Chief Yellow Hand
E ARLY in the morning, Billy and Kit were on their way to the Indian camp. They rode southward across the prairie. Their horses were swift, but neither Kit nor Billy rode his horse at a hard gallop. They kept the horses at a steady, even pace of about ten miles an hour. They let the horses rest every three or four hours.
While they were resting their horses and eating their noonday meal, Kit said, "Billy, I have been watching the way you handle a horse. You ride like a Plains Indian. And there is no better horseman than a Plains Indian. You ought to have a good horse of your own."
"I had a good horse," said Billy. "His name was Prince. He was stolen by the Indians when they burned Mr. McCarthy's wagon train. I was riding cavayard for Mr. McCarthy. But I intend to get Prince back some day."
"Do you know which tribe of Indians burned the wagons and stole Prince?"
"Yes, Yellow Hand and his Cheyenne braves."
"You may get Prince back sooner than you expected," laughed Kit. "We are on our way to Yellow Hand's camp."
"Yellow Hand's camp!" exclaimed Billy. "Then I will get Prince and ride him back to the fort."
Kit shook his head. "Not so fast, Billy. You can't just ride into Yellow Hand's camp and pick out your horse and ride away. You must have a better plan than that.
"The commanding officer at Fort Laramie has given me a special order to carry out, Billy. If I can carry out his order successfully I may be able to get Prince, too. But first we must be certain that Prince is in Yellow Hand's camp. I will need your help."
"How can I help you?" asked Billy eagerly.
"I want you to forget about Prince for a while," answered Kit. "You may see him in the Indian camp. If you do, you are to do nothing that will let Yellow Hand know that Prince is your horse."
"I shall do as you say," said Billy.
"If I weren't sure of that," smiled Kit, "I would send you back to the fort right now."
After a few moments Kit continued, "Billy, during the last month, two hundred horses have been stolen from the wagon trains in this section. Alec Majors reported this loss to the commanding officer at Fort Laramie. The officer sent for me and asked me to find the horses. I located them in Yellow Hand's camp.
"When I reported this to the officer, he was determined to send soldiers to take the horses by force. But I asked him to let me go to Yellow Hand and try to get the horses back without the use of the troops."
Kit laughed as he added, "I hope I don't have to talk to Yellow Hand as long as I had to talk to the officer to get my own way."
They finished their meal and started for their horses.
"What will you say to Yellow Hand?" asked Billy.
Kit called back over his shoulder, "I am going to tell him to return two hundred and one horses to Fort Laramie."
"Two hundred and one!" exclaimed Billy. "You mean that you will get Prince back for me?"
"If Prince is in Yellow Hand's camp, he will be returned with the other horses. Come, let's ride."
They mounted their horses and rode on.
"Billy," said Kit, "you will need a sign to let me know if you see Prince. When I ask you if you like Yellow Hand's camp, answer 'yes,' if you have seen Prince. If you have not seen Prince, pretend that you did not hear me. If your answer is 'yes,' I shall then ask you which brave you think is the finest warrior in the camp. You will point out the brave who has your horse. That is all, Billy. Say nothing more."
Late that afternoon, Kit and Billy reached Yellow Hand's camp. The squaws, cooking the evening meal over the campfires, looked up as Kit and Billy rode to the square in the center of the camp. In the square, laughing children were playing and a few old braves were sitting in a circle smoking their pipes.
Billy followed Kit as he rode to the largest tepee facing the square. An old brave standing by the tepee came forward. Kit reined in his horse and dismounted. "I wish to see your chief," he said.
"Yellow Hand and braves hunt today," answered the old brave.
"When come back to camp?"
"Sundown," answered the brave.
"We wait for Yellow Hand," said Kit.
An hour later the hunting party returned. Shouting and singing, the braves raced their horses into the square.
"Here comes Yellow Hand," said Kit, as the chief, mounted on a beautiful horse, rode into the square. Yellow Hand was riding Prince!
"Prince," said Billy to himself, "I have found you." But not a sign of excitement nor surprise betrayed Billy's happiness. Not a sign!
Yellow Hand dismounted. Turning to the old brave who stood near, he commanded, "Take care of Swift Eagle." Then proudly he strode toward his tepee where Kit and Billy were waiting.
Yellow Hand was a tall, handsome chief. He was wearing a war bonnet of eagle feathers which hung down his back and almost touched the ground. His fringed doeskin trousers were as soft as velvet. Beaded bands circled the powerful muscles of his upper arms. He held himself straight as an arrow.
"Friend," he said to Kit, "Yellow Hand welcomes you and white boy. Stay with my people tonight. We dance for you."
"We cannot stay," replied Kit. "We must return to Fort Laramie."
"My braves ride with you until the moon is up."
"No, thank you," smiled Kit. "I shall see you at the fort in a few days."
"I have no reason to come to white man's fort. My people have supplies."
"Yellow Hand," said Kit, "you have not been to the fort for many months. If your people are well-supplied, that means only one thing. You have taken the supplies from the white man's wagon trains. But I did not come here to talk to you about supplies. I came to talk with you because your braves have been taking the white man's horses. You may keep the supplies, but the horses must be returned to Fort Laramie in five days."
"We keep white man's horses," began Yellow Hand. "White man shoot our buffalo, take our land, and kill our people. You have always been our friend. Why have you changed? You talk like white war chief."
"I am your friend and you know it," answered Kit. "The white war chief was ready to march to your camp. But I asked—"
"Let him come," broke in Yellow Hand. "My braves are not afraid to fight."
"Do not speak to me in anger when I am trying to be a friend to you and your people," said Kit.
Kit's low, gentle voice suddenly became sharp and firm. Billy had been watching Prince, but now he looked up quickly.
"Yellow Hand," continued Kit, "you have two hundred horses belonging to the white man. They are to be returned. I will give you exactly five days to bring them back to Fort Laramie. If they are not returned by the end of five days, the soldiers will march to your camp and I will come with them."
"You would not march against my people," said Yellow Hand. "You are trying to bluff me."
"Did I ever tell you that I was going to do something and then not do it?" questioned Kit.
"No," the chief shook his head. "You always keep your word."
"Then you know that I will keep my word this time, too," said Kit. "Remember this—if the soldiers come to your camp I will be with them."
"I must have more time," protested Yellow Hand.
"I have given you five days and that is all the time I will give you," said Kit. He began to move toward his horse.
He turned to Billy. "Are you ready?" he asked. "Yes, sir," Billy nodded. But to himself he said, "He has forgotten about Prince."
"This is a fine camp, Billy," said Kit as they mounted their horses. "Yellow Hand takes great pride in being a good chief to his people and he is also a wise chief. Do you like his camp?"
"Yes, I like it very much," was Billy's answer. Kit smiled. "Yellow Hand," he said, "my friend, Billy Cody, says he likes your camp very much."
Yellow Hand stepped forward. "I have many fine braves," he said.
"Which brave do you think is the finest warrior, Billy?" asked Kit.
"They are all fine braves," answered Billy. "But Yellow Hand, their chief, is the finest warrior of them all."
"White boy is young," smiled Yellow Hand, "but he speaks wise words."
Kit leaned forward in his saddle. "Yellow Hand," he said, "when you rode into the square I noticed the horse you were riding. Be sure that you return him with the others."
"Swift Eagle is my horse," said Yellow Hand.
"If he were an Indian pony I would believe you, but that horse belongs to a friend of mine," snapped Kit, "and he is to be returned. Do you understand? Two hundred and one horses are to be brought back to Fort Laramie."
Kit motioned to Billy. They touched their horses lightly and galloped from the square.