The Covered Wagon
Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Josephine Paolucci, Joshua Hutchinson and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team.
[Illustration: EMERSON HOUGH, THE AUTHOR, DRIVING A COVERED WAGON.]
HEART'S DESIRE, ETC.
ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES FROM THE PHOTOPLAY
A PARAMOUNT PICTURE
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Made in the United States of America
II.--THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
IV.--FEVER OF NEW FORTUNES
V.--THE BLACK SPANIARD
VIII.--MAN AGAINST MAN
XI.--WHEN ALL THE WORLD WAS YOUNG
XII.--THE DEAD MEN'S TALE
XVII.--THE GREAT ENCAMPMENT
XVIII.--ARROW AND PLOW
XIX.--BANION OF DONIPHAN'S
XXII.--A SECRET OF TWO
XXIV.--THE ROAD WEST
XXVI.--THE FIRST GOLD
XXVII.--TWO WHO LOVED
XXVIII.--WHEN A MAID MARRIES
XXIX.--THE BROKEN WEDDING
XXX.--THE DANCE IN THE DESERT
XXXII.--THE FIGHT AT THE FORD
XXXIII.--THE FAMILIES ARE COMING
XXXIV.--A MATTER OF FRIENDSHIP
XXXVI.--TWO LOVE LETTERS
XXXVII.--JIM BRIDGER FORGETS
XXXVIII.--WHEN THE ROCKIES FELL
XLI.--THE SECRETS OF THE SIERRAS
XLII.--KIT CARSON RIDES
XLIII.--THE KILLER KILLED
XLIV.--YET IF LOVE LACK
XLV.--THE LIGHT OF THE WHOLE WORLD
"Look at 'em come, Jesse! More and more! Must be forty or fifty
Molly Wingate, middle-aged, portly, dark browed and strong, stood at the
door of the rude tent which for the time made her home. She was pointing
down the road which lay like an ecru ribbon thrown down across the
prairie grass, bordered beyond by the timber-grown bluffs of the
Jesse Wingate allowed his team of harness-marked horses to continue
their eager drinking at the watering hole of the little stream near
which the camp was pitched until, their thirst quenched, they began
burying their muzzles and blowing into the water in sensuous enjoyment.
He stood, a strong and tall man of perhaps forty-five years, of keen
blue eye and short, close-matted, tawny beard. His garb was the loose
dress of the outlying settler of the Western lands three-quarters of a
century ago. A farmer he must have been back home.
Could this encampment, on the very front of the American civilization,
now be called a home? Beyond the prairie road could be seen a double
furrow of jet-black glistening sod, framing the green grass and its
spangling flowers, first browsing of the plow on virgin soil. It might
have been the opening of a farm. But if so, why the crude bivouac? Why
the gear of travelers? Why the massed arklike wagons, the scores of
morning fires lifting lazy blue wreaths of smoke against the morning
The truth was that Jesse Wingate, earlier and impatient on the front,
out of the very suppression of energy, had been trying his plow in the
first white furrows beyond the Missouri in the great year of 1848. Four
hundred other near-by plows alike were avid for the soil of Oregon; as
witness this long line of newcomers, late at the frontier rendezvous.
"It's the Liberty wagons from down river," said the campmaster at
length. "Missouri movers and settlers from lower Illinois. It's time. We
can't lie here much longer waiting for Missouri or Illinois, either. The
grass is up."
"Well, we'd have to wait for Molly to end her spring term, teaching in
Clay School, in Liberty," rejoined his wife, "else why'd we send her
there to graduate? Twelve dollars a month, cash money, ain't to be
"No; nor is two thousand miles of trail between here and Oregon, before
snow, to be sneezed at, either. If Molly ain't with those wagons I'll
send Jed over for her to-day. If I'm going to be captain I can't hold
the people here on the river any longer, with May already begun."
"She'll be here to-day," asserted his wife. "She said she would.
Besides, I think that's her riding a little one side the road now. Not
that I know who all is with her. One young man--two. Well"--with
maternal pride--"Molly ain't never lacked for beaus!
"But look at the wagons come!" she added. "All the country's going West
this spring, it certainly seems like."
It was the spring gathering of the west-bound wagon-trains, stretching
from old Independence to Westport Landing, the spot where that very year
the new name of Kansas City was heard among the emigrants as the place
of the jump-off. It was now an hour by sun, as these Western people
would have said, and the low-lying valley mists had not yet fully risen,
so that the atmosphere for a great picture did not lack.
It was a great picture, a stirring panorama of an earlier day, which now
unfolded. Slow, swaying, stately, the ox teams came on, as though
impelled by and not compelling the fleet of white canvas sails. The
teams did not hasten, did not abate their speed, but moved in an
unagitated advance that gave the massed column something irresistibly
epochal in look.
The train, foreshortened to the watchers at the rendezvous, had a
well-spaced formation--twenty wagons, thirty, forty, forty-seven--as
Jesse Wingate mentally counted them. There were outriders; there were
clumps of driven cattle. Along the flanks walked tall men, who flung
over the low-headed cattle an admonitory lash whose keen report
presently could be heard, still faint and far off. A dull dust cloud
arose, softening the outlines of the prairie ships. The broad gestures
of arm and trunk, the monotonous soothing of commands to the
sophisticated kine as yet remained vague, so that still it was properly
a picture done on a vast canvas--that of the frontier in '48; a picture
of might, of inevitableness. Even the sober souls of these waiters rose
to it, felt some thrill they themselves had never analyzed.
A boy of twenty, tall, blond, tousled, rode up from the grove back of
the encampment of the Wingate family.
"You, Jed?" said his father. "Ride on out and see if Molly's there."
"Sure she is!" commented the youth, finding a plug in the pocket of his
jeans. "That's her. Two fellers, like usual."
"Sam Woodhull, of course," said the mother, still hand over eye. "He
hung around all winter, telling how him and Colonel Doniphan whipped all
Mexico and won the war. If Molly ain't in a wagon of her own, it ain't
his fault, anyways! I'll rest assured it's account of Molly's going out
to Oregon that he's going too! Well!" And again, "Well!"
"Who's the other fellow, though?" demanded Jed. "I can't place him this
Jesse Wingate handed over his team to his son and stepped out into the
open road, moved his hat in an impatient signal, half of welcome, half
of command. It apparently was observed.
To their surprise, it was the unidentified rider who now set spur to his
horse and came on at a gallop ahead of the train. He rode carelessly
well, a born horseman. In no more than a few minutes he could be seen as
rather a gallant figure of the border cavalier--a border just then more
martial than it had been before '46 and the days of "Fifty-Four Forty or
A shrewed man might have guessed this young man--he was no more than
twenty-eight--to have got some military air on a border opposite to that
of Oregon; the far Southwest, where Taylor and Scott and the less known
Doniphan and many another fighting man had been adding certain thousands
of leagues to the soil of this republic. He rode a compact,
short-coupled, cat-hammed steed, coal black and with a dashing forelock
reaching almost to his red nostrils--a horse never reared on the fat
Missouri corn lands. Neither did this heavy embossed saddle with its
silver concho decorations then seem familiar so far north; nor yet the
thin braided-leather bridle with its hair frontlet band and its mighty
bit; nor again the great spurs with jingling rowel bells. This rider's
mount and trappings spoke the far and new Southwest, just then coming
into our national ken.
The young man himself, however, was upon the face of his appearance
nothing of the swashbuckler. True, in his close-cut leather trousers,
his neat boots, his tidy gloves, his rather jaunty broad black hat of
felted beaver, he made a somewhat raffish figure of a man as he rode up,
weight on his under thigh, sidewise, and hand on his horse's quarters,
carelessly; but his clean cut, unsmiling features, his direct and grave
look out of dark eyes, spoke him a gentleman of his day and place, and
no mere spectacular pretender assuming a virtue though he had it not.
He swung easily out of saddle, his right hand on the tall, broad Spanish
horn as easily as though rising from a chair at presence of a lady, and
removed his beaver to this frontier woman before he accosted her
husband. His bridle he flung down over his horse's head, which seemingly
anchored the animal, spite of its loud whinnying challenge to these
near-by stolid creatures which showed harness rubs and not whitened
"Good morning, madam," said he in a pleasant, quiet voice. "Good
morning, sir. You are Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Wingate, I believe. Your
daughter yonder told me so."
"That's my name," said Jesse Wingate, eyeing the newcomer suspiciously,
but advancing with ungloved hand. "You're from the Liberty train?"
"Yes, sir. My name is Banion--William Banion. You may not know me. My
family were Kentuckians before my father came out to Franklin. I started
up in the law at old Liberty town yonder not so long ago, but I've been
away a great deal."
"The law, eh?" Jesse Wingate again looked disapproval of the young man's
rather pronouncedly neat turnout. "Then you're not going West?"
"Oh, yes, I am, if you please, sir. I've done little else all my life.
Two years ago I marched with all the others, with Doniphan, for Mexico.
Well, the war's over, and the treaty's likely signed. I thought it high
time to march back home. But you know how it is--the long trail's in my
blood now. I can't settle down."
Wingate nodded. The young man smilingly went on:
"I want to see how it is in Oregon. What with new titles and the
like--and a lot of fighting men cast in together out yonder, too--there
ought to be as much law out there as here, don't you think? So I'm going
to seek my fortune in the Far West. It's too close and tame in here now.
I'm"--he smiled just a bit more obviously and deprecatingly--"I'm
leading yonder _caballad_ of our neighbors, with a bunch of Illinois and
Indiana wagons. They call me Col. William Banion. It is not right--I was
no more than Will Banion, major under Doniphan. I am not that now."
