Read CHAPTER XIII. THE BLACK HILLERS EN ROUTE of Wild Bill's Last Trail , free online book, by Ned Buntline, on ReadCentral.com.

The young Texan had judged rightly when he conjectured that it was Sam Chichester and Captain Jack that had ridden out from the straggling column of the Black Hillers, as he saw from his eyrie in the tree.

They had two objects in doing so. The ostensible object was to reach the camping-ground first with some game for supper, but another was to converse, unheard by the others, on the probable dangers of the trip, and means to meet and overcome such dangers.

“There is no doubt the Sioux are on the war-path,” said Chichester to Captain Jack, as they rode on side by side.

“None in the world. They’ve taken a hundred scalps or more already on the Black Hills route. The troops have been ordered to move up the Missouri and Yellowstone, and that will make them worse than ever. We’ll be lucky if we get through without a brush. That was a mean thing, the burning out of that Neidic girl last night, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, Crawford, and if Persimmon Bill ever comes across Wild Bill, his goose is cooked! Mark that. There is not a surer shot, or a deadlier foe on earth then Persimmon Bill. He has defied the whole border for the past three years ridden right into a military post and shot men down, and got away without a scratch. They say he has been adopted by the Sioux, and if he has, with such backing he’ll do more mischief than ever.”

“I don’t believe Bill would have injured the woman had he been sober. It was a mean thing to do any way, and I’m sorry any of our party had a hand in it.”

“So am I. But look, Jack, you can see tree-tops ahead. That is the timber on Twenty-mile Creek. There we camp. We’ll spread a little here, and the one who sees a fat elk first will drop him. We’ll keep within sight and hearing of each other, and if one fires the other will close on him.”

“All right, Sam.”

And the brave young scout, all the better for being ever temperate and steady, gently diverged to the right, while Chichester bore off to the left.

Game in the shape of prairie hens rose right and left as they rode on, and every little while a band of antelopes, taking the alarm, would be seen bounding over the sandy ridges, while an elk farther off startled by the antelope, would take fright and trot off in style.

The two hunters were now nearing the timber, and they rode more slowly and with greater caution.

Suddenly, as Chichester rose over a small ridge, he came upon a band of a dozen or more noble elk, which trotted swiftly off to the right, where Captain Jack, seeing them coming, had sprung from his horse and crouched low on the ridge.

Chichester saw his movement, and lowered the rifle which he had raised for a flying shot, for he knew by their course the elk would go so close to Crawford that he could take his pick among them and make a sure shot.

The result justified his movement, for the noble animals, seeing only a riderless horse, scented no danger, and kept on until they were within easy pistol-shot of the experienced hunter.

Crack went his rifle, and the largest, fattest elk of the band gave one mighty bound and fell, while the rest bounded away in another course, fully alarmed at the report of a gun so close and its effects so deadly to the leader of the band.

“You’ve got as nice a bit of meat here as ever was cut up,” cried Chichester to Captain Jack, as he came in at a gallop, while Crawford was cutting the throat of the huge elk. “The boys will have enough to choke on when we get to camp.”

“I reckon they’ll not growl over this,” said Jack, laughing. “I never had an easier shot. They came down from your wind, and never saw me till I raised with a bead on this one’s heart.”

The two hunters had their meat all cut up and in condition for packing to camp when the column came up.

One hour later, just as the sun began to dip beyond the trees on the creek side, the party went into camp, and soon, over huge and carelessly built camp-fires, slices of elk steak and elk ribs were roasting and steaming in a most appetizing way.

The party were hungry, and the hungriest among them were those who had drank the hardest the night before, for till now they had not been able to eat. But the day’s travel had worked some of the poison rum out of them, and their empty stomachs craved something good and substantial, and they had it in the fresh, juicy elk meat.

It was a hard and unruly crowd to manage on the start. Chichester found it difficult to get men to act as sentinels, for they mostly declared that there was no danger of Indians and no need to set guards.

Little did they dream that even then, within three hours’ ride, or even less, there were enough blood-thirsty Sioux to meet them in fair fight, and defeat them, too.

Only by standing a watch himself and putting Crawford on for the most dangerous hour, that of approaching dawn, did Captain Chichester manage to have his first night’s camp properly guarded.

Wild Bill, gloomy and morose, said he didn’t “care a cuss” if all the Indians of the Sioux nation pitched upon them. He knew his time was close at hand, and what did it matter to him whether a red wore his scalp at his belt or some white man gloried in having wiped him out.

But the night passed without disturbance, and a very early start was made next morning.

Chichester made the men all fill their canteens with water, and the animals were all led into the stream to drink their fill, for there was a long, dry march to the next camping-ground.

Chichester and Captain Jack both knew the route well, for they had both been over it in one of the first prospecting parties to the “Hills.”