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Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express
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BILL GOES TO THREE FORKS
WHEN Bill returned to Leavenworth he found the town in great excitement. A daring raid had been made in the near vicinity by the James boys in co-operation with the Youngers. These outlaws, supposedly, were fighting for the South. There was the feeling that this was but the first of many attacks. When Bill reported to Majors the latter said:
"Davison has been asking for you. He wants to see you."
Bill hoped that Davison would have some special duty for him. He still chafed because of his inability to be of service to his country. The war had been an actual fact for almost a half year. Events, too, had shaped themselves so that it looked exceedingly gloomy for the cause of the North. It is such a time that tries true men's souls and Bill had proven his manhood many a time. Here he was ready and able to do a man's work, yet was kept from doing it on account of some silly rule.
It was a proof of the greatness of Davison that he guessed what must have been troubling the boy.
"It's a terrible thing to be too young, Bill," he commented whimsically.
Bill saw no humor in it. It was, so he had found. And with the fullness of his grievance upon him he confided in Davison how he had tried to enter the army and had been barred because of the dread affliction of youthfulness.
"I'm not too young to be an Express rider, nor to do special and even important duty. But I am too young to serve my country."
"Never mind, Bill," Davison replied understandingly. "I am going to give you another opportunity to do special service. Something that requires picked men and which but few men could do.
"You heard, I suppose, of the raid made by the James boys the other day. We have it on most reliable authority." The man stopped and searched the boy's face as was his habit before confiding important information, then he continued:
"I may as well tell you that one of the men in the confidence of James is a trusted emissary of mine, and that the outlaws are going to make another attack within a few days on Preston. There are many reasons why we must not let them succeed in that, the principal one is that it would supply them with considerable ammunition, as we keep some of our supplies there.
"I have instructed McCarthy to get fifteen men together. He wants you as one of them, although I must confess, I thought you might be too young to be allowed to get into such dangerous work. It will have to be a pitched battle and the James boys, in all probability, will outnumber us.
"Another thing, Bill, and this the reason why I tell you the source of our information. Barnes is the man who is our confidant. We have reason to believe that one of the men, supposedly Unionist and stationed at the Fort, is a Southern spy.
Barnes has informed me, through one of the negroes that came into the Fort the other day, that he will he able to give some information on this point if I can have a man meet him at the Little Fork tomorrow night. McCarthy wants to send you and I approve of his choice when I remember how well you accomplished the last mission on which you were sent."
It was typical of Davison that he did not question as to whether Bill wished to go on this duty or not. He took that for granted.
Bill saw McCarthy and received instructions and the necessary password by which he would recognize Barnes, and be known in turn.
It was less than a day's journey on horseback, but Bill started off that same night. He intended to travel most of the night and through the early morning. McCarthy had suggested that he get to the Little Fork as early as possible so as not to keep Barnes waiting.
Bill rode hard. It was some time in the afternoon when he reached the tiny river. He made himself comfortable and at the same time kept well under cover.
As he lazily reclined and watched the river, he saw a boat with two men in it make fast on the other side. He felt certain that it could not be Barnes because there were two men instead of one. Then too, it was not the side of the river on which they were to meet. Furthermore, the hour was entirely too early.
More from curiosity than anything else Bill decided to work his way across and try to discover the purpose of the two men. Of course, he realized that the men's purpose might be a peaceable one but there was always the probability in those disrupted days that strangers were there for no good.
It was more than fifteen minutes before he finally made a satisfactory point where he could see and not be seen, and where, equally important, he could also hear.
The two men had started a fire and were preparing food for their supper.
"I say, Younger," said one, "what time is Dawson due? Didn't he say six o'clock?"
"Yes, Jesse, but he may have been delayed. He ought to be here any minute."
"I wish," said the first voice, querulously, "I had sent Frank with you instead of coming myself."
Bill watched the two with intense interest. For the first time he was able to observe the celebrated outlaws at close hand.
The two men said nothing for a while. Then he heard Younger say:
"I say, James, I'm beginning to suspect that one of our men is a spy. Have you noticed how often the Yanks have been prepared recently?"
"Nonsense," replied Jesse James. "It just happened."
But the other man shook his head. "Well, then," queried James, "have you any idea who it can be?"
"I haven't, of course. If I did I would talk differently."
In a short time it became dark. James grew more and more impatient.
"Dawson probably couldn't get away," he finally decided. "The Yanks must have kept a sharp lookout and he wouldn't risk it. Shall we go?"
"I suppose so," Younger replied.
The two men made their way into the boat and rowed off. Bill had not dared move. He had had his gun ready and it was not the fear of coping with the two that had kept him quiet. He did not wish to interfere with Davison's plans and a scuffle with the two outlaws would do that. Then, too, he now had a clue regarding a man by the name of Dawson who was evidently a spy in the Union ranks. He regretted the fact that the latter had not appeared.
Bill made his way to the other side of the river. He had hardly reached the appointed place when a man appeared.
"How are you, stranger?" said Bill.
"Oh, pretty well," answered the other. "Where are you from?"
"Brownsville," replied the boy.
You know Davison?" asked the man.
"Hello, Barnes?" Bill was now satisfied as to the other's identity.
"Who are you, young stranger?" Barnes questioned.
After an exchange of commonplaces Barnes came to the point.
"There is a man at the Fort who is bringing information to James. I tried to get his name, but couldn't."
"It's Dawson," the boy: informed him. "How do you know?" Barnes asked in surprise. Bill told Barnes of what he had overheard, including the suspicion of Younger as to a spy in the ranks.
"Hadn't you better come back with me, Barnes?"
But the other shook his head in dissent.
"My work is here and will be for a little while longer.
"Better tell McCarthy to have at least twenty men at Preston," he continued. "The attack will take place on Thursday, so he has only three days to get there. Tell Davison what you heard, of course, and also tell him that there is a plan afoot for the Rebels to cross from Arkansas in strong numbers and attack Leavenworth."
"Did you hear either James or Younger say when they expected to meet Dawson again?"
"No, I didn't. I wish I had."
"I wish I could tell you something about Dawson," Barnes added, "but I can't. The chances are that he doesn't travel under that name."
"Yes, I know that. But it is a clue and it may help."
The two separated. Bill made his return in safety, arriving at Leavenworth in the late afternoon.
He immediately reported to Davison.