A change, a shadow came over his face. He shook it off as though it were
"So I'm at your service, sir. They tell me you've been elected captain
of the Oregon train. I wanted to throw in with you if I might, sir. I
know we're late--we should have been in last night. I rode in to explain
that. May we pull in just beside you, on this water?"
Molly Wingate, on whom the distinguished address of the stranger, his
easy manner and his courtesy had not failed to leave their impression,
answered before her husband.
"You certainly can, Major Banion."
"Mister Banion, please."
"Well then, Mister Banion. The water and grass is free. The day's young.
Drive in and light down. You said you saw our daughter, Molly--I know
you did, for that's her now."
The young man colored under his bronze of tan, suddenly shy.
"I did," said he. "The fact is, I met her earlier this spring at Clay
Seminary, where she taught. She told me you-all were moving West this
spring--said this was her last day. She asked if she might ride out
with our wagons to the rendezvous. Well--"
"That's a fine horse you got there," interrupted young Jed Wingate.
"Oh, no, not now; only of rather good spirit. Ride him if you like.
Gallop back, if you'd like to try him, and tell my people to come on and
park in here. I'd like a word or so with Mr. Wingate."
With a certain difficulty, yet insistent, Jed swung into the deep
saddle, sitting the restive, rearing horse well enough withal, and soon
was off at a fast pace down the trail. They saw him pull up at the head
of the caravan and motion, wide armed, to the riders, the train not
halting at all.
He joined the two equestrian figures on ahead, the girl and the young
man whom his mother had named as Sam Woodhull. They could see him
shaking hands, then doing a curvet or so to show off his newly borrowed
"He takes well to riding, your son," said the newcomer approvingly.
"He's been crazy to get West," assented the father. "Wants to get among
"We all do," said Will Banion. "None left in Kentucky this generation
back; none now in Missouri. The Plains!" His eye gleamed.
"That's Sam Woodhull along," resumed Molly Wingate. "He was with
Banion spoke so shortly that the good dame, owner of a sought-for
daughter, looked at him keenly.
"He lived at Liberty, too. I've known Molly to write of him."
"Yes?" suddenly and with vigor. "She knows him then?"
"So do I," said Banion simply. "He was in our regiment--captain and
adjutant, paymaster and quartermaster-chief, too, sometimes. The Army
Regulations never meant much with Doniphan's column. We did as we
liked--and did the best we could, even with paymasters and
He colored suddenly, and checked, sensitive to a possible charge of
jealousy before this keen-eyed mother of a girl whose beauty had been
the talk of the settlement now for more than a year.
The rumors of the charm of Molly Wingate--Little Molly, as her father
always called her to distinguish her from her mother--now soon were to
have actual and undeniable verification to the eye of any skeptic who
mayhap had doubted mere rumors of a woman's beauty. The three advance
figures--the girl, Woodhull, her brother Jed--broke away and raced over
the remaining few hundred yards, coming up abreast, laughing in the glee
of youth exhilarated by the feel of good horseflesh under knee and the
breath of a vital morning air.
As they flung off Will Banion scarce gave a look to his own excited
steed. He was first with a hand to Molly Wingate as she sprang lightly
down, anticipating her other cavalier, Woodhull, who frowned, none too
well pleased, as he dismounted.
Molly Wingate ran up and caught her mother in her strong young arms,
kissing her roundly, her eyes shining, her cheeks flushed in the
excitement of the hour, the additional excitement of the presence of
these young men. She must kiss someone.
Yes, the rumors were true, and more than true. The young school-teacher
could well carry her title as the belle of old Liberty town here on the
far frontier. A lovely lass of eighteen years or so, she was, blue of
eye and of abundant red-brown hair of that tint which ever has turned
the eyes and heads of men. Her mouth, smiling to show white, even teeth,
was wide enough for comfort in a kiss, and turned up strongly at the
corners, so that her face seemed always sunny and carefree, were it not
for the recurrent grave, almost somber look of the wide-set eyes in
moments of repose.
Above the middle height of woman's stature, she had none of the lank
irregularity of the typical frontier woman of the early ague lands; but
was round and well developed. Above the open collar of her brown riding
costume stood the flawless column of a fair and tall white throat. New
ripened into womanhood, wholly fit for love, gay of youth and its racing
veins, what wonder Molly Wingate could have chosen not from two but
twenty suitors of the best in all that countryside? Her conquests had
been many since the time when, as a young girl, and fulfilling her
parents' desire to educate their daughter, she had come all the way from
the Sangamon country of Illinois to the best school then existent so far
west--Clay Seminary, of quaint old Liberty.
The touch of dignity gained of the ancient traditions of the South,
never lost in two generations west of the Appalachians, remained about
the young girl now, so that she rather might have classed above her
parents. They, moving from Kentucky into Indiana, from Indiana into
Illinois, and now on to Oregon, never in all their toiling days had
forgotten their reverence for the gentlemen and ladies who once were
their ancestors east of the Blue Ridge. They valued education--felt that
it belonged to them, at least through their children.
Education, betterment, progress, advance--those things perhaps lay in
the vague ambitions of twice two hundred men who now lay in camp at the
border of our unknown empire. They were all Americans--second, third,
fourth generation Americans. Wild, uncouth, rude, unlettered, many or
most of them, none the less there stood among them now and again some
tall flower of that culture for which they ever hungered; for which
they fought; for which they now adventured yet again.
Surely American also were these two young men whose eyes now
unconsciously followed Molly Wingate in hot craving even of a morning
thus far breakfastless, for the young leader had ordered his wagons on
to the rendezvous before crack of day. Of the two, young Woodhull,
planter and man of means, mentioned by Molly's mother as open suitor,
himself at first sight had not seemed so ill a figure, either. Tall,
sinewy, well clad for the place and day, even more foppish than Banion
in boot and glove, he would have passed well among the damsels of any
courthouse day. The saddle and bridle of his mount also were a trace to
the elegant, and the horse itself, a classy chestnut that showed Blue
Grass blood, even then had cost a pretty penny somewhere, that was sure.
Sam Woodhull, now moving with a half dozen wagons of his own out to
Oregon, was reputed well to do; reputed also to be well skilled at
cards, at weapons and at women. Townsmen accorded him first place with
Molly Wingate, the beauty from east of the river, until Will Banion came
back from the wars. Since then had been another manner of war, that as
ancient as male and female.
That Banion had known Woodhull in the field in Mexico he already had let
slip. What had been the cause of his sudden pulling up of his starting
tongue? Would he have spoken too much of that acquaintance? Perhaps a
closer look at the loose lips, the high cheeks, the narrow, close-set
eyes of young Woodhull, his rather assertive air, his slight,
indefinable swagger, his slouch in standing, might have confirmed some
skeptic disposed to analysis who would have guessed him less than strong
of soul and character. For the most part, such skeptics lacked.
By this time the last belated unit of the Oregon caravan was at hand.
The feature of the dusty drivers could be seen. Unlike Wingate, the
newly chosen master of the train, who had horses and mules about him,
the young leader, Banion, captained only ox teams. They came now, slow
footed, steady, low headed, irresistible, indomitable, the same
locomotive power that carried the hordes of Asia into Eastern Europe
long ago. And as in the days of that invasion the conquerors carried
their households, their flocks and herds with them, so now did these
half-savage Saxon folk have with them their all.
Lean boys, brown, barefooted girls flanked the trail with driven stock.
Chickens clucked in coops at wagon side. Uncounted children thrust out
tousled heads from the openings of the canvas covers. Dogs beneath,
jostling the tar buckets, barked in hostile salutation. Women in slatted
sunbonnets turned impassive gaze from the high front seats, back of
which, swung to the bows by leather loops, hung the inevitable family
rifle in each wagon. And now, at the tail gate of every wagon, lashed
fast for its last long journey, hung also the family plow.
It was '48, and the grass was up. On to Oregon! The ark of our covenant
with progress was passing out. Almost it might have been said to have
held every living thing, like that other ark of old.
Banion hastened to one side, where a grassy level beyond the little
stream still offered stance. He raised a hand in gesture to the right. A
sudden note of command came into his voice, lingering from late military
"By the right and left flank--wheel! March!"
With obvious training, the wagons broke apart, alternating right and
left, until two long columns were formed. Each of these advanced,
curving out, then drawing in, until a long ellipse, closed at front and
rear, was formed methodically and without break or flaw. It was the
barricade of the Plains, the moving fortresses of our soldiers of
fortune, going West, across the Plains, across the Rockies, across the
deserts that lay beyond. They did not know all these dangers, but they
thus were ready for any that might come.
"Look, mother!" Molly Wingate pointed with kindling eye to the wagon
maneuver. "We trained them all day yesterday, and long before. Perfect!"
Her gaze mayhap sought the tall figure of the young commander, chosen by
older men above his fellow townsman, Sam Woodhull, as captain of the
Liberty train. But he now had other duties in his own wagon group.
Ceased now the straining creak of gear and came rattle of yokes as the
pins were loosed. Cattle guards appeared and drove the work animals
apart to graze. Women clambered down from wagon seats. Sober-faced
children gathered their little arms full of wood for the belated
breakfast fires; boys came down for water at the stream.
The west-bound paused at the Missouri, as once they had paused at the
A voice arose, of some young man back among the wagons busy at his work,
paraphrasing an ante-bellum air:
_Oh, then, Susannah,
Don't you cry fer me!
I'm goin' out to Oregon,
With my banjo on my knee!_
THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
More than two thousand men, women and children waited on the Missouri
for the green fully to tinge the grasses of the prairies farther west.
The waning town of Independence had quadrupled its population in thirty
days. Boats discharged their customary western cargo at the newer
landing on the river, not far above that town; but it all was not
enough. Men of upper Missouri and lower Iowa had driven in herds of
oxen, horses, mules; but there were not enough of these. Rumors came
that a hundred wagons would take the Platte this year via the Council
Bluffs, higher up the Missouri; others would join on from St. Jo and
March had come, when the wild turkey gobbled and strutted resplendent in
the forest lands. April had passed, and the wild fowl had gone north.
