The Sioux War Chief
T HE SUBLETTE BOYS were concerned when they heard that Jim was to scout for Wolf Andrews. They went to Jim and urged him to let another trapper scout for the Indian fighter.
"Jim, your life may be in danger," said Milton. "Wolf may try to get even with you."
"I know it," replied Jim.
"Then why scout for him?" asked Bill.
"I have been waiting to prove to Wolf Andrews that I'm not afraid of him," explained Jim. "You see, this is more than a question of scouting. It's a showdown between Wolf and me."
"You're right," agreed Bill. "But I still wish you wouldn't do it."
"And so do I," said Milton.
"What would you do if you were in my place?"
Bill and Milton looked at each other. "You win, Jim," they agreed. "Good luck to you."
A few days later the fur trappers left their winter fort. The parties spread out, each going its separate way.
Jim, leading Wolf Andrews' party, raced Wasaka over the winding trail. The frozen ground was hard and Wasaka's galloping hoofs pounded out good luck! Good luck! Good luck!
"I'll need it," Jim thought. He turned in his saddle and glanced back at the line of mounted men following him. He waved his hat half expecting Wolf to return the salute of the trail. Wolf did not return the salute.
Jim rode on. Good luck! Good luck!
When Jim had scouted for Captain Provot, the job had been made easier by Provot's helpful advice. Jim had quickly won his captain's confidence and respect. Captain and scout had worked together, each believing in the ability of the other.
Jim knew that scouting for Captain Wolf Andrews would be very different. He was determined, however, to do a good job of scouting.
At first Jim had no trouble with Wolf. In fact, Jim saw very little of his captain. Jim was on the trail early each morning. At night, after he had reported to Wolf, they avoided each other. They seldom spoke except to talk over some scouting or trapping problem.
One night Jim and several men were sitting around their campfire. They were cleaning and oiling their rifles. The rest of the men, rolled in their blankets, were asleep near by.
Wolf joined the trappers at the campfire. He stood watching them. His shadow fell across Jim's gun. Jim moved to get in the light again.
"What's the matter, Bridger?" snapped Wolf.
"Nothing," Jim answered without looking up.
"Come on, Jim," said a trapper rising to his feet. "It's our turn to guard the horses and mules. Are you ready?"
The two men left camp. Suddenly Jim stopped. "What was that noise?" he asked, peering into the inky blackness of the night.
"I didn't hear anything," answered the trapper standing beside him.
"Well, I did." Jim brought his rifle to his shoulder.
Something was moving slowly toward the camp. The snapping and crackling in the underbrush came nearer.
"You're right, Jim. Could it be an Indian?"
"An Indian wouldn't make that much noise."
"Then what do you think it is?"
"Some wild animal trying to get to our horses."
Just then in the darkness Jim saw a pair of flashing eyes. He took quick aim and fired. A low moan, a heavy thud then silence told him that his aim was true. He hurried forward.
He stumbled across the dead animal. He ran his hands over the body. For a second Jim held his breath. "I've shot a mule by mistake," he said. "I thought it was a wild animal."
The rifle shot had awakened the camp. Reaching for their guns, the men fled to cover. Now seeing Jim and the trapper walking slowly back to the campfire they rushed out to meet them.
"What was it?" questioned Wolf stepping from behind a tree where he had been hiding.
"I shot a mule by mistake," answered Jim.
"A mule! You blasted bonehead."
"I'm sorry," said Jim. "It was a mistake."
"A mistake! How do you think we'll carry our fur packs if you keep shooting mules by mistake?"
"I know we need our pack animals."
"You'll pay for this," snarled Wolf. "Turn in your horse."
"Why not? You shot a company mule, didn't you? I'll need another animal to carry that pack. Your horse is just the one to do it."
"You can't take a fine horse like Wasaka and break his spirit by making a pack animal of him."
"Who says I can't?" roared Wolf.
Wolf flushed as he met the steady unafraid eyes of his scout. For a minute the two men faced each other, then Wolf looked away.
"My scout must have forgotten that as captain my orders are obeyed without question," Wolf said to the listening men. "But I'll be generous." He turned again to Jim. "Let's see, you have been out here almost two years now, haven't you?"
"All right. You can pay for the mule either by turning in your own horse," sneered Wolf, "or by working the two years for nothing."
"I'll work the two years for nothing," was Jim's instant reply.
