Mr. Masterson, "no Indian blew that bugle. Why, an Indian can't even whistle."

White or red, again came the swoop of the enemy. Again the buffalo guns broke them and crumpled them up. They flew on, however, and took position under the cottonwoods from which they had first charged. As Mr. Masterson foretold, two riding side and side had made a dash for the wounded Indian, who still lifted up his arm. They would have gone to right and left of him and picked him up.

"Take the one to the left, Billy," said Mr. Masterson.

Mr. Masterson and Mr. Dixon carefully added the rescue party to that one whom they came to save. "What did I tell you!" exulted Mr. Masterson, as he clicked in a fresh cartridge and closed the breech of his Sharp's.

"Which you called the turn!" said Mr. Dixon, who having been three years from Boston, now spoke with a Brazos accent.

Again the mysterious bugle sang the tan-ta-ra-ra of a rally. The sound came from down in the fringe of cottonwoods; the bugler, whoever he might be, had charged each time with the others.

As the bugle sounded, a big Osage, one of the pacific audience on the hill, started to ride over to the warriors forming their third line of battle beneath the trees. Doubtless he had thought of a word of advice to give his fighting friends, whereof they stood in need. He was gravely walking his pony across the space that lay between the red audience and the red actors in this drama of blood.

"It would be a good thing," remarked Mr. Wright, who was the Ulysses of the 'Dobe Walls, "to break that Osage of his conversation habit right here. And yet, it won't do to hurt him and bring the Osages upon us. Can't you down his pony, Bat, and send him back on foot? You're the best shot; and it would be a warning to the others, smoking on the hill, that we won't tolerate foreign interference in this fight."

Mr. Masterson notched up his hindsight for seven hundred yards. The rifle flashed; the Osage pony made a forward jump and fell. At that, the owner picked himself up, rearranged his blanket, and soberly strutted back to his tribal friends whom he had quitted. His said friends took their pipes out of their mouths and laughed widely over his discomfiture. They were pleased thus to have his officiousness rebuked. He should have kept his nose out of this scrimmage, which was not an Osage scrimmage.

The bugle called down the third charge. There came the low, thick patter of the hoofs, and soon the hail of steel-tipped arrows set in. The arrows broke against the mud walls of the building, and fell to the harmless ground. One glanced through an opening, lifting the long locks of a defender.

"Tryin' to cut your ha'r, Jim," jested his window mate. "Don't blame 'em; it needs trimmin'."

"All the same," retorted the one of the locks, "I nacherally trimmed the barber a lot;" and he pointed to a savage who was twisting out his life on the grass.

The arrow grazed Inez as it came clattering into her covert of stools and tables. Inez being dislodged, ran screaming to Mr. Masterson for protection. She knocked against that excellent marksman in time to spoil his shot, and save the life of a Kiowa on whose destruction he had set his heart.

Mr. Masterson, a bit disgusted with the timorous Inez, picked her up and put her in a great empty bin, wherein shelled corn had been kept. Inez became instantly engaged with the stray kernels which she found in the bottom, fumbling them and tasting them with her lips, half guessing they were good to eat.

There were no more swoops; the Indians had lost faith in the charge as a manoeuvre of war. They leaped off their ponies, the most of them, and from the hills popped at the palefaces, looking from those openings in the 'Dobe Walls, with their rifles. The distance was a fair third of a mile, and the chance of a bullet finding its way to anyone's disaster was as one in one thousand.

After the lapse of fifteen minutes Mr. Hanrahan's black cook began tossing up a bacon and flap jack breakfast for the garrison. Water was at hand; Mr. Hanrahan's well had been dug cautiously inside the building for just such a day as this. While the garrison were at breakfast, a sentinel went through the manhole and watched from the roof. There was no disturbance; the Indians kept discreetly to the hills, and put in time with a breakfast of their own. Fighting is hungry work, and will give folk white or red an edge.