May, and the upland plovers now were nesting all across the prairies.
But daily had more wagons come, and neighbors had waited for neighbors,
tardy at the great rendezvous. The encampment, scattered up and down the
river front, had become more and more congested. Men began to know one
another, families became acquainted, the gradual sifting and shifting in
social values began. Knots and groups began to talk of some sort of
accepted government for the common good.
They now were at the edge of the law. Organized society did not exist
this side of the provisional government of Oregon, devised as a _modus
vivendi_ during the joint occupancy of that vast region with Great
Britain--an arrangement terminated not longer than two years before.
There must be some sort of law and leadership between the Missouri and
the Columbia. Amid much bickering of petty politics, Jesse Wingate had
some four days ago been chosen for the thankless task of train captain.
Though that office had small authority and less means of enforcing its
commands, none the less the train leader must be a man of courage,
resource and decision. Those of the earlier arrivals who passed by his
well-organized camp of forty-odd wagons from the Sangamon country of
Illinois said that Wingate seemed to know the business of the trail. His
affairs ran smoothly, he was well equipped and seemed a man of means.
Some said he had three thousand in gold at the bottom of his cargo.
Moreover--and this appeared important among the Northern element, at
that time predominant in the rendezvous--he was not a Calhoun Secesh, or
even a Benton Democrat, but an out and out, antislavery, free-soil man.
And the provisional constitution of Oregon, devised by thinking men of
two great nations, had said that Oregon should be free soil forever.
Already there were mutterings in 1848 of the coming conflict which a
certain lank young lawyer of Springfield, in the Sangamon
country--Lincoln, his name was--two years ago among his personal friends
had predicted as inevitable. In a personnel made up of bold souls from
both sides the Ohio, politics could not be avoided even on the trail;
nor were these men the sort to avoid politics. Sometimes at their camp
fire, after the caravan election, Wingate and his wife, their son Jed,
would compare notes, in a day when personal politics and national
geography meant more than they do to-day.
"Listen, son," Wingate one time concluded. "All that talk of a railroad
across this country to Oregon is silly, of course. But it's all going to
be one country. The talk is that the treaty with Mexico must give us a,
slice of land from Texas to the Pacific, and a big one; all of it was
taken for the sake of slavery. Not so Oregon--that's free forever. This
talk of splitting this country, North and South, don't go with me. The
Alleghanies didn't divide it. Burr couldn't divide it. The Mississippi
hasn't divided it, or the Missouri, so rest assured the Ohio can't. No,
nor the Rockies can't! A railroad? No, of course not. But all the same,
a practical wagon road from free soil to free soil--I reckon that was my
platform, like enough. It made me captain."
"No, 'twasn't that, Jesse," said his wife. "That ain't what put you in
for train captain. It was your blamed impatience. Some of them lower
Ioway men, them that first nominated you in the train meeting--town
meeting--what you call it, they seen where you'd been plowing along here
just to keep your hand in. One of them says to me, 'Plowing, hey? Can't
wait? Well, that's what we're going out for, ain't it--to plow?' says
he. 'That's the clean quill,' says he. So they 'lected you, Jesse. And
the Lord ha' mercy on your soul!"
Now the arrival of so large a new contingent as this of the Liberty
train under young Banion made some sort of post-election ratification
necessary, so that Wingate felt it incumbent to call the head men of the
late comers into consultation if for no better than reasons of courtesy.
He dispatched his son Jed to the Banion park to ask the attendance of
Banion, Woodhull and such of his associates as he liked to bring, at any
suiting hour. Word came back that the Liberty men would join the Wingate
conference around eleven of that morning, at which time the hour of the
jump-off could be set.
As to the start of the great wagon train, little time, indeed, remained.
For days, in some instances for weeks, the units of the train had lain
here on the border, and the men were growing restless. Some had come a
thousand miles and now were keen to start out for more than two thousand
miles additional. The grass was up. The men from Illinois, Indiana,
Ohio, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas fretted on the leash.
All along the crooked river front, on both sides from Independence to
the river landing at Westport, the great spring caravan lay encamped, or
housed in town. Now, on the last days of the rendezvous, a sort of
hysteria seized the multitude. The sound of rifle fire was like that of
a battle--every man was sighting-in his rifle. Singing and shouting went
on everywhere. Someone fresh from the Mexican War had brought a drum,
another a bugle. Without instructions, these began to sound their
summons and continued all day long, at such times as the performers
could spare from drink.
The Indians of the friendly tribes--Otos, Kaws, Osages--come in to
trade, looked on in wonder at the revelings of the whites. The
straggling street of each of the near-by river towns was full of massed
wagons. The treble line of white tops, end to end, lay like a vast
serpent, curving, ahead to the West. Rivalry for the head of the column
began. The sounds of the bugle set a thousand uncooerdinated wheels
spasmodically in motion. Organization, system were as yet unknown in
this rude and dominant democracy. Need was therefore for this final
meeting in the interest of law, order and authority. Already some wagons
had broken camp and moved on out into the main traveled road, which lay
plain enough on westward, among the groves and glades of the valley of
the Kaw. Each man wanted to be first to Oregon, no man wished to take
the dust of his neighbor's wagon.
Wingate brought up all these matters at the train meeting of some three
score men which assembled under the trees of his own encampment at
eleven of the last morning. Most of the men he knew. Banion
unobtrusively took a seat well to the rear of those who squatted on
their heels or lolled full length on the grass.
After the fashion of the immemorial American town meeting, the beginning
of all our government, Wingate called the meeting to order and stated
its purposes. He then set forth his own ideas of the best manner for
handling the trail work.
His plan, as he explained, was one long earlier perfected in the convoys
of the old Santa Fe Trail. The wagons were to travel in close order.
Four parallel columns, separated by not too great spaces, were to be
maintained as much as possible, more especially toward nightfall. Of
these, the outer two were to draw in together when camp was made, the
other two to angle out, wagon lapping wagon, front and rear, thus making
an oblong corral of the wagons, into which, through a gap, the work oxen
were to be driven every night after they had fed. The tents and fires
were to be outside of the corral unless in case of an Indian alarm, when
the corral would represent a fortress.
The transport animals were to be hobbled each night. A guard, posted
entirely around the corral and camp, was to be put out each night. Each
man and each boy above fourteen was to be subject to guard duty under
the ancient common law of the Plains, and from this duty no man might
hope excuse unless actually too ill to walk; nor could any man offer to
procure any substitute for himself. The watches were to be set as eight,
each to stand guard one-fourth part of alternate nights, so that each
man would get every other night undisturbed.
There were to be lieutenants, one for each of the four parallel
divisions of the train; also eight sergeants of the guard, each of whom
was to select and handle the men of the watch under him. No wagon might
change its own place in the train after the start, dust or no dust.
When Wingate ended his exposition and looked around for approval it was
obvious that many of these regulations met with disfavor at the start.
The democracy of the train was one in which each man wanted his own way.
Leaning head to head, speaking low, men grumbled at all this fuss and
feathers and Army stuff. Some of these were friends and backers in the
late election. Nettled by their silence, or by their murmured comments,
Wingate arose again.
"Well, you have heard my plan, men," said he. "The Santa Fe men worked
it up, and used it for years, as you all know. They always got through.
If there's anyone here knows a better way, and one that's got more
experience back of it, I'd like to have him get up and say so."
Silence for a time greeted this also. The Northern men, Wingate's
partisans, looked uncomfortably one to the other. It was young Woodhull,
of the Liberty contingent, who rose at length.
"What Cap'n Wingate has said sounds all right to me," said he. "He's a
new friend of mine--I never saw him till two-three hours ago--but I know
about him. What he says about the Santa Fe fashion I know for true. As
some of you know, I was out that way, up the Arkansas, with Doniphan,
for the Stars and Stripes. Talk about wagon travel--you got to have a
regular system or you have everything in a mess. This here, now, is a
lot like so many volunteers enlisting for war. There's always a sort of
preliminary election of officers; sort of shaking down and shaping up.
I wasn't here when Cap'n Wingate was elected--our wagons were some
late--but speaking for our men, I'd move to ratify his choosing, and
that means to ratify his regulations. I'm wondering if I don't get a
second for that?"
Some of the bewhiskered men who sat about him stirred, but cast their
eyes toward their own captain, young Banion, whose function as their
spokesman had thus been usurped by his defeated rival, Woodhull. Perhaps
few of them suspected the _argumentum ad hominem_--or rather _ad
feminam_--in Woodhull's speech.
Banion alone knew this favor-currying when he saw it, and knew well
enough the real reason. It was Molly! Rivals indeed they were, these
two, and in more ways than one. But Banion held his peace until one
quiet father of a family spoke up.
"I reckon our own train captain, that we elected in case we didn't throw
in with the big train, had ought to say what he thinks about it all."
Will Banion now rose composedly and bowed to the leader.
"I'm glad to second Mr. Woodhull's motion to throw our vote and our
train for Captain Wingate and the big train," said he. "We'll ratify his
captaincy, won't we?"
The nods of his associates now showed assent, and Wingate needed no more
"In general, too, I would ratify Captain Wingate's scheme. But might I
make a few suggestions?"
"Surely--go on." Wingate half rose.
"Well then, I'd like to point out that we've got twice as far to go as
the Santa Fe traders, and over a very different country--more dangerous,
less known, harder to travel. We've many times more wagons than any
Santa Fe train ever had, and we've hundreds of loose cattle along. That
means a sweeping off of the grass at every stop, and grass we've got to
have or the train stops.
