The Scout Rides Alone
A T DAWN the camp was astir. While the men were eating breakfast the Crow braves arrived with more horses. The trading goods were unpacked and the trading began. By noon Major Henry had bought enough horses for Provot's party. A short time later Provot and his men were on their way.
Jim was already well in advance of the party. He was pleased and a little proud to have been made scout. But he knew that it was a deadly serious job. There must be no guesswork in his reading of any sign. He must know exactly what he had seen, and when and where he had seen it. One sign overlooked, or the false reading of a sign, could cost the life of every man in the party.
There was little danger of Indian attacks until the trappers neared the Sioux territory farther south in the Powder River Valley. But the Sioux could be anywhere.
Jim was taking no chances. His long, heavy rifle, lying across his saddle horn, was loaded and ready. Watchful, alert, he rode along searching the low hills, the open country, and the high banks along the river for signs of Indians, either hostile or friendly.
Reaching the top of a hill, Jim reined in his horse. Turning in his saddle he looked back at his fellow trappers riding toward him. Captain Provot was in the lead. The mounted men followed in single file. The pack horses, loaded with the supplies, were in the center of the long line.
"There they are," Jim said to himself.
He waved his broad-brimmed felt hat and smiled as Provot returned the salute of the trail. Then, touching his horse lightly, he raced down the hill. All day he kept ahead of the party. Now and then he stopped to study the country more carefully, and to rest his horse.
Shortly before dark he came to a high bluff along the river. "This would be a good place to camp tonight," he said to himself looking all around. "There is plenty of grass for the horses and we can get wood for our fires from the grove of cottonwood trees over there. I haven't seen any Indians, but I will ride on to make sure."
Jim scouted the country on both sides of the river. Finding no Indians or signs of them, he started back to report to Provot. A mile or so downstream he met the captain and his party.
"Well, Jim how do you like being my scout?" asked Provot.
"I like it," smiled Jim. He added, "I have found a place to camp. It's on a bluff and there is plenty of grass and wood."
"That sounds all right," said Provot. "I'll bring in the men. You ride on and scout the surrounding country."
"I've already done it," replied Jim.
"Both sides of the river?"
"Good for you, Jim," praised Provot.
Riding beside the captain, Jim led the men to the bluff. Camp was made and guards were posted. Jim's scout duties for the day were over.
Day after day the party traveled southward along the Powder. Jim, in the lead, was ever on the lookout for trouble. As the trappers neared the Sioux territory Jim began to sight Indian hunting parties. He followed their trails to make sure they would not molest his men. He reported to Provot, telling him the number of braves in each band and exactly where he had seen them.
The captain doubled the night guard and the men slept with their rifles beside them. During the day, guards rode on each side of the pack horses.
One morning as Jim was riding along the Powder he sighted the faint marks of a trail in the distance. He followed the trail trying to find some signs which would tell him if the trail had been made by Indians or by another party of white trappers. The only signs he found were the hoof-prints of many horses.
The lack of signs troubled Jim. He knew that Indian hunting bands were not careful about hiding their signs. He had often found their deserted camps, the ashes of their campfires, discarded blankets or broken bows and arrows. But Indians on the warpath, he remembered, were careful not to leave signs.
Tense, alert, Jim rode on. The trail wound its way along the river for several miles. Then it struck out across the open country.
Jim studied the plain before he headed westward over the trail. He rode slowly as he searched for signs. Suddenly he stiffened. Just off the trail and almost hidden in the tall grass was an Indian war shield. From the design painted on the strong buffalo hide he knew the shield belonged to a Sioux brave.
Jim leaned from his saddle and picked up the war shield. Re turned his horse about and raced back to the river. He met his party and reported to Provot.
"And this is the shield I found," said Jim when he had told about following the trail. "I didn't see a band of Indians, but they're on the warpath out there somewhere."
"We must locate them," said Provot. "They may try to attack us."
"If you'll let another man scout for the party today, I'll find the Sioux somewhere," said Jim:
"Do you think you can do it alone?" asked Provot.
Jim nodded. "It may take me all day but I'll locate them," he said. "I'll find our camp tonight."
