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Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express
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AN INDIAN ATTACK
THOSE were stirring days that followed. The sympathizers of the North and South had many conflicts. Against both of them, the Indian, impartial at all times, began his depredations.
Often, there came the strange situation, when the white man, though divided, in bitter struggle for supremacy in the East, found strong need to unite against the common enemy here in the West.
Bill longed to join the Northern army. He felt that he could secure the consent of his mother and, after all, what better thing could any man do than enter the ranks when his country was in danger? So he made application at the recruiting station intending to inform his mother afterwards.
He found, however, that though they were anxious for volunteers, his youth counted against him. Despite his unusual record, the law was clear on this point and so the recruiting Office, with considerable regret refused to accept Bill. Disconsolate, Bill returned to Leavenworth.
Majors at this time was in great difficulty. The Express riders, almost to a man, had given notice that they intended giving up their posts. Most of them were planning to join the Union army. There were a few, however, like Stanton and Carruthers, who were adherents of the South. It spoke gloriously for the personnel of the Express riders, who without any prearrangement, had decided that while in the Service, they would not let the big struggle interfere in any way with their loyalty to the Service or to those connected with it. Once enrolled, the big war would become a personal issue -- until then the truce would hold.
Majors, for one, was glad of Bill's youth. But the boy spent many bitter hours as he saw, first Drose, then Simpson, Woods and Wild Bill Hickock go off. He bemoaned the hard luck which kept him youthful.
"Did you ever stop to think, Bill,'' Majors remarked to him as he watched the boy's despondency, "how much need there is going to be for men on the plains and in the Rockies? Off you youngsters go to where you think you are most needed, and leave this part of the country to the mercy of the Indians."
Bill had never given this viewpoint any thought. He was still in that stage of youthfulness which believes that adventure and hazard are ever elsewhere. It never occurred to him that what he did and had been doing was dangerous or brave. It is about the other man's deeds that the glamor always radiates.
"McCarthy is one of the few men brave enough to stay behind. We shall need him and you and many other men before long," the old man continued. "Things would not be so bad, if there were any assurances as to the good intentions of the Indians. But there is none."
The need for the Express service dwindled. The trips to the coast and return were now made at rare intervals. But McCarthy, Bill and the one or two other men who stayed on duty were compelled to take long relays. No longer could they travel the beaten track -- for the Indian, though slow to take the warpath, -- was lurking everywhere. Outwardly friendly, he struck in the night and at such times when the crime could not be placed on any particular tribe.
There came a day when Bill was making his way along the Colorado. The Allen household was close by and he planned to stop there for the evening. He had known Dave Allen for many a day. Allen had settled at this point. It was not too near the local Fort and yet if there were need for it one could make it in three hours of hard riding.
Dave Allen had earned the respect of the local tribes. A fair man, he had convinced them of his intentions to deal fairly. Bill knew of the kindly feeling of the Indians toward him. Ordinarily, he would have ridden to the door without any thought of secrecy. But that sixth sense, intuition or instinct, be it what it may, somehow warned him. As he approached the cabin his caution increased.
Then suddenly he heard rifle shots. Silently he moved forward. It was important for him to get the lay of the land. If there were to be an attack on the cabin, it would be well for him to know the number of the attacking party and so be able to plan for action.
From his vantage point he was soon able to observe that the Indians numbered at least twenty-five. They had encircled the house. A secret attack had evidently been planned; it was equally clear that Allen had not been caught napping.
"If I could let Allen know that I am off for help. The trick is how to let hint know."
It would not be impossible for Allen to hold out against the Indians until help arrived, especially if he knew that that help was coming.
An idea came to Bill. It was possible of execution because of Bill's skill in throwing his bowie, a trick he had learned from Drose who was remarkably skillful and proficient at it. He tore a sheet of paper from the note book which all Express riders carried. On the paper he wrote:
"Keep up courage, Allen. Am off for help.
He carefully tied the paper about the knife. It was his plan to attempt to throw the message through one of the openings from which Allen's household was shooting at the savages. As he raised his arm to make the throw something caught his eye.
What he saw was a redskin making his way through the tall grass toward the house. Flat on his stomach, he was crawling forward so slowly as to be almost imperceptible. The keen eye of Bill was able to detect the movement. The savage, the boy observed, was holding an unlighted torch in one hand. If this Indian could get near enough to the wall of the house, he could do considerable damage and the situation for the Allens would be even more hazardous.
Bill's mind worked like a flash. He turned to his horse, placed the note folded around the bowie, inside the saddle. It would be detected when the search was made, as it was sure to be, upon the arrival of the riderless horse at the Fort.
"Be off with you, Banister." He spoke to the horse as he would to a human. "Go to the Fort and bring help."
Without stopping to see if the horse would obey he turned again to watch the crawling redskin making his slow headway.
The horse on his part seemed to understand. After a moment's hesitancy, he was away in the direction of the Fort.
Bill now slowly and very carefully took aim. It was not a hard shot and yet he had no wish to miss it. Too much depended on it. Nor did he. The redskin gave a convulsive shudder and turned over.
Bill realized that it would require quick work to reach the inside of the cabin. Even as the shot left his rifle he made his wild dash for the cabin door. Allen saw him coming and had the door open for him. As it swung to, after the boy, a volley of shots rained against it from the surprised savages.