"Besides our own call on grass, I know there'll be five thousand Mormons
at least on the trail ahead of us this spring--they've crossed the river
from here to the Bluffs, and they're out on the Platte right now. We
take what grass they leave us.
"What I'm trying to get at, captain, is this: We might have to break
into smaller detachments now and again. We could not possibly always
keep alignment in four columns."
"And then we'd be open to any Indian attack," interrupted Woodhull.
"We might have to fight some of the time, yes," rejoined Banion; "but
we'll have to travel all the time, and we'll have to graze our stock all
the time. On that one basic condition our safety rests--grass and plenty
of it. We're on a long journey.
"You see, gentlemen," he added, smiling, "I was with Doniphan also. We
learned a good many things. For instance, I'd rather see each horse on
a thirty-foot picket rope, anchored safe each night, than to trust to
any hobbles. A homesick horse can travel miles, hobbled, in a night.
Horses are a lot of trouble.
"Now, I see that about a fourth of our people, including Captain
Wingate, have horses and mules and not ox transport. I wish they all
could trade for oxen before they start. Oxen last longer and fare
better. They are easier to herd. They can be used for food in the hard
first year out in Oregon. The Indians don't steal oxen--they like
buffalo better--but they'll take any chance to run off horses or even
mules. If they do, that means your women and children are on foot. You
know the story of the Donner party, two years ago--on foot, in the snow.
They died, and worse than died, just this side of California."
Men of Iowa, of Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, began to nod to one another,
approving the words of this young man.
"He talks sense," said a voice aloud.
"Well, I'm talking a whole lot, I know," said Banion gravely, "but this
is the time and place for our talking. I'm for throwing in with the
Wingate train, as I've said. But will Captain Wingate let me add even
just a few words more?
"For instance, I would suggest that we ought to have a record of all our
personnel. Each man ought to be required to give his own name and late
residence, and the names of all in his party. He should be obliged to
show that his wagon is in good condition, with spare bolts, yokes,
tires, bows and axles, and extra shoes for the stock. Each wagon ought
to be required to carry anyhow half a side of rawhide, and the usual
tools of the farm and the trail, as well as proper weapons and abundance
"No man ought to be allowed to start with this caravan with less
supplies, for each mouth of his wagon, than one hundred pounds of flour.
One hundred and fifty or even two hundred would be much better--there is
loss and shrinkage. At least half as much of bacon, twenty pounds of
coffee, fifty of sugar would not be too much in my own belief. About
double the pro rata of the Santa Fe caravans is little enough, and those
whose transport power will let them carry more supplies ought to start
full loaded, for no man can tell the actual duration of this journey, or
what food may be needed before we get across. One may have to help
Even Wingate joined in the outspoken approval of this, and Banion,
encouraged, went on:
"Some other things, men, since you have asked each man to speak freely.
We're not hunters, but home makers. Each family, I suppose, has a plow
and seed for the first crop. We ought, too, to find out all our
blacksmiths, for I promise you we'll need them. We ought to have a half
dozen forges and as many anvils, and a lot of irons for the wagons.
"I suppose, too, you've located all your doctors; also all your
preachers--you needn't camp them all together. Personally I believe in
Sunday rest and Sunday services. We're taking church and state and home
and law along with us, day by day, men, and we're not just trappers and
adventurers. The fur trade's gone.
"I even think we ought to find out our musicians--it's good to have a
bugler, if you can. And at night, when the people are tired and
disheartened, music is good to help them pull together."
The bearded men who listened nodded yet again.
"About schools, now--the other trains that went out, the Applegates in
1843, the Donners of 1846, each train, I believe, had regular schools
along, with hours each day.
"Do you think I'm right about all this? I'm sure I don't want Captain
Wingate to be offended. I'm not dividing his power. I'm only trying to
Woodhull arose, a sneer on his face, but a hand pushed him down. A tall
Missourian stood before him.
"Right ye air, Will!" said he. "Ye've an old head, an' we kin trust hit.
Ef hit wasn't Cap'n Wingate is more older than you, an' already done
elected, I'd be for choosin' ye fer cap'n o' this here hull train right
now. Seein' hit's the way hit is, I move we vote to do what Will Banion
has said is fitten. An' I move we-uns throw in with the big train, with
Jess Wingate for cap'n. An' I move we allow one more day to git in
supplies an' fixin's, an' trade hosses an' mules an' oxens, an' then we
start day atter to-morrow mornin' when the bugle blows. Then hooray fer
There were cheers and a general rising, as though after finished
business, which greeted this. Jesse Wingate, somewhat crestfallen and
chagrined over the forward ways of this young man, of whom he never had
heard till that very morning, put a perfunctory motion or so, asked
loyalty and allegiance, and so forth.
But what they remembered was that he appointed as his wagon-column
captains Sam Woodhull, of Missouri; Caleb Price, an Ohio man of
substance; Simon Hall, an Indiana merchant, and a farmer by name of
Kelsey, from Kentucky. To Will Banion the trainmaster assigned the most
difficult and thankless task of the train, the captaincy of the cow
column; that is to say, the leadership of the boys and men whose
families were obliged to drive the loose stock of the train.
There were sullen mutterings over this in the Liberty column. Men
whispered they would not follow Woodhull. As for Banion, he made no
complaint, but smiled and shook hands with Wingate and all his
lieutenants and declared his own loyalty and that of his men; then left
for his own little adventure of a half dozen wagons which he was
freighting out to Laramie--bacon, flour and sugar, for the most part;
each wagon driven by a neighbor or a neighbor's son. Among these already
arose open murmurs of discontent over the way their own contingent had
been treated. Banion had to mend a potential split before the first
wheel had rolled westward up the Kaw.
The men of the meeting passed back among their neighbors and families,
and spoke with more seriousness than hitherto. The rifle firing ended,
the hilarity lessened that afternoon. In the old times the keel-boatmen
bound west started out singing. The pack-train men of the fur trade went
shouting and shooting, and the confident hilarity of the Santa Fe wagon
caravans was a proverb. But now, here in the great Oregon train, matters
were quite otherwise. There were women and children along. An unsmiling
gravity marked them all. When the dusky velvet of the prairie night
settled on almost the last day of the rendezvous it brought a general
feeling of anxiety, dread, uneasiness, fear. Now, indeed, and at last,
all these realized what was the thing that they had undertaken.
To add yet more to the natural apprehensions of men and women embarking
on so stupendous an adventure, all manner of rumors now continually
passed from one company to another. It was said that five thousand
Mormons, armed to the teeth, had crossed the river at St. Joseph and
were lying in wait on the Platte, determined to take revenge for the
persecutions they had suffered in Missouri and Illinois. Another story
said that the Kaw Indians, hitherto friendly, had banded together for
robbery and were only waiting for the train to appear. A still more
popular story had it that a party of several Englishmen had hurried
ahead on the trail to excite all the savages to waylay and destroy the
caravans, thus to wreak the vengeance of England upon the Yankees for
the loss of Oregon. Much unrest arose over reports, hard to trace, to
the effect that it was all a mistake about Oregon; that in reality it
was a truly horrible country, unfit for human occupancy, and sure to
prove the grave of any lucky enough to survive the horrors of the trail,
which never yet had been truthfully reported. Some returned travelers
from the West beyond the Rockies, who were hanging about the landing at
the river, made it all worse by relating what purported to be actual
"If you ever get through to Oregon," they said, "you'll be ten years
older than you are now. Your hair will be white, but not by age."
The Great Dipper showed clear and close that night, as if one might
almost pick off by hand the familiar stars of the traveler's
constellation. Overhead countless brilliant points of lesser light
enameled the night mantle, matching the many camp fires of the great
gathering. The wind blew soft and low. Night on the prairie is always
solemn, and to-night the tense anxiety, the strained anticipation of
more than two thousand souls invoked a brooding melancholy which it
seemed even the stars must feel.
A dog, ominous, lifted his voice in a long, mournful howl which made
mothers put out their hands to their babes. In answer a coyote in the
grass raised a high, quavering cry, wild and desolate, the voice of the
FEVER OF NEW FORTUNES
The notes of a bugle, high and clear, sang reveille at dawn. Now came
hurried activities of those who had delayed. The streets of the two
frontier settlements were packed with ox teams, horses, wagons, cattle
driven through. The frontier stores were stripped of their last
supplies. One more day, and then on to Oregon!
Wingate broke his own camp early in the morning and moved out to the
open country west of the landing, making a last bivouac at what would be
the head of the train. He had asked his four lieutenants to join him
there. Hall, Price, and Kelsey headed in with straggling wagons to form
the nucleuses of their columns; but the morning wore on and the
Missourians, now under Woodhull, had not yet broken park. Wingate waited
Now at the edge of affairs human apprehensions began to assert
themselves, especially among the womenfolk. Even stout Molly Wingate
gave way to doubt and fears. Her husband caught her, apron to eyes,
sitting on the wagon tongue at ten in the morning, with her pots and
"What?" he exclaimed. "You're not weakening? Haven't you as much
courage as those Mormon women on ahead? Some of them pushing carts, I've
"They've done it for religion, Jess. Oregon ain't no religion for me."
"Yet it has music for a man's ears, Molly."
"Hush! I've heard it all for the last two years. What happened to the
Donners two years back? And four years ago it was the Applegates left
home in old Missouri to move to Oregon. Who will ever know where their
bones are laid? Look at our land we left--rich--black and rich as any in
the world. What corn, what wheat--why, everything grew well in
"Yes, and cholera below us wiping out the people, and the trouble over
slave-holding working up the river more and more, and the sun blazing in
the summer, while in the wintertime we froze!"