The men gasped. What was Jim thinking about? Two years of hard work with no pay just to save his horse? Didn't he remember the long, weary miles on the trail, the beaver streams where he waded waist deep in the icy water to set his traps? One glance at him, however, made them realize that proud, high-spirited Wasaka meant more to him than two years' pay. And with a cheer the men crowded around him.
Wolf, left out of the circle of men, walked away. A few minutes later he saw Jim and the trapper leave camp to take over their guard duty. He heard the men praising Jim and he muttered to himself, "The trip isn't over. I'll get him yet."
The party pushed on, trapping as it moved deeper into Sioux territory. Jim, ever watchful, rode ahead keeping a sharp lookout for hostile Indians. After spending the long winter in their villages, many bands were on the prowl. The braves were eager for a fight. But because of Jim's careful reports to Wolf the trappers were not molested.
One day when Jim was riding along a stream he sighted a band of Indians farther up the little creek. He reined in Wasaka and slipped from the saddle to the ground. "Stay here, old fellow."
Jim walked upstream keeping close to the willows along the bank. He paused to watch the Indians.
"It's a war party of more than a hundred braves," he said to himself. "But they have been defeated and have made camp to care for their wounded."
The Indians were in full war dress. Even their ponies grazing near by were decorated with the gaudy colors of war. No bloody scalp dance or victory songs, however, broke the stillness of the camp. The warriors in quiet groups waited before their medicine man. The chief, wearing the largest feathered war bonnet, sat apart from his braves. His head was bowed.
"He's praying to the Great Spirit," thought Jim. "I should say a prayer myself. Indians on the warpath are bad enough, but a defeated band is even more dangerous. The chief, in order to save his pride, will attack the first party he meets. I must get back to my men and lead them around some other way."
As he turned a rifle shot split the air. He dropped to the ground and lay still. In the Indian camp the braves ran about shouting their wild war whoops.
"That shot didn't come from their camp," said Jim to himself. "They are as surprised as I am. And Indians don't use enough gunpowder to make that loud a noise. That was a white man's gun." His eyes narrowed. "And I know only one person who would try to shoot a man in the back."
Jim raised his head to see what the Indians were doing. "Now I'm in for it," he said falling flat on the ground again. "The chief and some of his braves are coming this way."
When the Indians were only a few yards away they stopped. They talked in low voices for several minutes. Then, following their chief, they turned from the path along the creek and headed for the open plain.
Jim waited until the Indians were out of sight. "I must get to Wasaka," he said as he began to crawl through the underbrush. "I don't want the Indians to find him and run off with him."
But when Jim neared the spot where he had left his horse he saw that the Indians had already found Wasaka. They were laughing and talking to the horse. Jim knew at once that the braves were friends, for Wasaka was standing quietly.
Jim jumped up and ran forward. "Tall Bear!" he called. "Tall Bear!"
Jim had expected one of the braves to answer his call. But it was the chief who turned and
held out his hand. "My friend," he said stepping forward, "we find Wasaka. We know you near."
"Why, Tall Bear, you are a chief now!" exclaimed Jim. "I did not recognize you."
"I chief now. My father killed in big fight with Crows. My people make me war chief."
"I am glad. You will be a good chief."
"Thank you, my friend." Chief Tall Bear bowed low. He pointed to Wasaka. "He know me. You care for him good. That show you like him. He good horse like I say?" he asked.
Jim put his arms around Wasaka's neck and hugged him. "He's the best horse in the West." "You fire gun?" Tall Bear asked.
"Indian not waste so much gunpowder. White man fire gun. Maybe he try shoot you."
"Well, he missed me, so let's forget about it. I saw your camp and your wounded braves."
Tall Bear's eyes flashed. "We have big fight with Crows. They have more warriors. Soon we fight again. We win next time." He paused. "Where your white trappers?"
"They are following my trail," answered Jim. "We are trapping on our way to the Sweetwater."
"My braves and I trap. We have many furs. I trade them to you for goods."
"My captain will be glad to trade with you. He will—"
"I not know your captain chief," broke in Tall Bear. "I trade with you."
"But it is the captain of our fur party who does the trading," explained Jim. "I will tell my captain that you are my friend."
"I do like you say."
"I will bring my captain to your camp tonight," said Jim.
Jim talked to Tall Bear and his braves a while longer. Then, mounting Wasaka, he rode back to his party. He reported to Wolf, but said nothing about the firing of the gun.
"Is that all you have to report?" asked Wolf. Jim looked at the Indian fighter for a minute without answering.
"That's all you don't already know about," Jim said at last. "If I were you, Wolf," he added, "I'd do a little target practice. You aren't as good a shot as you used to be."