Read CHAPTER VII - HELD BY THE ENEMY of Pluck on the Long Trail Boy Scouts in the Rockies , free online book, by Edwin L. Sabin, on

“Oh, the dickens!” stammered General Ashley; and out he rolled, in a hurry. He didn’t stop to blame me. “Have you looked for sign?”

“The burros might have strayed, but the flags couldn’t and only the hole is there. And those two fellows of the other camp are gone, already.”

General Ashley began to pull on his shoes and lace them.

“Rouse the camp,” he ordered.

So I did. And to every one I said: “I slept on guard and the flags and the burros are gone.”

I was willing to be shot, or discharged, or anything; and I didn’t have a single solitary excuse. I didn’t try to think one up.

The general took Fitzpatrick, who is our best trailer, and Major Henry, and started in to work out the sign, while the rest of us hustled with breakfast. The ground about the flag hole was trampled and not much could be done there; and not much could be done right where the burros had stood, because we all from both camps had been roaming around. But the general and Fitz and Major Henry circled, wider and wider, watching out for burro tracks pointing back down the trail, or else out into the timber. The hoofs of the burros would cut in, where the feet of the two fellows might not have left any mark. Pretty soon the burro tracks were found, and boot-heels, too; and while Fitzpatrick followed the trail a little farther the general and Major Henry came back to the camp. Breakfast was ready.

“Fitzpatrick and Jim Bridger and I will take the trail of the burros, and you other three stay here,” said General Ashley. “If we don’t come back by morning, or if you don’t see smoke-signals from us that we’re all right, you cache the stuff and come after us.”

That was splendid of the general to give me a chance to make good on the trail. It was better than if he’d ordered me close in camp, or had not paid any attention to me.

Fitz returned, puffing. He had followed the trail a quarter of a mile and it grew plainer as the two fellows had hurried more. We ate a big breakfast (we three especially, I mean), and prepared for the trail. We tied on our coats in a roll like blankets, but we took no blankets, for we must travel light. We stuffed some bread and chocolate into our coat pockets, and we were certain that we had matches and knife. I took the short bow and arrows, as game getter; but we left the rifle for the camp. We would not have used a rifle, anyway. It made noise; and we must get the burros by Scoutcraft alone. But those burros we would have, and the flags. The general slung one of the Patrol’s ropes about him, in case we had to rope the burros.

We set right out, Fitzpatrick leading, as chief trailer. Much depended upon our speed, and that is why we traveled light; for you never can follow a trail as fast as it was made, and we must overtake those fellows by traveling longer. They were handicapped by the burros, though, which helped us.

We planned to keep going, and eat on the march, and by night sneak on the camp.

The trail wasn’t hard to follow. Burro tracks are different from cow tracks and horse tracks and deer tracks; they are small and oblong narrow like a colt’s hoof squeezed together or like little mule tracks. The two fellows used the cattle trail, and Fitzpatrick read the sign for us.

“They had to lead the burros,” he said. “The burros’ tracks are on top of the sole tracks.”

We hurried. And then

“Now they’re driving ’em,” he said. “They’re stepping on top of the burro tracks; and I think that they’re all on the trot, too, by the way the burros’ hind hoofs overlap the front hoofs, and dig in.”

We hurried more, at Scout pace, which is trotting and walking mixed. And next

“Now they’ve got on the burros,” said Fitz. “There aren’t any sole tracks and the burros’ hoofs dig deeper.”

The fellows surely were making time. I could imagine how they kicked and licked Sally and Apache, to hasten. And while we hastened, too, we must watch the signs and be cautious that we didn’t overrun or get ambushed. Where the sun shone we could tell that the sign was still an hour or more old, because the edges of the hoof-marks were baked hard; and sticks and stones turned up had dried. And in the shade the bits of needles and grass stepped on had straightened a little. And there were other signs, but we chose those which we could read the quickest.

We were high up among cedars and bushes, on a big mesa. There were cattle, here, and grassy parks for them. Most of the cattle bore a Big W brand. The trail the cattle had made kept dividing and petering out, and we had to pick the one that the burros took. The fellows were riding, still, but not at a trot so much. Maybe they thought that we had been left, by this time. Pretty soon the burros had been grabbing at branches and weeds, which showed that they were going slower, and were hungry; and the fellows had got off and were walking. The sun was high and the air was dry, so that the signs were not so easy to read, and we went slower, too. The country up here grew open and rocky, and at last we lost the trail altogether. That was bad. The general and I circled and scouted, at the sides, and Fitz went on ahead, to pick it up beyond, maybe. Pretty soon we heard him whistle the Elks’ call.

He had come out upon a rocky point. The timber ended, and before and right and left was a great rolling valley, of short grasses and just a few scattered trees, with long slopes holding it like a cup. The sun was shining down, and the air was clear and quivery.

“I see them,” said Fitz. “There they are, General in a line between us and that other point of rocks.”

Hurrah! This was great news. Sure enough, when we had bent low and sneaked to the rocks, and were looking, we could make out two specks creeping up the sunshine slope, among the few trees, opposite.

That was good, and it was bad. The thieves were not a mile ahead of us, then, but now we must scout in earnest. It would not do for us to keep to the trail across that open valley. Some fellows might have rushed right along; and if the other fellows were sharp they would be looking back, at such a spot, to watch for pursuers. So we must make a big circuit, and stay out of sight, and hit the trail again on the other side.

We crept back under cover, left a “warning” sign on the trail [Illustration: 34), and swung around, and one at a time we crossed the valley higher up, where it was narrower and there was brush for cover. This took time, but it was the proper scouting; and now we hurried our best along the other slope to pick up the trail once more.

It was after noon, by the sun, and we hadn’t stopped to eat, and we were hungry and hot and pretty tired.

As we never talked much on the trail, especially when we might be near the enemy, Fitzpatrick made a sign that we climb straight to the top of the slope and follow along there, to strike the trail. And if the fellows had turned off anywhere, in gulch or to camp, we were better fixed above them than below them.

We scouted carefully along this ridge, and came to a gulch. A path led through, where cattle had traveled, and in the damp dirt were the burro tracks. Hurrah! They were soft and fresh.

The sun was going to set early, in a cloud bank, and those fellows would be camping soon. It was no use to rush them when they were traveling; they had guns and would hang on to the burros. The way to do was to crawl into their camp. So we traveled slower, in order to give them time to camp.

After a while we smelled smoke. The timber was thick, and the general and I each climbed a tree, to see where that smoke came from. I was away at the top of a pine, and from that tree the view was grand. Pilot Peak stood up in the wrong direction, as if we had been going around, and mountains and timber were everywhere. I saw the smoke. And away to the north, ten miles, it seemed to me I could see another smoke, with the sun showing it up. It was a column smoke, and I guessed that it was a smoke signal set by the three Scouts we had left, to show us where camp was.

But the smoke that we were after rose in a blue haze above the trees down in a little park about a quarter of a mile on our right. We left a “warning” sign, and stalked the smoke.

Although Fitzpatrick has only one whole arm, he can stalk as well as any of us. We advanced cautiously, and could smell the smoke stronger and stronger; we began to stoop and to crawl and when we had wriggled we must halt and listen. We could not hear anybody talking.

The general led, and Fitz and I crawled behind him, in a snake scout. I think that maybe we might have done better if we had stalked from three directions. Everything was very quiet, and when we could see where the fire ought to be we made scarcely a sound. The general brushed out of his way any twigs that would crack.

It was a fine stalk. We approached from behind a cedar, and parting the branches the general looked through. He beckoned to us, and we wriggled along and looked through. There was a fire, and our flags stuck beside it, and Sally and Apache standing tied to a bush, and blankets thrown down but not anybody at home! The two fellows must be out fishing or hunting, and this seemed a good chance.

The general signed. We all were to rush in, Fitz would grab the flag, and I a burro and the general a burro, and we would skip out and travel fast, across country.

I knew that by separating and turning and other tricks we would outwit those two kids, if we got any kind of a start.

We listened, holding our breath. Nobody seemed near. Now was the time. The general stood, Fitz and I stood, and in we darted. Fitz grabbed the flag, and I was just hauling at Sally while the general slashed the picket-ropes with his knife, when there rose a tremendous yell and laugh and from all about people charged in on us.

Before we could escape we were seized. They were eight to our three. Two of them were the two kids Bat and Walt, and the other six were town fellows Bill Duane, Tony Matthews, Bert Hawley, Mike Delavan, and a couple more.

How they whooped! We felt cheap. The camp had been a trap. The two kids Bat and Walt had come upon the other crowd accidentally, and had told about us and that maybe we were trailing them, and they all had ambushed us. We ought to have reconnoitered more, instead of thinking about stalking. We ought to have been more suspicious, and not have underestimated the enemy. This was just a made-to-order camp. The camp of the town gang was about three hundred yards away, lower, in another open place, by a creek. They tied our arms and led us down there.

“Aw, we thought you fellers were Scouts!” jeered Bat. “You’re easy.”

He and Walt took the credit right to themselves.

“What do you want with us?” demanded General Ashley, of Bill Duane. “We haven’t done anything to harm you.”

“We’ll show you,” said Bill. “First we’re going to skin you, and then we’re going to burn you at the stake, and then we’re going to kill you.”

Of course we knew that he was only fooling; but it was a bad fix, just the same. They might keep us, for meanness; and Major Henry and Kit Carson and Jed Smith wouldn’t know exactly what to do and we’d be wasting valuable time. That was the worst: we were delaying the message! And I had myself to blame for this, because I went to sleep on guard. A little mistake may lead to a lot of trouble.

And now the worst happened. When they got us to the main camp Bill Duane walked up to General Ashley and said: “Where you got that message, Red?”

“What message?” answered General Ashley.

“Aw, get out!” laughed Bill. “If we untie you will you fork it over or do you want me to search you?”

“’Tisn’t your message, and if I had it I wouldn’t give it to you. But you’d better untie us, just the same. And we want those burros and our flags.”

“Hold him till I search him, fellows,” said Bill. “He’s got it, I bet. He’s the Big Scout.”

Fitz and I couldn’t do a thing. One of the gang put his arm under the general’s chin and held him tight, and Bill Duane went through him. He didn’t find the message in any pockets; but he saw the buckskin thong, and hauled on it, and out came the packet from under the general’s shirt.

Bill put it in his own pocket.

“There!” he said. “Now what you going to do about it?”

The general was as red all over as his hair and looked as if he wanted to fight or cry. Fitz was white and red in spots, and I was so mad I shook.

“Nothing, now,” said the general, huskily. “You don’t give us a chance to do anything. You’re a lot of cowards tying us up and searching us, and taking our things.”

Then they laughed at us some more, and all jeered and made fun, and said that they would take the message through for us. I tell you, it was humiliating, to be bound that way, as prisoners, and to think that we had failed in our trust. As Scouts we had been no good and I was to blame just because I had fallen asleep at my post.

They were beginning to quit laughing at us, and were starting to get supper, when suddenly I heard horse’s hoofs, and down the bridle path that led along an edge of the park rode a man. He heard the noise and he saw us tied, I guess, for he came over.

“What’s the matter here?” he asked.

The gang calmed down in a twinkling. They weren’t so brash, now.

“Nothin’,” said Bill.

“Who you got here? What’s the rumpus?” he insisted.

“They’ve taken us prisoners and are keeping us, and they’ve got our burros and flags and a message,” spoke up the general.

He was a small man with a black mustache and blackish whiskers growing. He rode a bay horse with a K Cross on its right shoulder, and the saddle had brass-bound stirrups. He wore a black slouch hat and was in black shirt-sleeves, and ordinary pants and shoes.

“What message?” he asked.

“A message we were carrying.”


“Across from our town to Green Valley.”


“Just for fun.”

“Aw, that’s a lie. They were to get twenty-five dollars for doing it on time. Now we cash it in ourselves,” spoke Bill. “It was a race, and they don’t make good. See?”

That was a lie, sure. We weren’t to be paid a cent and we didn’t want to be paid.

“Who’s got the message now?” asked the man.

“He has,” said the general, pointing at Bill.

“Let’s see it.”

Bill backed away.

“I ain’t, either,” he said. Which was another lie.

“Let’s see it,” repeated the man. “I might like to make that twenty-five dollars myself.”

Now Bill was sorry he had told that first lie. The first is the one that gives the most trouble.

“Who are you?” he said, scared, and backing away some more.

“Never you mind who I am,” answered the man biting his words off short; and he rode right for Bill. He stuck his face forward. It was hard and dark and mean. “Hand over that message. Savvy?”

Bill was nothing but a big bluff and a coward. You would have known that he was a coward, by the lies he had told and by the way he had attacked us. He wilted right down.

“Aw, I was just fooling,” he said. “I was going to give it back to ’em. Here ’tis. There ain’t no prize offered, anyhow.” And he handed it to the man.

The man turned it over in his fingers. We watched. We hoped he’d make them untie us and he’d pass it to us and tell us to skip. But after he had turned it over and over, he smiled, kind of grimly, and stuck it in his hip pocket.

“I reckon I’d like to make that twenty-five dollars myself,” he said. And then he rode to one side, and dismounted; he loosened the cinches and made ready as if to camp. And they all let him.

Now, that was bad for us, again. The gang had our flags and our burros, and he had our message.

“That’s our message. We’re carrying it through just for fun and for practice,” called the general. “It’s no good to anybody except us.”

“Bueno,” said the man which is Mexican or Spanish for “Good.” He was squatting and building a little fire.

“Aren’t you going to give it to us and make them let us go?”

He grunted. “Don’t bother me. I’m busy.”

That was all we could get out of him. Now it was growing dark and cold. The gang was grumbling and accusing Bill of being “bluffed” and all that, but they didn’t make any effort to attack the man. They all were afraid of him; they didn’t have nerve. They just grumbled and talked of what Bill ought to have done, and proceeded to cook supper and to loaf around. Our hands were behind our backs and we were tied like dogs to trees.

And suddenly, while watching the man, I noticed that he was doing things left-handed, and quick as a wink I saw that the sole of his left shoe was worn through! And if he wasn’t riding a roan horse, he was riding a saddle with brass-bound stirrups, anyway. A man may trade horses, but he keeps to his own saddle. This was the beaver man! We three Scouts exchanged signs of warning.

“You aren’t going to tie us for all night, are you?” demanded Fitzpatrick.

“Sure,” said Bill.

“We’ll give you our parole not to try to escape,” offered General Ashley.

“What’s that?”

“We’ll promise,” I explained.

Then they all jeered.

“Aw, promise!” they laughed. “We know all about your promises.”

“Scouts don’t break their promises,” answered the general, hot. “When we give our parole we mean it. And if we decided to try to escape we’d tell you and take the parole back. We want to be untied so we can eat.”

“All right. We’ll untie you,” said Bill; and I saw him wink at the other fellows.

They did. They loosened our hands but they put ropes on our feet! We could just walk, and that is all. And Walt (he and Bat were cooking) poked the fire with our flagstaff. Then he sat on the flags! I tell you, we were angry!

“This doesn’t count,” sputtered the general, red as fury.

“You gave us your parole if we’d untie you,” jeered Bill. “And we did.”

“But you tied us up again.”

“We didn’t say anything about that. You said if we’d untie you, so you could eat, you wouldn’t run away. Well, we untied you, didn’t we?”

“That isn’t fair. You know what we meant,” retorted Fitz.

“We know what you said,” they laughed.

“Aw, cut it out,” growled the man, from his own fire. “You make too much noise. I’m tired.”

“Chuck,” called Walt, for supper.

They stuck us between them, and we all ate. Whew, but it was a dirty camp. The dishes weren’t clean and the stuff to eat was messy, and the fellows all swore and talked as bad as they could. It was a shame and it seemed a bigger shame because here in the park everything was intended to be quiet and neat and ought to make you feel good.

After supper they quarreled as to who would wash the dishes, and finally one washed and one wiped, and the rest lay around and smoked pipes and cigarettes. Over at his side of the little park the man had rolled up and was still. But I knew that he was watching, because he was smoking, too.

We couldn’t do anything, even if we had planned to. We might have untied the ropes on our feet, but the gang sat close about us. Then, they had the flags and the burros, and the man had the message; and if they had been wise they would have known that we wouldn’t go far. Of course, we might have hung about and bothered them.

They made each of us sleep with one of them. They had some dirty old quilts, and we all rolled up.