"Well, as for food, we never saw any part of Kentucky with half so much
grass. We had no turkeys at all there, and where we left you could kill
one any gobbling time. The pigeons roosted not four miles from us. In
the woods along the river even a woman could kill coons and squirrels,
all we'd need--no need for us to eat rabbits like the Mormons. Our
chicken yard was fifty miles across. The young ones'd be flying by
roasting-ear time--and in fall the sloughs was black with ducks and
geese. Enough and to spare we had; and our land opening; and Molly
teaching the school, with twelve dollars a month cash for it, and Ted
learning his blacksmith trade before he was eighteen. How could we ask
more? What better will we do in Oregon?"
"You always throw the wet blanket on Oregon, Molly."
"It is so far!"
"How do we know it is far? We know men and women have crossed, and we
know the land is rich. Wheat grows fifty bushels to the acre, the trees
are big as the spires on meeting houses, the fish run by millions in the
streams. Yet the winters have little snow. A man can live there and not
slave out a life.
"Besides"--and the frontier now spoke in him--"this country is too old,
too long settled. My father killed his elk and his buffalo, too, in
Kentucky; but that was before my day. I want the buffalo. I crave to see
the Plains, Molly. What real American does not?"
Mrs. Wingate threw her apron over her face.
"The Oregon fever has witched you, Jesse!" she exclaimed between dry
Wingate was silent for a time.
"Corn ought to grow in Oregon," he said at last.
"Yes, but does it?"
"I never heard it didn't. The soil is rich, and you can file on six
hundred and forty acres. There's your donation claim, four times bigger
than any land you can file on here. We sold out at ten dollars an
acre--more'n our land really was worth, or ever is going to be worth.
It's just the speculators says any different. Let 'em have it, and us
move on. That's the way money's made, and always has been made, all
across the United States."
"Huh! You talk like a land speculator your own self!"
"Well, if it ain't the movers make a country, what does? If we don't
settle Oregon, how long'll we hold it? The preachers went through to
Oregon with horses. Like as not even the Applegates got their wagons
across. Like enough they got through. I want to see the country before
it gets too late for a good chance, Molly. First thing you know
buffalo'll be getting scarce out West, too, like deer was getting
scarcer on the Sangamon. We ought to give our children as good a chance
as we had ourselves."
"As good a chance! Haven't they had as good a chance as we ever had?
Didn't our land more'n thribble, from a dollar and a quarter? It may
thribble again, time they're old as we are now."
"That's a long time to wait."
"It's a long time to live a life-time, but everybody's got to live it."
She stood, looking at him.
"Look at all the good land right in here! Here we got walnut and hickory
and oak--worlds of it. We got sassafras and pawpaw and hazel brush. We
get all the hickory nuts and pecans we like any fall. The wild plums is
better'n any in Kentucky; and as for grapes, they're big as your thumb,
and thousands, on the river. Wait till you see the plum and grape jell I
could make this fall!"
"Women--always thinking of jell!"
"But we got every herb here we need--boneset and sassafras and Injun
physic and bark for the fever. There ain't nothing you can name we ain't
got right here, or on the Sangamon, yet you talk of taking care of our
children. Huh! We've moved five times since we was married. Now just as
we got into a good country, where a woman could dry corn and put up
jell, and where a man could raise some hogs, why, you wanted to move
again--plumb out to Oregon! I tell you, Jesse Wingate, hogs is a blame
sight better to tie to than buffalo! You talk like you had to settle
"Well, haven't I got to? Somehow it seems a man ain't making up his own
mind when he moves West Pap moved twice in Kentucky, once in Tennessee,
and then over to Missouri, after you and me was married and moved up
into Indiana, before we moved over into Illinois. He said to me--and I
know it for the truth--he couldn't hardly tell who it was or what it was
hitched up the team. But first thing he knew, there the old wagon stood,
front of the house, cover all on, plow hanging on behind, tar bucket
under the wagon, and dog and all. All he had to do, pap said, was just
to climb up on the front seat and speak to the team. My maw, she climb
up on the seat with him. Then they moved--on West. You know, Molly. My
maw, she climb up on the front seat--"
His wife suddenly turned to him, the tears still in her eyes.
"Yes, and Jesse Wingate, and you know it, your wife's as good a woman as
your maw! When the wagon was a-standing, cover on, and you on the front
seat, I climb up by you, Jess, same as I always have and always will.
Haven't I always? You know that. But it's harder on women, moving is.
They care more for a house that's rain tight in a storm."
"I know you did, Molly," said her husband soberly.
"I suppose I can pack my jells in a box and put in the wagon, anyways."
She was drying her eyes.
"Why, yes, I reckon so. And then a few sacks of dried corn will go
mighty well on the road."
"One thing"--she turned on him in wifely fury--"you shan't keep me from
taking my bureau and my six chairs all the way across! No, nor my garden
seeds, all I saved. No, nor yet my rose roots that I'm taking along. We
got to have a home, Jess--we got to have a home! There's Jed and Molly
"Where's Molly now?" suddenly asked her husband. "She'd ought to be
helping you right now."
"Oh, back at the camp, I s'pose--her and Jed, too. I told her to pick a
mess of dandelion greens and bring over. Larking around with them young
fellows, like enough. Huh! She'll have less time. If Jed has to ride
herd, Molly's got to take care of that team of big mules, and drive 'em
all day in the light wagon too. I reckon if she does that, and teaches
night school right along, she won't be feeling so gay."
"They tell me folks has got married going across," she added, "not to
mention buried. One book we had said, up on the Platte, two years back,
there was a wedding and a birth and a burying in one train, all inside
of one hour, and all inside of one mile. That's Oregon!"
"Well, I reckon it's life, ain't it?" rejoined her husband. "One thing,
I'm not keen to have Molly pay too much notice to that young fellow
Banion--him they said was a leader of the Liberty wagons. Huh, he ain't
"You like Sam Woodhull better for Molly, Jess?"
"Some ways. He falls in along with my ideas. He ain't so apt to make
trouble on the road. He sided in with me right along at the last
"He done that? Well, his father was a sheriff once, and his uncle, Judge
Henry D. Showalter, he got into Congress. Politics! But some folks said
the Banions was the best family. Kentucky, they was. Well, comes to
siding in, Jess, I reckon it's Molly herself'll count more in that than
either o' them or either o' us. She's eighteen past. Another year and
she'll be an old maid. If there's a wedding going across--"
"There won't be," said her husband shortly. "If there is it won't be her
and no William Banion, I'm saying that."
THE BLACK SPANIARD
Meantime the younger persons referred to in the frank discussion of
Wingate and his wife were occupying themselves in their own fashion
their last day in camp. Molly, her basket full of dandelion leaves, was
reluctant to leave the shade of the grove by the stream, and Jed had
business with the team of great mules that Molly was to drive on the
As for the Liberty train, its oval remained unbroken, the men and women
sitting in the shade of the wagons. Their outfitting had been done so
carefully that little now remained for attention on the last day, but
the substantial men of the contingent seemed far from eager to be on
their way. Groups here and there spoke in monosyllables, sullenly. They
wanted to join the great train, had voted to do so; but the cavalier
deposing of their chosen man Banion--who before them all at the meeting
had shown himself fit to lead--and the cool appointment of Woodhull in
his place had on reflection seemed to them quite too high-handed a
proposition. They said so now.
"Where's Woodhull now?" demanded the bearded man who had championed
Banion. "I see Will out rounding up his cows, but Sam Woodhull ain't
turned a hand to hooking up to pull in west o' town with the others."
"That's easy," smiled another. "Sam Woodhull is where he's always going
to be--hanging around the Wingate girl. He's over at their camp now."
"Well, I dunno's I blame him so much for that, neither. And he kin stay
there fer all o' me. Fer one, I won't foller no Woodhull, least o' all
Sam Woodhull, soldier or no soldier. I'll pull out when I git ready, and
to-morrow mornin' is soon enough fer me. We kin jine on then, if so's we
Someone turned on his elbow, nodded over shoulder. They heard hoof
beats. Banion came up, fresh from his new work on the herd. He asked for
Woodhull, and learning his whereabouts trotted across the intervening
"That's shore a hoss he rides," said one man.
"An' a shore man a-ridin' of him," nodded another. "He may ride front o'
the train an' not back o' hit, even yet."
Molly Wingate sat on the grass in the little grove, curling a chain of
dandelion stems. Near by Sam Woodhull, in his best, lay on the sward
regarding her avidly, a dull fire in his dark eyes. He was so enamored
of the girl as to be almost unfit for aught else. For weeks he had kept
close to her. Not that Molly seemed over-much to notice or encourage
him. Only, woman fashion, she ill liked to send away any attentive
male. Just now she was uneasy. She guessed that if it were not for the
presence of her brother Jed near by this man would declare himself
If the safety of numbers made her main concern, perhaps that was what
made Molly Wingate's eye light up when she heard the hoofs of Will
Banion's horse splashing in the little stream. She sprang to her feet,
waving a hand gayly.
"Oh, so there you are!" she exclaimed. "I was wondering if you'd be over
before Jed and I left for the prairie. Father and mother have moved on
out west of town. We're all ready for the jump-off. Are you?"
"Yes, to-morrow by sun," said Banion, swinging out of saddle and
forgetting any errand he might have had. "Then it's on to Oregon!"
He nodded to Woodhull, who little more than noticed him. Molly advanced
to where Banion's horse stood, nodding and pawing restively as was his
wont. She stroked his nose, patted his sweat-soaked neck.
"What a pretty horse you have, major," she said. "What's his name?"
"I call him Pronto," smiled Banion. "That means sudden."
"He fits the name. May I ride him?"
"What? You ride him?"
"Yes, surely. I'd love to. I can ride anything. That funny saddle would
do--see how big and high the horn is, good as the fork of a lady's
"Yes, but the stirrup!"
