With Lieutenant Pike - Edwin Sabin

Not Yet Defeated

Helped by Hugh Menaugh and Bill Gordon they might now travel on for the lieutenant's camp. They had to cross several gulches and one or two ridges; then they came out into view of the dry valley, at the foot of which the Arkansaw issued from the mountains, to course eastward through the foothills and down to the plains far beyond.

It was the same valley. They might see again the Grand Peak, distant in the north, and mark the line of the river, nearer in the south. From the ridges they had been enabled to sight the Great Snow Mountains, also in the south and much farther than the Grand Peak in the opposite direction. Yes, this was the Arkansaw, and the lieutenant had missed his guess by a wide margin.

He was waiting at the camp. He greeted them kindly, but was haggard and seemed much cut up over the result of all his hard marches. No one could resist being sorry for him.

The doctor and John Brown were here, too. They had brought in six deer, so that now there was plenty of meat on hand.

It was two more days before the last of the men had straggled in. Meanwhile the doctor especially had been interested in the new "Jack Pursley," otherwise Stub; had examined his head, and together with the lieutenant had asked him questions. But as Stub stuck to his story, they had to accept it; appeared rather to believe it the doctor in particular.

Considerable of their talk, between themselves, Stub did not understand. There was something about "removal of pressure," "resumption of activity," "clearing up of brain area," and so forth, which really meant nothing to Stub, except that now he knew who he was and the spot under his scar no longer burned or weighed like lead.

If he might only find his father, whose name, he remembered, was James, and if the lieutenant might find the Red River after all, then he would be perfectly happy.

The lieutenant acted somewhat worried. He did not know quite what to do next. He did not like to waste time; but instead of having found the Red River, after a month of search which had lost him horses and crippled others and almost had lost him men also, here he was with nothing gained except a little information about the mountain country north.

But he was not a man to shilly-shally. He and the doctor, and sometimes Baroney, talked earnestly together; on the day after the last of the squads had arrived, and when everybody had eaten well and had rested, he called a council.

"I have decided to make another attempt, men," he said. "We are soldiers, and our duty to our orders and our Flag demands that we do not admit defeat. The thought of defeat is unworthy of brave men. It is far better to die with honor, in the knowledge that we have done our utmost, than to live as cowards and weaklings. Fortune has been trying us out, but she will not find us lacking. We have explored to the north, and we know that the Red River does not lie there. That much has been accomplished, and not in vain, for we have made important discoveries and greatly extended the Government's knowledge of the sources of the Platte and the Arkansas Rivers. It will be impossible to travel onward with the horses. We have lost a number of them, and the remainder are unfit. So I propose to stay here a few days, in order to erect a block-house and gather meat. Then I shall leave the horses, and the useless baggage, with two men in charge; and with the rest of you shall strike southward to cross the next divide, in the vicinity of the Great White Mountains, where, I am positive, we shall emerge upon the head streams of the Red River. We have demonstrated the fact that the Red River can lie only in that direction. From there we will send back for the horses, which by that time will be recovered; and we will descend along the river to the civilization of our own people and the just reward, I trust, of a Country appreciative of your efforts."

Sergeant Meek faced the men and flourished his lean arm.

"Three cheers for the cap'n and the Red River, boys! Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!"

They all spent the next four days in building the block-house with logs, and in hunting. A good pasture was found, for the wretched horses. John Sparks made a new stock for the lieutenant's broken gun.

Baroney and Pat Smith were to stay here. Although a great deal of the baggage, including the lieutenant's own trunk with his "chief's "uniform, was left also, what with the ammunition and axes and spades, and the presents in case the Comanches or other Indians should be met, and the meat, the lieutenant and the doctor and the eleven men carried each seventy pounds, weighed out equally, and Stub himself had a pack.

Followed by a good-luck cheer from Baroney and Pat, they marched out from the block-house on the morning of January 14, southward bound across the Arkansas, to find the Red River down in the region of the Great White Mountains.

The first day they marched thirteen miles; the doctor killed a deer. The second day they marched nineteen miles, up along a stream that opened a way for them to the mountains; the lieutenant and the doctor and John Sparks each killed a deer. On the third day they marched up the same stream, eighteen miles, in a snowstorm; and nobody killed anything. So to-night they pretty well finished their meat. Travelling afoot in winter was hungry work, and they could carry only a little at a time.

On the fourth day they marched twenty-eight miles—and a bad day it proved to be. The Great White Mountains had been getting nearer, at this end—their upper end. They formed a tremendous snowy chain stretching northwest and southeast. The stream came down from them, and they were about to bar the trail. Upon the east there were lesser mountains. But no Red River flowed in this broad trough between the two ranges; its streams fed the Arkansaw River; therefore the Red River must lie upon the farther, or western side, of the Great White range.

The mountains seemed to rise from a bare prairie which grew no wood. The lieutenant had left the stream, so as to aim more directly for a low place in the range; but he was not to cross, to-day. The range was farther than it looked to be. The sun set—and here they were, in the cold open, without wood or water either, or a bite to eat.

"There's timber at the base of those first slopes," he said. "We'll have to push on, men, until we reach it. The night will be too cold for existing with no fires."

Suddenly they were barred by the creek, and needs must ford it through ice that broke under their moccasins. It was long after dark, and was stinging cold, when they arrived at the trees. The men stumbled wearily; Stub could not feel his feet at all. Nobody had complained, though—but when the fires had been built and they all started to thaw themselves out, the doctor found that nine pairs of feet had been frozen, among the men, with Stub's pair to be included.

He, and the lieutenant, Sergeant Meek and Terry Miller were the only ones to have escaped! John Sparks and young Torn Dougherty were the worst off. Their feet were solid white to their ankles. Hugh Menaugh and Jake Carter were badly off, too. The doctor did his test—everybody rubbed hard with snow, and several groaned from the pain; but there was nothing to eat and the thermometer dropped to more than eighteen degrees below zero or freezing.

With cold, hunger and aching feet it was a hard night. The lieutenant sent Sergeant Meek and Terry out early in the morning, to hunt in one direction; he and the doctor made ready to hunt in another.

"Do the best you can, lads," they encouraged, as they set forth. "We've all been in tight places before, and have come out safely. Wait now in patience, and you shall have the first meat that's killed."

It was another long day: a cold, bleak day for this open camp on the edge of the snow-laden pines and cedars, with the Great White Mountains over-looking, on the one hand, as far as eye might see, and the wide prairie bottoms stretching lone and lifeless on the other hand.

Stub's feet were swollen, puffy and tender, but he could walk. He and Corporal Jerry Jackson and Alex Roy managed to keep the fire going. John Sparks and Tom Dougherty lay suffering until the sweat stood on their foreheads. Their feet seemed to be turning black, and were alive with sharp pains.

"Sure, we're like never to walk ag'in, Tom," John moaned. "Our country'll owe us each a pair o' feet."

"I know that, John. But what'll we do wid those we have? That's what's botherin, me. 'Tis cruel hard."

"'Tis harder on you than on me lad, John declared. "For you're young. An still, I'd like to do a bit more marchin', myself."

They heard never a sound from the hunters, all day. At dark the sergeant and Terry Miller came in, completely tuckered. They had not fired a shot; had seen no game, nor seen the lieutenant and the doctor, either.

"We'll have to pull our belts in another notch, boys," quoth the sergeant. "And trust them other two. Had they found meat, they'd be in. If they don't come to-night, they'll come to-morrow. 'Tis tough for you, here by the fire; but it's tougher on them, out yonder somewheres in the cold, with their hearts aching at the thought of us waiting and depending on 'em. Jest the same, I'd rather be any one of us, in our moccasins as we are, than Henry Kennerman serving time in his boots."

Henry Kennerman was a soldier who had deserted on the way to the Osage towns.

The net day was the fourth without food. It passed slowly. The feet of some of the men, like those of Stub, were much better; but John Sparks and young Tom could not stand, and Hugh Menaugh and Jake Carter could not walk.

Toward evening the sergeant grew very uneasy; alarm settled over them all. No tidings of any kind had arrived from the lieutenant and Doctor Robinson.

"We'll wait, the night," finally said Sergeant Meek. "In the morning 'twill be up to us, for if we sit here longer we'll be too weak to move. We'll divide up, those of us who can walk. A part'll have to search for them two men, for maybe they're needing help worsen we are, and 'tis the duty of a soldier never to abandon his officers. The resell look for meat again. And we'll none of us come in till we fetch either news or meat. Shame on us if we can't turn to and help our officers and ourselves."

"You're right. There's nobody can blame the cap'n an' the doctor. They've never spared themselves. We'll all do our best, sergeant."

"Only lend me a pair o' fate, any wan o' yez whose heart's too heavy for 'em, an' I'll look for the cap'n meself," appealed Tom Dougherty.

They kept up the fires and tried to sleep. The black, cold night deepened; overhead the steely stars spanned from prairie to dark slopes. The Great Bear of the sky, which contained the Pointers that told the time, drifted across, ranging on his nightly trail.

Suddenly, at midnight, they heard a faint, breathless "Whoo-ee!" And while they listened, another.

"'Tis the cap'n and the doctor!" the sergeant exclaimed. "Hooray! Give 'em a yell, now, all together. Build up the fires."

They yelled. They were answered, through the darkness—and presently through the same darkness the lieutenant—and the doctor—carne staggering in, bending low, to the fire-light.


"Here you are, my lads!" the lieutenant panted. He dropped the load from his back, swayed, sank to his knees, and the sergeant sprang to catch him.

"We're all right, sir. We knew you'd be coming. You're a welcome sight, sir, meat or no meat. We were getting anxious about you and the doctor, sir."

"I'll tend to him, sergeant," gasped the doctor. "You be helping the men with the meat. Don't let 'em over-eat. There's more, back where we killed."

The lieutenant had almost fainted. It was several minutes before he could speak again. He and the doctor had had a terrible two days. The doctor said that they had wounded a buffalo with three balls, the first evening, but it had made off. All that night they had sat up, among some rocks, nearly freezing to death while they waited for morning. Then they had sighted a herd of buffalo, at day-break, and had crawled a mile through the snow—had shot eight times, wounded three, and the whole herd had escaped.

That second day they had tramped until the lieutenant was about spent with hunger and lack of rest. Matters had looked very bad. But they both decided that they would rather die looking for game, than return and disappoint the men. Just at dusk, when they were aiming for a point of timber, thereto spend another night, they saw a third herd of buffalo. The lieutenant managed to run and hide behind a cedar. When the buffalo were about to pass, he shot, and this time crippled one. The doctor ran, and with three more shuts they killed the buffalo. Hurrah!

Then they butchered it, without stopping to eat; and carrying as much as they could they bad traveled for six hours, bringing the meat to the camp.

"It's a story hard to beat," said Sergeant Meek, simply. "You may not be one of the army, yourself, sir; but as officer and man we're proud to follow you—you and the cap'n, sir."

"The lieutenant and I wondered what you men were thinking, when we didn't return." the doctor proffered. "You had a right to expect us sooner? Did you plan to march on and try to save your lives?"

"No, sir; not exactly that," replied rugged Sergeant Meek. "We knew you hadn't forgotten us, and there was no complaining. Seemed like we'd best search for you, and the same time find meat if we could; and that we'd ha' done, the first thing in the morning, sir."

"Your plan, and the way with which you received us, do you all credit before the world," spoke the lieutenant, who overheard. "As your comrades we thank you, men; and as your officer I am proud of you. My reports to General Wilkinson and the Secretary of War shall not omit the devotion to duty that has characterized your whole march."