After breakfast, Mr. Masterson lighted one of Mr. Hanrahan's cigars, and took a look from a rear window. It was well into the morning. A long six hundred yards away a score or more of the younger savages, restless with a lack of years and sore to be thus knocked about on their first warpath by a huddle of buffalo hunters, were galloping hither and yon. Their war bonnets still flaunted, and their ponies still streamed with ribbons; but where was that hot courage which had brought them a trio of times up to the muzzles of those buffalo guns? Mr. Masterson counted the distance with his eye; then he shook his head.

"Bob," said he to Mr. Wright, "I can't be sure at that range with my gun. It's got buckhorn sights-coarse enough to drag a dog through 'em. Where's that closed-sight gun you brought out last week, the one with the peep sight in the grip?"

"It's here," returned Mr. Wright, "but there's no cartridges nearer than the store."

"That's all right," said Mr. Masterson. "You boys cover me, and I'll make a dash for the store. I want to see how they're getting on over there, at that."

Mr. Masterson went through one of the eighteen-inch openings. The distant Indians saw him, but appeared indifferent. There was a tall wall of mud between the store and Mr. Hanrahan's saloon. There was a gate, but that had been closed and locked by Baldy Smith. Mr. Masterson's plan was to crawl under the gate, being invited by an open space of at least a foot. It was better than climbing; were he to do the latter some far-off lucky savage might manage a cock-shot of him as he went over the top.

As Mr. Masterson stooped to dive beneath the gate, he shouted loudly to those in the store. He had no desire to be mowed down by his friends, upon a notion that he was some enterprising Indian, piercing their defences. At Mr. Masterson's shout, a wounded Indian, who was lying low in a clump of weeds, sat up and with the utmost good will pumped three bullets at him from a Spencer seven-shooter. The bullets chucked into a pile of chips, heaped up where the cook was wont to chop his fire wood. They buried the crawling Mr. Masterson beneath a shower of bark and chips and splinters, but did no harm.

Mr. Masterson's feelings were ruffled by the shower of chips. On reaching the store, his first care was to borrow a rifle, poke a hole in the mud wall and quiet that uneasy personage in weedy ambuscade.

"I don't want him whanging away at me on my return," explained Mr. Masterson.

There were five in the store. Young Thurston had been shot through the lungs. His days were down to minutes; parched with the death-fever, he lay calling for water.

There was no well in the store as in the forethoughtful Mr. Hanrahan's saloon. The store pump was fifty yards away in the stark, undefended open.

"I reckon now," said Daddy Keeler, "I'll go fetch a bucketful. I'm the gent to go, because my eyes are too old and dim to do anything at six hundred yards. I'd just waste cartridges."

Daddy Keeler was called Daddy Keeler for two reasons. For one matter, he had passed sixty years; and for another, everybody loved him. In the West when a man is loved they give him a nickname.

Also, there are no struggles for precedence in the West. Each man plays his part in peace or war as best dovetails with his pleasure. Not one in the beleaguered store would have hesitated to run the gauntlet of those savage rifles to bring water to young Thurston as he died. Yet not one would offer to take the place of Daddy Keeler. To do so would have been in violation of Panhandle proprieties, and Daddy Keeler would have resented it to the death.

Daddy Keeler took a bucket and tossed it through an opening. For all his years and hair of gray, he was as active as a cat. He made no task of sliding through the opening after the bucket. The four who remained stood ready, should the sight of him cause a rush to cut him off. As, bucket in hand, he started for the pump, a frightened dog, in hiding behind a heap of lumber, came forth and followed whiningly.

The savages were not slow in getting to work. They didn't charge; their stomachs were too weary for that. But their rifles cracked by twos and tens and twenties. The bullets zipped and whistled as thick as twilight bats.

The pump was sun-dried and slow; it cost two minutes to start the water from the cracked spout, and five to fill the bucket. Smack! smack! the pump was struck a dozen times, while in twenty places the well-platform was rasped or whitely splintered by the flying lead.

