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Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express
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BILL AROUSES SUSPICION
ALONG the shores of the Missouri, Bill made his way. At many points he saw groups of men armed and seemingly waiting for the call to battle. There was the strange stillness that always precedes a storm. Bill was stopped by a number of these groups. He was not questioned any too closely because his youth apparently dispelled suspicion. All went well, until he cut south from the Missouri. The Gasconade winds its way with many twists and turns and it was the intention of the boy to travel along its banks as far as possible and then cut across the country to Salem where, he had been told, Captain Lyons was stationed.
As he made his way south he found feeling for the South running stronger and stronger. He had pitched camp for the night. He felt that he had disarmed whatever suspicion had been aroused and that it would be easy matter to get to his destination without interference. The campfire blazed and in its welcome warmth he prepared for sleep. From out of the shadows three men, attracted by the fire, came forward and hailed him.
Bill answered the greeting and in the same instant brought forth his gun so that it was ready for immediate play.
"Hello, stranger," said one, "where bound?"
"Down to Salem," the boy replied.
Then the men came into closer view. With some misgiving Bill recognized one of the men who had been on the last trip he had made with the wagon-train.
"Hello, Bill," Dawson said, as he also recognized him.
Bill returned the greeting. Then the man told the others who the boy was.
Bill offered some of his food, the little that was left, but the men declined, having already eaten.
The intruders settled themselves comfortably and evidently had no intention of leaving.
"What are you going to Salem for?" asked one of the men, Collins by name.
Bill had no means of knowing whether these men were Yankees or Southerners, and so did not know how to answer. But Davison had given him the names of some of the families in Salem and he found the knowledge to be in good stead at this time.
"I'm visiting the Shaddocks," answered the boy.
The man eyed him suspiciously but still did not voice any doubts.
The three men drew off and Bill could see they were arguing. Collins and the third man seemed to agree, but Dawson appeared to insist on another point of view. Finally, they came back.
"Dawson thinks your story is true, boy, but we reckon for safety's sake, we had better take you over to Colonel Owens in the morning."
Bill said nothing. He bided his time. There were many hours in which to plan.
One thing he knew -- he would not accompany these men when morning came.
At two o'clock that night, Bill, who had not closed his eyes, decided it was a good time to make his escape.
Cautiously he arose. He made his way to his horse. Not one of the men stirred. But as he mounted, Collins, who had watched him attempt his escape, called out:
"Where are you bound for, boy?"
"To Salem," replied Bill, and. was off. But his escape was not so easy. The three men were in immediate pursuit, They knew that part of the country, which Bill did not, and Dawson and Collins made through a short cut to head him off.
Bill heard them coming across country and he suspected that they would reach the crossing before him. His mind formed a new plan on the instant. Turning around he headed back along the same road.
But the other man was there to intercept him, As Bill galloped at him the man fired. But his aim was bad and Bill's reply brought him, badly wounded, to the ground.
For one moment the boy was undecided as to what to do next. Then, with the realization that he would be safest on the way to Salem, he turned to meet the two men. The road behind him was no doubt infested by the enemy while the nearer he was to Salem the more certain success would be.
Now the two men could be seen speeding toward him. As they neared they dismounted, for Bill looked very business-like and they felt it safer to make him come to terms from cover.
Bill seemed also ready to dismount. But instead as he bent down to do so, he urged his horse forward. The animal shot ahead in answer to the urge. The men, unprepared, fired wildly at the rider but without success. Bill fired at Collins as he passed and the man fell. He wasted no shot on Dawson who had been friendly. He felt sure that Dawson, now alone, would not care to follow him.
But the shots brought other Rebels to the scene. They pursued Bill who had to put his horse to its best efforts to out-distance the enemy.
Bill was extremely watchful. He realized that the region around Salem had been covered by the Southerners. He decided to travel on the rest of the night. He came upon another group of Southerners about five miles from Salem. He was able to avoid them, but the delay meant that the sun would already be high in the sky before he could arrive at Captain Lyons, headquarters.