"I'd put my foot in between the flaps above the stirrup. Help me up,
"I'd rather not."
"But no woman ever rode that horse--not many men but me. I don't know
what he'd do."
"Only one way to find out."
Jed, approaching, joined the conversation.
"I rid him," said he. "He's a goer all right, but he ain't mean."
"I don't know whether he would be bad or not with a lady," Banion still
argued. "These Spanish horses are always wild. They never do get over
it. You've got to be a rider."
"You think I'm not a rider? I'll ride him now to show you! I'm not
afraid of horses."
"That's right," broke in Sam Woodhull. "But, Miss Molly, I wouldn't
tackle that horse if I was you. Take mine."
"But I will! I've not been horseback for a month. We've all got to ride
or drive or walk a thousand miles. I can ride him, man saddle and all.
Help me up, sir?"
Banion walked to the horse, which flung a head against him, rubbing a
soft muzzle up and down.
"He seems gentle," said he. "I've pretty well topped him off this
morning. If you're sure--"
"Help me up, one of you?"
It was Woodhull who sprang to her, caught her up under the arms and
lifted her fully gracious weight to the saddle. Her left foot by fortune
found the cleft in the stirrup fender, her right leg swung around the
tall horn, hastily concealed by a clutch at her skirt even as she
grasped the heavy knotted reins. It was then too late. She must ride.
Banion caught at a cheek strap as he saw Woodhull's act, and the horse
was the safer for an instant. But in terror or anger at his unusual
burden, with flapping skirt and no grip on his flanks, the animal reared
and broke away from them all. An instant and he was plunging across the
stream for the open glade, his head low.
He did not yet essay the short, stiff-legged action of the typical
bucker, but made long, reaching, low-headed plunges, seeking his own
freedom in that way, perhaps half in some equine wonder of his own. None
the less the wrenching of the girl's back, the leverage on her flexed
knee, unprotected, were unmistakable.
The horse reared again and yet again, high, striking out as she checked
him. He was getting in a fury now, for his rider still was in place.
Then with one savage sidewise shake of his head after another he plunged
this way and that, rail-fencing it for the open prairie. It looked like
a bolt, which with a horse of his spirit and stamina meant but one
thing, no matter how long delayed.
It all happened in a flash. Banion caught at the rein too late, ran
after--too slow, of course. The girl was silent, shaken, but still
riding. No footman could aid her now.
With a leap, Banion was in the saddle of Woodhull's horse, which had
been left at hand, its bridle down. He drove in the spurs and headed
across the flat at the top speed of the fast and racy chestnut--no
match, perhaps, for the black Spaniard, were the latter once extended,
but favored now by the angle of the two.
Molly had not uttered a word or cry, either to her mount or in appeal
for aid. In sooth she was too frightened to do so. But she heard the
rush of hoofs and the high call of Banion's voice back of her:
"Ho, Pronto! Pronto! _Vien' aqui!_"
Something of a marvel it was, and showing companionship of man and horse
on the trail; but suddenly the mad black ceased his plunging. Turning,
he trotted whinnying as though for aid, obedient to his master's
command, "Come here!" An instant and Banion had the cheek strap. Another
and he was off, with Molly Wingate, in a white dead faint, in his arms.
By now others had seen the affair from their places in the wagon park.
Men and women came hurrying. Banion laid the girl down, sought to raise
her head, drove back the two horses, ran with his hat to the stream for
water. By that time Woodhull had joined him, in advance of the people
from the park.
"What do you mean, you damned fool, you, by riding my horse off without
my consent!" he broke out. "If she ain't dead--that damned wild
horse--you had the gall--"
Will Banion's self-restraint at last was gone. He made one answer,
voicing all his acquaintance with Sam Woodhull, all his opinion of him,
all his future attitude in regard to him.
He dropped his hat to the ground, caught off one wet glove, and with a
long back-handed sweep struck the cuff of it full and hard across Sam
There were dragoon revolvers in the holsters at Woodhull's saddle. He
made a rush for a weapon--indeed, the crack of the blow had been so
sharp that the nearest men thought a shot had been fired--but swift as
was his leap, it was not swift enough. The long, lean hand of the
bearded Missourian gripped his wrist even as he caught at a pistol grip.
He turned a livid face to gaze into a cold and small blue eye.
"No, ye don't, Sam!" said the other, who was first of those who came up
Even as a lank woman stooped to raise the head of Molly Wingate the
sinewy arm back of the hand whirled Woodhull around so that he faced
Banion, who had not made a move.
"Will ain't got no weapon, an' ye know it," went on the same cool voice.
"What ye mean--a murder, besides that?"
He nodded toward the girl. By now the crowd surged between the two men,
"He struck me!" broke out Woodhull. "Let me go! He struck me!"
"I know he did," said the intervener. "I heard it. I don't know why.
But whether it was over the girl or not, we ain't goin' to see this
other feller shot down till we know more about hit. Ye can meet--"
"Of course, any time."
Banion was drawing on his glove. The woman had lifted Molly,
straightened her clothing.
"All blood!" said one. "That saddle horn! What made her ride that
The Spanish horse stood facing them now, ears forward, his eyes showing
through his forelock not so much in anger as in curiosity. The men
hustled the two antagonists apart.
"Listen, Sam," went on the tall Missourian, still with his grip on
Woodhull's wrist. "We'll see ye both fair. Ye've got to fight now, in
course--that's the law, an' I ain't learned it in the fur trade o' the
Rockies fer nothin', ner have you people here in the settlements. But
I'll tell ye one thing, Sam Woodhull, ef ye make one move afore we-uns
tell ye how an' when to make hit, I'll drop ye, shore's my name's Bill
Jackson. Ye got to wait, both on ye. We're startin' out, an' we kain't
start out like a mob. Take yer time."
"Any time, any way," said Banion simply. "No man can abuse me."
"How'd you gentlemen prefer fer to fight?" inquired the man who had
described himself as Bill Jackson, one of the fur brigaders of the
Rocky Mountain Company; a man with a reputation of his own in Plains
and mountain adventures of hunting, trading and scouting. "Hit's yore
ch'ice o' weapons, I reckon, Will. I reckon he challenged you-all."
"I don't care. He'd have no chance on an even break with me, with any
sort of weapon, and he knows that."
Jackson cast free his man and ruminated over a chew of plug.
"Hit's over a gal," said he at length, judicially. "Hit ain't usual; but
seein' as a gal don't pick atween men because one's a quicker shot than
another, but because he's maybe stronger, or something like that, why,
how'd knuckle and skull suit you two roosters, best man win and us to
see hit fair? Hit's one of ye fer the gal, like enough. But not right
now. Wait till we're on the trail and clean o' the law. I heern there's
a sheriff round yere some'rs."
"I'll fight him any way he likes, or any way you say," said Banion.
"It's not my seeking. I only slapped him because he abused me for doing
what he ought to have done. Yes, I rode his horse. If I hadn't that girl
would have been killed. It's not his fault she wasn't. I didn't want her
to ride that horse."
"I don't reckon hit's so much a matter about a hoss as hit is about a
gal," remarked Bill Jackson sagely. "Ye'll hatter fight. Well then,
seein' as hit's about a gal, knuckle an' skull, is that right?"
He cast a glance around this group of other fighting men of a border
day. They nodded gravely, but with glittering eyes.
"Well then, gentlemen"--and now he stood free of Woodhull--"ye both give
word ye'll make no break till we tell ye? I'll say, two-three days out?"
"Suits me," said Woodhull savagely. "I'll break his neck for him."
"Any time that suits the gentleman to break my neck will please me,"
said Will Banion indifferently. "Say when, friends. Just now I've got to
look after my cows. It seems to me our wagon master might very well look
after his wagons."
"That sounds!" commented Jackson. "That sounds! Sam, git on about yer
business, er ye kain't travel in the Liberty train nohow! An' don't ye
make no break, in the dark especial, fer we kin track ye anywhere's.
Ye'll fight fair fer once--an' ye'll fight!"
By now the group massed about these scenes had begun to relax, to
spread. Women had Molly in hand as her eyes opened. Jed came up at a run
with the mule team and the light wagon from the grove, and they got the
girl into the seat with him, neither of them fully cognizant of what had
gone on in the group of tight-mouthed men who now broke apart and
sauntered silently back, each to his own wagon.
With the first thin line of pink the coyotes hanging on the flanks of
the great encampment raised their immemorial salutation to the dawn.
Their clamorings were stilled by a new and sterner voice--the notes of
the bugle summoning sleepers of the last night to the duties of the
first day. Down the line from watch to watch passed the Plains command,
"Catch up! Catch up!" It was morning of the jump-off.
Little fires began at the wagon messes or family bivouacs. Men, boys,
barefooted girls went out into the dew-wet grass to round up the
transport stock. A vast confusion, a medley of unskilled endeavor marked
the hour. But after an hour's wait, adjusted to the situation, the next
order passed down the line:
"Roll out! Roll out!"
And now the march to Oregon was at last begun! The first dust cut by an
ox hoof was set in motion by the whip crack of a barefooted boy in jeans
who had no dream that he one day would rank high in the councils of his
state, at the edge of an ocean which no prairie boy ever had envisioned.
The compass finger of the trail, leading out from the timber groves,
pointed into a sea of green along the valley of the Kaw. The grass, not
yet tall enough fully to ripple as it would a half month later, stood
waving over the black-burned ground which the semicivilized Indians had
left the fall before. Flowers dotted it, sometimes white like bits of
old ivory on the vast rug of spindrift--the pink verbena, the wild
indigo, the larkspur and the wild geranium--all woven into a wondrous
spangled carpet. At times also appeared the shy buds of the sweet wild
rose, loveliest flower of the prairie. Tall rosinweeds began to thrust
up rankly, banks of sunflowers prepared to fling their yellow banners
miles wide. The opulent, inviting land lay in a ceaseless succession of
easy undulations, stretching away illimitably to far horizons, "in such
exchanging pictures of grace and charm as raised the admiration of even
these simple folk to a pitch bordering upon exaltation."
Here lay the West, barbaric, abounding, beautiful. Surely it could mean
no harm to any man.
The men lacked experience in column travel, the animals were unruly. The
train formation--clumsily trying to conform to the orders of Wingate to
travel in four parallel columns--soon lost order. At times the wagons
halted to re-form. The leaders galloped back and forth, exhorting,
adjuring and restoring little by little a certain system. But they dealt
with independent men. On ahead the landscape seemed so wholly free of
danger that to most of these the road to the Far West offered no more
than a pleasure jaunt. Wingate and his immediate aids were well worn
when at mid afternoon they halted, fifteen miles out from Westport.
"What in hell you pulling up so soon for?" demanded Sam Woodhull
surlily, riding up from his own column, far at the rear, and accosting
the train leader. "We can go five miles further, anyhow, and maybe ten.
We'll never get across in this way."
"This is the very way we will get across," rejoined Wingate. "While I'm
captain I'll say when to start and stop. But I've been counting on you,
Woodhull, to throw in with me and help me get things shook down."
"Well, hit looks to me ye're purty brash as usual," commented another
voice. Bill Jackson came and stood at the captain's side. He had not
been far from Woodhull all day long. "Ye're a nacherl damned fool, Sam
Woodhull," said he. "Who 'lected ye fer train captain, an' when was it
did? If ye don't like the way this train's run go on ahead an' make a
train o' yer own, ef that's way ye feel. Pull on out to-night. What ye
"I can't really keep any man from going back or going ahead," replied
Wingate. "But I've counted on Woodhull to hold those Liberty wagons
together. Any plainsman knows that a little party takes big risks."
"Since when did you come a plainsman?" scoffed the malcontent, for once
forgetting his policy of favor-currying with Wingate in his own surly
discontent. He had not been able to speak to Molly all day.
"Well, if he ain't a plainsman yit he will be, and I'm one right now,
Sam Woodhull." Jackson stood squarely in front of his superior. "I say
he's talkin' sense to a man that ain't got no sense. I was with Doniphan
too. We found ways, huh?"
His straight gaze outfronted the other, who turned and rode back. But
that very night eight men, covertly instigated or encouraged by
Woodhull, their leader, came to the headquarters fire with a joint
complaint. They demanded places at the head of the column, else would
mutiny and go on ahead together. They said good mule teams ought not to
take the dust of ox wagons.
"What do you say, men?" asked the train captain of his aids helplessly.
"I'm in favor of letting them go front."
The others nodded silently, looking at one another significantly.
Already cliques and factions were beginning.
Woodhull, however, had too much at stake to risk any open friction with
the captain of the train. His own seat at the officers' fire was dear to
him, for it brought him close to the Wingate wagons, and in sight--if
nothing else--of Molly Wingate. That young lady did not speak to him all
day, but drew close the tilt of her own wagon early after the evening
meal and denied herself to all.
As for Banion, he was miles back, in camp with his own wagons, which
Woodhull had abandoned, and on duty that night with the cattle guard--a
herdsman and not a leader of men now. He himself was moody enough when
he tied his cape behind his saddle and rode his black horse out into the
shadows. He had no knowledge of the fact that the old mountain man,
Jackson, wrapped in his blanket, that night instituted a solitary watch
all his own.
The hundreds of camp fires of the scattered train, stretched out over
five miles of grove and glade at the end of the first undisciplined day,
lowered, glowed and faded. They were one day out to Oregon, and weary
withal. Soon the individual encampments were silent save for the champ
or cough of tethered animals, or the whining howl of coyotes, prowling
in. At the Missouri encampment, last of the train, and that heading the
great cattle drove, the hardy frontier settlers, as was their wont, soon
followed the sun to rest.
The night wore on, incredibly slow to the novice watch for the first
time now drafted under the prairie law. The sky was faint pink and the
shadows lighter when suddenly the dark was streaked by a flash of fire
and the silence broken by the crack of a border rifle. Then again and
again came the heavier bark of a dragoon revolver, of the sort just then
becoming known along the Western marches.
The camp went into confusion. Will Banion, just riding in to take his
own belated turn in his blankets, almost ran over the tall form of Bill
Jackson, rifle in hand.
"What was it, man?" demanded Banion. "You shooting at a mule?"
"No, a man," whispered the other. "He ran this way. Reckon I must have
missed. It's hard to draw down inter a hindsight in the dark, an' I jest
chanced hit with the pistol. He was runnin' hard."
"Who was he--some thief?"
"Like enough. He was crawlin' up towards yore wagon, I halted him an' he
"You don't know who he was?"
"No. I'll see his tracks, come day. Go on to bed. I'll set out a whiles,
When dawn came, before he had broken his long vigil, Jackson was bending
over footmarks in the moister portions of the soil.
"Tall man, young an' tracked clean," he muttered to himself. "Fancy
boots, with rather little heels. Shame I done missed him!"
But he said nothing to Banion or anyone else. It was the twentieth time
Bill Jackson, one of Sublette's men and a nephew of one of his partners,
had crossed the Plains, and the lone hand pleased him best. He
instituted his own government for the most part, and had thrown in with
this train because that best suited his book, since the old pack trains
of the fur trade were now no more. For himself, he planned settlement
in Eastern Oregon, a country he once had glimpsed in long-gone beaver
days, a dozen years ago. The Eastern settlements had held him long
enough, the Army life had been too dull, even with Doniphan.
"I must be gittin' old," he muttered to himself as he turned to a
breakfast fire. "Missed--at seventy yard!"
MAN AGAINST MAN
There were more than two thousand souls in the great caravan which
reached over miles of springy turf and fat creek lands. There were more
than a thousand children, more than a hundred babes in arm, more than
fifty marriageable maids pursued by avid swains. There were bold souls
and weak, strong teams and weak, heavy loads and light loads, neighbor
groups and coteries of kindred blood or kindred spirits.
The rank and file had reasons enough for shifting. There were a score of
Helens driving wagons--reasons in plenty for the futility of all
attempts to enforce an arbitrary rule of march. Human equations, human
elements would shake themselves down into place, willy-nilly. The great
caravan therefore was scantily less than a rabble for the first three or
four days out. The four columns were abandoned the first half day. The
loosely knit organization rolled on in a broken-crested wave, ten,
fifteen, twenty miles a day, the horse-and-mule men now at the front.
Far to the rear, heading only the cow column, came the lank men of
Liberty, trudging alongside their swaying ox teams, with many a
monotonous "Gee-whoa-haw! Git along thar, ye Buck an' Star!" So soon
they passed the fork where the road to Oregon left the trail to Santa
Fe; topped the divide that held them back from the greater valley of the
[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture._
_The Covered Wagon._
MOLLY COAXES SAM WOODHULL TO LET HER RIDE BANION'S HORSE.]
Noon of the fifth day brought them to the swollen flood of the latter
stream, at the crossing known as Papin's Ferry. Here the semicivilized
Indians and traders had a single rude ferryboat, a scow operated in part
by setting poles, in part by the power of the stream against a cable.
The noncommittal Indians would give no counsel as to fording. They had
ferry hire to gain. Word passed that there were other fords a few miles
higher up. A general indecision existed, and now the train began to pile
up on the south bank of the river.
Late in the afternoon the scout, Jackson, came riding back to the herd
where Banion was at work, jerking up his horse in no pleased frame of
"Will," said he, "leave the boys ride now an' come on up ahead. We need
"What's up?" demanded Banion. "Anything worse?"
"Yes. The old fool's had a row over the ferryboat. Hit'd take two weeks
to git us all over that way, anyhow. He's declared fer fordin' the hull
outfit, lock, stock an' barrel. To save a few dollars, he's a goin' to
lose a lot o' loads an' drownd a lot o' womern an' babies--that's what
he's goin' to do. Some o' us called a halt an' stood out fer a council.
We want you to come on up.
"Woodhull's there," he added. "He sides with the old man, o' course. He
rid on the same seat with that gal all day till now. Lord knows what he
done or said. Ain't hit nigh about time now, Major?"
"It's nigh about time," said Will Banion quietly.
They rode side by side, past more than a mile of the covered wagons, now
almost end to end, the columns continually closing up. At the bank of
the river, at the ferry head, they found a group of fifty men. The ranks
opened as Banion and Jackson approached, but Banion made no attempt to
join a council to which he had not been bidden.
A half dozen civilized Indians of the Kaws, owners or operators of the
ferry, sat in a stolid line across the head of the scow at its landing
stage, looking neither to the right nor the left and awaiting the white
men's pleasure. Banion rode down to them.
"How deep?" he asked.
They understood but would not answer.
"Out of the way!" he cried, and rode straight at them. They scattered.
He spurred his horse, the black Spaniard, over the stage and on the deck
of the scow, drove him its full length, snorting; set the spurs hard at
the farther end and plunged deliberately off into the swift, muddy
The horse sank out of sight below the roily surface. They saw the rider
go down to his armpits; saw him swing off saddle, upstream. The gallant
horse headed for the center of the heavy current, but his master soon
turned him downstream and inshore. A hundred yards down they landed on a
bar and scrambled up the bank.
Banion rode to the circle and sat dripping. He had brought not speech
but action, not theory but facts, and he had not spoken a word.
His eyes covered the council rapidly, resting on the figure of Sam
Woodhull, squatting on his heels. As though to answer the challenge of
his gaze, the latter rose.