Daddy Keeler pumped doggedly, and never raised his head; the creaking of the pump-handle matched with the low howling of the frightened dog. Daddy Keeler's sombrero went whirling, the dog was shot down at his feet; still he pumped on. The bucket at last was filled. Daddy Keeler picked up his hat and fixed it on his head. Then he brought the bucket and passed it through the opening without spilling a drop. The next moment he had followed it, and never a mark upon him.

"It's some hot out thar in the sun," said Daddy Keeler, apologetically, wiping the great drops from his forehead. Then taking off his sombrero, and considering the double hole the bullet had left: "It was a forty-four did that; some of 'em's shootin' Winchesters." For fourteen long, hot days the fight went on; now and then a charge, more often long-range shooting, whereat the buffalo hunters excelled. When the fight flagged the garrison played poker, leaving one to watch.

Every night one-half the garrison must dig graves for the dead-pony and Indian alike. The argument for these sexton labours was sanitary, not sentimental. In the blinding height of a Panhandle summer it is no good thing to be cordoned about with dead ponies and dead Indians. There was never a danger; your savage lies close, and will not move in the dark unless one crowd him. He is so much the Parthian that it is against his religion to fight in the night.

Before the burial parties tumbled an Indian into his sepulchre, they were at pains to have his scalp as an incontestable method of keeping accounts. On the fifteenth day, when the troops from Dodge relieved the siege, there were eighty topknots to tell the loss of the enemy.

Inez, when the fighting fell to long-range, cried to be lifted from her box. Inez did not fear bullets; arrows were a different commodity and set her nerves on edge. She could see them; besides, they smelled fearfully of Indians. As long as no arrow came spitting and splintering through the openings, Inez was without a care. She would have been content were it not for her rations of merely bread and water. This she thought squinted at parsimony, and it aroused her spleen.

When the cavalry came riding down from Dodge the beaten remnant of that war party went squattering through the shallow reaches of the Canadian, and headed south for the Staked Plains. Then the visiting Osages and Pawnees, pipe in hand and blankets wrapped about them, came beamingly from their audience hill to offer congratulations.

"How!" said Black Feather, the Osage chief, extending his hand to Mr. Wright "How! Heep big fight!"

Then Black Feather went over the four score scalps, and whether by tint of plume or mark of braid, hidden to the white man, confidently told the tribe of each.

"Comanche!" grunted Black Feather, picking up a scalp; and then: "Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arrapahoe," as he pawed the others over one by one.

"Who were right in this shindy?" asked the captain of cavalry.

That officer was curious to hear what Black Feather would say to the question. Black Feather, who believed firmly in the equities of force, did not hesitate.

"White man right," said he. "The longest lance is right."

What of that mysterious bugle, whereof the music so shook the men of buffaloes? It was blown by a caitiff negro, a deserter from Uncle Sam's swart cavalry. The third charge was the black bugler's last. Striped and painted like the others, the burial party might never have known the race or colour of him had it not been for his want of a scalp lock. They took his bugle instead, and rolled him into the trench with the others.

"By the way, Bat," remarked Mr. Wright, when two days after the fight, life at the 'Dobe Walls had gone back to old-time lines, "we forgot to thank you for seeing those Indians that time. They'd have cinched us, sure, if you hadn't; killed us, as it were, on the nest. It ain't too late to take a drink on it, is it?"

"The drink goes," returned Mr. Masterson, drawing up to Mr. Hanrahan's counter, which was again happily in its place; "the drink goes, but it ought to be for Inez. It was she who gave warning. If it hadn't been for Inez every man of us would have gone with Thurston, and those eighty bucks might be riding yet. It was pretty work, Bob, to stand off five hundred Indians fourteen days, and only lose one man against their eighty." Here Inez came mincingly through the door, like a fine lady thinking on her skirts. She nosed up to Mr. Masterson for a caress. "That's right," said Mr. Masterson, patting her satin neck, "you're just in time, Ladybird. We're going to drink to the White Man's Medicine, Inez, of the 'Dobe Walls."

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares