Bill Plays a Lone Hand
B ILL enjoyed the life of a stagecoach driver. It was filled with everything he liked,—action, danger, good horses, and a definite share in helping to build the West. It was a job that demanded steady nerves, quick thinking, and reckless courage.
Bill's horses soon learned to know him. When he strode from the station to mount the box they would often whinny and show eagerness to start the run. They recognized his firm but light hold on the reins and the signals of his long whip.
He took great pride in his horses. Although he expected speed and instant obedience from them he was always kind to the spirited animals. He drove them with little effort and brought the horses to the end of the run in good condition. He never used the long whip to strike a horse. He used it only as a signal to let his teams know what he wanted them to do.
One day after Bill had been on the run from Fort Kearney to Plum Creek for several months, the division boss said to him, "Alf Slade is in trouble again. The Indians and outlaws have attacked his stagecoaches so often that many of his drivers have quit. He has sent out a call for volunteers to take their places. I was ordered to give this message to my drivers, but I hesitated to tell you."
"Why?" questioned Bill.
"Well," answered the division boss, "I would like to have you stay on my division. I need good drivers, too. However, I know that you will volunteer to drive for Slade."
"You're right," replied Bill. "I would like to help Slade. When do I report to him?"
"As soon as you can get to Three Crossings."
"What will we do about my run today?"
"Don't worry about that," answered the division boss. "I was so certain that you would volunteer to drive for Slade that I have already given your run to another driver. Good-by and good luck."
A few days later Bill arrived at the Three Crossings home station. Slade was there.
"Hello, Bill. I'm glad but I'm not surprised to see you," said Slade. "I knew you would volunteer to drive for me. In fact, I was so sure of it that I have already decided which run you will make."
"I don't get it," laughed Bill. "The division boss at Fort Kearney gave my run to another driver before he even told me about your call for volunteers. And now, here you are with a run ready for me even before I report to you."
Slade laughed, but suddenly he became serious. "I was going to put you back on the same trail you rode for the Pony, but I have a good driver on that run. Your run will be from Three Crossings to the next home station west of here. I don't need to tell you that it is a dangerous run."
Bill nodded. "Yes, I know," he replied. "I carried the mail over that trail once for my old friend Bob."
"It's even more dangerous now," said Slade. "Your run is over the toughest part of my division. You have always wanted excitement. Well, I think you will find that the Sweetwater division can still give you plenty of action."
And on Bill's new run there was plenty of action. Indians often raced down the sand hills and attacked his stagecoach. One day his guard was killed, but Bill managed to drive on to the next station, saving the mail and the lives of his passengers. Outlaws made bold attempts to hold up his stagecoach. Winter blizzards swept the plains, but Bill made each trip safely over the snow-covered trails. Nothing could stop him! But it was on this new run that Bill's courage and his ability to think and to act quickly were put to a real test.
One day the driver from the west was late in reaching the home station where Bill was waiting to drive the stagecoach to Three Crossings. Finally the stagecoach arrived and the driver reported. "We ran into a little trouble, Bill. My guard is inside the coach. He's badly wounded."
The driver opened the door of the coach and the guard stepped out. He wore a bloody bandage around his right arm.
"Sorry about your accident," said Bill to the guard. Then turning to the driver he asked, "How many passengers are you carrying?"
"Only two, both men. But you are carrying gold on this trip, Bill."
As fresh horses were being hitched to the coach Bill examined the boot. He stopped for a moment outside the door of the coach and looked inside. The same two suspicious-looking men! He turned away with a frown on his face.
"I'll need a guard with me on this trip," he said in a low voice to the station agent.
"I wish I had one for you, Bill," replied the agent, "but I haven't a man that I can send with you. You'll either have to go alone, or wait here until a guard can be taken from some other coach."
"My coach goes through on schedule," said Bill.
Before Bill left the station he inspected his rifle and revolvers. He made sure that he had plenty of ammunition. Then he went to the stables and selected two lengths of rope which he placed under the driver's seat.
Bill climbed up on the box and, without a word, cracked his whip over the heads of his horses. He drove as fast as his horses could go over the rough trail.
After he had driven a short distance, he pulled his horses to a stop. "Here is where I get my men," he said to himself, "or they get me."
He jumped down from the driver's seat holding the two lengths of rope in his hand. He pretended to inspect one of the wheels on the coach.
Suddenly from behind him came the question, "Something wrong?"
Bill swung around holding a gun in each hand. The man was so surprised that he had no time to draw his own guns. Bill stepped forward and took the guns from the man's holster.
The other passenger called from inside the coach, "What's the delay, Cal?"
"Don't say a word or I'll let you have it," whispered Bill.
Cal, a tall, thin man, had his hands up over his head and he did not answer. Bill motioned for him to turn around. In a second he had the man's hands tied behind his back. Then Bill moved to the coach door.
"Hands up and keep 'em up," ordered Bill, opening the door. "I'll take your guns."
"What's going on?" demanded the man as he stepped to the ground, with his hands held high.
"Never mind," snapped Bill, "just turn around." When Bill had the second man securely tied he made both men climb back into the coach. He placed their guns in the space under the driver's seat.
"You won't get away with this," shouted one of the men.
"You'll get yours," snarled the other man.
Bill jumped to his seat and turned the horses around and raced back to the station. There he turned his passengers over to the surprised station agent.
"What have they done?" asked the agent.
"Nothing yet," answered Bill, "but I have a hunch that some pals of theirs are going to try something. I am making sure that these fellows won't be there to see the fun. You hold them here until you get your orders. Better lock them up and keep a sharp lookout for their pals. They may come this way, and you better be ready for them."
"We'll be ready," said the station agent.
Bill removed the gold from the boot and hid it under the cushions inside the coach. He turned the horses around and started again for Three Crossings. He drove hard in order to make up the lost time.
When he had driven a few miles beyond the place where he had bound his passengers, he came to a small hill. Three men on horseback were waiting a short distance down the trail.
As Bill neared the men, one of them held up his hand while the other two covered Bill with their rifles. Bill slammed on the brakes and reined in the horses.
"Get down!" ordered one of the men.
"You're too late," replied Bill without moving.
"What do you mean?" snarled one of the bandits.
"Your pals beat you to it," answered Bill.
"You mean they got away with the gold?"
"Search the coach," said Bill.
The three bandits hurried to the rear of the coach and opened the boot. Then they opened the door of the coach and looked inside.
"Gone!" exclaimed one of the bandits.
"Were they on foot?" asked the leader.
"They were on foot the last I saw of them," answered Bill.
"Which way did they go?" asked the leader.
"West," answered Bill.
"Come on. Let's go," said the leader. "Nobody can double-cross us and get away with it."
Bill watched the bandits ride away toward the west. "Go hunt for your pals," he said. "That will keep you busy for a couple of days. In the meantime I'll see that a posse gets on your trail."
He kicked off the brake, spoke to the horses, and drove on. The gold was safe.
That night Bill drove into Three Crossings on time. He reported to Slade how he had outwitted the outlaws by capturing two of them and sending the other three on a wild-goose chase.
"Mr. Slade," he added, "I believe a small posse of men can capture those three bandits. They will be hunting for their pals in the foothills when they ought to be hiding out a long way from this trail."
"Good work, Bill!" said Slade. "Hickock is due here in the morning. He is bringing several extra guards for this division. He would like nothing better than to round up these outlaws. That would put an end to the trouble we have been having on this division."
Early the next morning Hickock and the guards arrived. When Bill had told his story, Hickock said, "Bill, you did a fine job. You made prisoners of two outlaws and tricked the other three into hanging around until we could get on their trail."
Within an hour, Hickock and his guards, mounted on fresh horses, were ready to leave.
As Hickock bid good-by to Bill and Slade he said, "This job will not take long. Thanks to your planning, Bill, it should be easy to locate the trail of these three bandits. We'll run them down in no time."
A few days later, Slade received word from Hickock that the outlaws had been captured and that all five of the bandits were on their way to stand trial for their crimes.
Slade sent for Bill.
"Well," said Slade when Bill reported to him, "there will be no more trouble from outlaws on this division for a while. I am riding to Julesburg to start some cleaning up down there. Want to come along and help me?"
"I volunteered to make this run until you had cleaned out the bandits on this division," answered Bill. "Now, I have a little job of my own that I want to attend to."
"What do you mean?"
"I am going to get married."
In the morning, Bill was on his way eastward. It was his first trip as a passenger inside a stagecoach. As the coach rattled over the trail, he and the other passengers were tossed from side to side.
"No wonder the passengers complain about the rough, hard trips," grinned Bill to himself. "Give me the box. There is the place to ride."
Bill leaned back against the cushions and tried to make himself comfortable. In spite of the jolts and bumps he was happy. He was on his way to St. Louis and Louisa.