"Gentlemen," said he, "I'm not, myself, governed by any mere spirit of
bravado. It's swimming water, yes--any fool knows that, outside of yon
one. What I do say is that we can't afford to waste time here fooling
with that boat. We've got to swim it. I agree with you, Wingate. This
river's been forded by the trains for years, and I don't see as we need
be any more chicken-hearted than those others that went through last
year and earlier. This is the old fur-trader crossing, the Mormons
crossed here, and so can we."
Silence met his words. The older men looked at the swollen stream,
turned to the horseman who had proved it.
"What does Major Banion say?" spoke up a voice.
"Nothing!" was Banion's reply. "I'm not in your council, am I?"
"You are, as much as any man here," spoke up Caleb Price, and Hall and
Kelsey added yea to that. "Get down. Come in."
Banion threw his rein to Jackson and stepped into the ring, bowing to
Jesse Wingate, who sat as presiding officer.
"Of course we want to hear what Mr. Banion has to say," said he. "He's
proved part of the question right now. I've always heard it's fording,
part way, at Papin's Ferry. It don't look it now."
"The river's high, Mr. Wingate," said Banion. "If you ask me, I'd rather
ferry than ford. I'd send the women and children over by this boat. We
can make some more out of the wagon boxes. If they leak we can cover
them with hides. The sawmill at the mission has some lumber. Let's knock
together another boat or two. I'd rather be safe than sorry, gentlemen;
and believe me, she's heavy water yonder."
"I've never seed the Kaw so full," asserted Jackson, "an' I've crossed
her twenty times in spring flood. Do what ye like, you-all--ole
Missoury's goin' to take her slow an' keerful."
"Half of you Liberty men are a bunch of damned cowards!" sneered
There was silence. An icy voice broke it.
"I take it, that means me?" said Will Banion.
"It does mean you, if you want to take it that way," rejoined his enemy.
"I don't believe in one or two timid men holding up a whole train."
"Never mind about holding up the train--we're not stopping any man from
crossing right now. What I have in mind now is to ask you, do you
classify me as a coward just because I counsel prudence here?"
"You're the one is holding back."
"Answer me! Do you call that to me?"
"I do answer you, and I do call it to you then!" flared Woodhull.
"I tell you, you're a liar, and you know it, Sam Woodhull! And if it
pleases your friends and mine, I'd like to have the order now made on
Not all present knew what this meant, for only a few knew of the affair
at the rendezvous, the Missourians having held their counsel in the
broken and extended train, where men might travel for days and not meet.
But Woodhull knew, and sprang to his feet, hand on revolver. Banion's
hand was likewise employed at his wet saddle holster, to which he
sprang, and perhaps then one man would have been killed but for Bill
Jackson, who spurred between.
"Make one move an' I drop ye!" he called to Woodhull. "Ye've give yer
"All right then, I'll keep it," growled Woodhull.
"Ye'd better! Now listen! Do ye see that tall cottingwood tree a half
mile down--the one with the flat umbreller top, like a cypress? Ye kin?
Well, in half a hour be thar with three o' yore friends, no more. I'll
be thar with my man an' three o' his, no more, an' I'll be one o' them
three. I allow our meanin' is to see hit fa'r. An' I allow that what
has been unfinished business ain't goin' to be unfinished come sundown.
"Does this suit ye, Will?"
"It's our promise. Officers didn't usually fight that way, but you said
it must be so, and we both agreed. I agree now."
"You other folks all stay back," said Bill Jackson grimly. "This here is
a little matter that us Missourians is goin' to settle in our own way
an' in our own camp. Hit ain't none o' you-uns' business. Hit's plenty
Men started to their feet over all the river front. The Indians rose,
walked down the bank covertly.
The word passed quickly. It was a day of personal encounters. This was
an assemblage in large part of fighting men. But some sense of decency
led the partisans to hurry away, out of sight and hearing of the
The bell-top cottonwood stood in a little space which had been a dueling
ground for thirty years. The grass was firm and even for a distance of
fifty yards in any direction, and the light at that hour favored neither
For Banion, who was prompt, Jackson brought with him two men. One of
them was a planter by name of Dillon, the other none less than stout
Caleb Price, one of Wingate's chosen captains.
"I'll not see this made a thing of politics," said he. "I'm Northern,
but I like the way that young man has acted. He hasn't had a fair deal
from the officers of this train. He's going to have a fair deal now."
"We allow he will," said Dillon grimly.
He was fully armed, and so were all the seconds. For Woodhull showed the
Kentuckian, Kelsey, young Jed Wingate--the latter by Woodhull's own
urgent request--and the other train captain, Hall. So in its way the
personal quarrel of these two hotheads did in a way involve the entire
"Strip yore man," commanded the tall mountaineer. "We're ready. It's go
till one hollers enough; fa'r stand up, heel an' toe, no buttin' er
gougin'. Fust man ter break them rules gits shot. Is that yore
"How we get it, yes," assented Kelsey.
"See you enforce it then, fer we're a-goin' to," concluded Jackson.
He stepped back. From the opposite sides the two antagonists stepped
forward. There was no ring, there was no timekeeper, no single umpire.
There were no rounds, no duration set. It was man to man, for cause the
most ancient and most bitter of all causes--sex.
Between the two stalwart men who fronted one another, stripped to
trousers and shoes, there was not so much to choose. Woodhull perhaps
had the better of it by a few pounds in weight, and forsooth looked less
slouchy out of his clothes than in them. His was the long and sinewy
type of muscle. He was in hard condition.
Banion, two years younger than his rival, himself was round and slender,
thin of flank, a trace squarer and fuller of shoulder. His arms showed
easily rippling bands of muscles, his body was hard in the natural vigor
of youth and life in the open air. His eye was fixed all the time on his
man. He did not speak or turn aside, but walked on in.
There were no preliminaries, there was no delay. In a flash the Saxon
ordeal of combat was joined. The two fighters met in a rush.
At the center of the fighting space they hung, body to body, in a
whirling _melee_. Neither had much skill in real boxing, and such
fashion of fight was unknown in that region, the offensive being the
main thing and defense remaining incidental. The thud of fist on face,
the discoloration that rose under the savage blows, the blood that
oozed and scattered, proved that the fighting blood of both these mad
creatures was up, so that they felt no pain, even as they knew no fear.
In their first fly, as witnesses would have termed it, there was no
advantage to either, and both came out well marked. In the combat of the
time and place there were no rules, no periods, no resting times. Once
they were dispatched to it, the fight was the affair of the fighters,
with no more than a very limited number of restrictions as to fouls.
They met and broke, bloody, gasping, once, twice, a dozen times. Banion
was fighting slowly, carefully.
"I'll make it free, if you dare!" panted Woodhull at length.
They broke apart once more by mutual need of breath. He meant he would
bar nothing; he would go back to the days of Boone and Kenton and Girty,
when hair, eye, any part of the body was fair aim.
"You can't dare me!" rejoined Will Banion. "It's as my seconds say."
Young Jed Wingate, suddenly pale, stood by and raised no protest.
Kelsey's face was stony calm. The small eye of Hall narrowed, but he too
held to the etiquette of non-interference in this matter of man and man,
though what had passed here was a deadly thing. Mutilation, death might
now ensue, and not mere defeat. But they all waited for the other side.
"Air ye game to hit, Will?" demanded Jackson at length.
"I don't fear him, anyway he comes," replied Will Banion. "I don't like
it, but all of this was forced on me."
"The hell it was!" exclaimed Kelsey. "I heard ye call my man a liar."
"An' he called my man a coward!" cut in Jackson.
"He is a coward," sneered Woodhull, panting, "or he'd not flicker now.
He's afraid I'll take his eye out, damn him!"
Will Banion turned to his friends.
"Are we gentlemen at all?" said he. "Shall we go back a hundred years?"
"If your man's afraid, we claim the fight!" exclaimed Kelsey. "Breast
"So be it then!" said Will Banion. "Don't mind me, Jackson! I don't fear
him and I think I can beat him. It's free! I bar nothing, nor can he!
Woodhull rushed first in the next assault, confident of his skill in
rough-and-tumble. He felt at his throat the horizontal arm of his enemy.
He caught away the wrist in his own hand, but sustained a heavy blow at
the side of his head. The defense of his adversary angered him to blind
rage. He forgot everything but contact, rushed, closed and caught his
antagonist in the brawny grip of his arms. The battle at once resolved
itself into the wrestling and battering match of the frontier. And it
was free! Each might kill or maim if so he could.
The wrestling grips of the frontiersmen were few and primitive,
efficient when applied by masters; and no schoolboy but studied all the
holds as matter of religion, in a time when physical prowess was the
most admirable quality a man might have.
Each fighter tried the forward jerk and trip which sometimes would do
with an opponent not much skilled; but this primer work got results for
neither. Banion evaded and swung into a hip lock, so swift that Woodhull
left the ground. But his instinct gave him hold with one hand at his
enemy's collar. He spread wide his feet and cast his weight aside, so
that he came standing, after all. He well knew that a man must keep his
feet. Woe to him who fell when it all was free! His own riposte was a
snakelike glide close into his antagonist's arms, a swift thrust of his
leg between the other's--the grapevine, which sometimes served if done
It was done swiftly, but it did not serve. The other spread his legs,
leaned against him, and in a flash came back in the dreaded crotch lock
of the frontier, which some men boasted no one could escape at their
hands. Woodhull was flung fair, but he broke wide and rose and rushed
back and joined again, grappling; so that they stood once more body to
body, panting, red, savage as any animals that fight, and more cruel.
The seconds all were on their feet, scarce breathing.
They pushed in sheer test, and each found the other's stark strength.
Yet Banion's breath still came even, his eye betokened no anxiety of the
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