"All right, Jim. Good luck."
It was late in the afternoon when Jim finally sighted the Indians. They were making camp beside a small creek lined with cottonwoods and willows.
Jim slipped from his saddle and hobbled his horse. Then crawling through the grass he moved nearer the camp. Inch by inch he made his way, moving so slowly that the grass barely stirred. He could now hear the voices of the braves.
Jim listened intently. "Why, it's Tall Bear and his braves." He was about to jump to his feet. But he remembered Major Henry's warning not to trust even the friendly braves. "Tall Bear.• may not be my friend now that he's on the warpath," Jim said to himself. Slowly and carefully he crawled back to his horse. "But I'm going to talk to him just the same."
Jim unhobbled his horse and swung into the saddle. "Well, old fellow," he said softly, "you may belong to a Sioux brave in a few minutes. But right now, you're mine. Come on, let's go."
Holding his rifle high to show that he was a friendly visitor, Jim galloped toward the Indian camp. The hoofbeats of his horse brought the Indians to their feet.
The braves rushed forward. A shouted command from Tall Bear stopped them. They formed a half circle around him and waited motionless as Jim rode into their camp.
"How!" called Jim.
"How!" repeated Tall Bear. A smile lighted his face as he recognized Jim. "Welcome, welcome,"' he added. "White trapper welcome to Tall Bear's camp."
Jim dismounted. At a signal from Tall Bear a brave led Jim's horse away.
"You stay tonight," said Tall Bear shaking hands with Jim.
"I cannot stay," replied Jim. "I must get back to my men."
"Where they camp?" questioned Tall Bear.
"Along the Powder."
"Where they trap?"
"We are headed for the Sweetwater Valley."
"You find many beaver there."
"Good," said Jim. He glanced around the camp and turning to Tall Bear asked. "Why are you and your braves on the warpath?"
Tall Bear drew himself up to his full height. "We fight big fight with Crows. We win. We on way home. We wear paint to celebrate big victory. Why you want to know?"
"Because I am the scout for my party," answered Jim. "I tell my captain when I see a war party."
"I not fight your people," said Tall Bear. "You my friend. My braves and I celebrate tonight with big feast. You stay eat?"
"I'll stay for the feast," replied Jim. "Then I must return to my men."
The braves prepared the feast and when it was ready they gathered around the campfire. Jim was given the place of honor beside Tall Bear. At first the braves were quiet, but Jim, with his keen sense of humor, soon had them roaring with laughter.
After they had eaten, Jim said that he must leave. Tall Bear turned to the two braves sitting nearest him. He spoke to them in a low voice. The braves jumped up and hurried away. A few minutes later they returned. The first brave was leading Jim's horse. The second brave was leading a handsome black, spirited horse. The brave had put Jim's saddle and bridle on the black horse.
"This horse for you," said Tall Bear as he and Jim rose to their feet.
"Thank you, Tall Bear," replied Jim stroking the horse's long, silky mane. "What's his name?"
"His name Wasaka. That Sioux for strong. He good fast horse. See long legs, deep chest."
"He's a fine horse," agreed Jim, "I'll take good care of him."
Jim mounted and for a minute felt the horse tremble beneath him. He patted Wasaka and spoke to him gently. When the horse had quieted Jim said good-by to Tall Bear and the braves.
The young, proud Sioux held up his hand. "White trapper and Tall Bdar good friends," he said, "We meet again."
"Yes, we will meet again," said Jim.
The Indians shouted their good-bys as Jim rode away, leading his old horse. The night was dark, but Wasaka galloped on, needing only the slightest touch of his new master to guide him.
It took Jim almost two hours to find the trappers' camp. But by heading for the river and then riding upstream he finally reached the camp. Provot and the men were glad to see him. Jim told them about how he had located the Indian camp and about his visit with Tall Bear and his braves. He proudly showed them his new horse, Wasaka.
"Well, boys," said Provot when Jim had finished, "the next time we won't worry about our scout."
Jim laughed, "The next time I might not be so lucky."
1. What was the "Key to the West"?
2. Why was Henry anxious to discover the "Key to the West"?
3. What is your idea of a good scout?