Read CHAPTER XVII. UNLOOKED-FOR AID of Wild Bill's Last Trail , free online book, by Ned Buntline, on ReadCentral.com.

With their heavily-laden pack-horses, lengthy as their start was, the party under Chichester saw their pursuers plainly in their rear before the day was two-thirds passed, and Captain Jack, hurrying up the rear all he could, sent word to Chichester that the reds were gaining rapidly.

Chichester sent word back to press the rear forward at its utmost speed. He could see timber ahead, and if they could only reach it, they might be able to make a stand. Satisfied, from the report of Willie Pond, that over one hundred well-armed and well-mounted Indians were on his trail, fearful that many of his men would flinch in battle, he dared not, with the few that were true, make a stand on the open plain.

Had all been like Wild Bill, California Joe, and Captain Jack, he would have halted, rested his horses, and given the reds battle rather than fly from even treble his number. But he knew well that a few cowards would weaken the rest, and he wanted to get some shelter before he met such odds.

The timber was yet fully two hours’ ride distant, half of the pack-horses had given out and been left, and many of the mounted men complained that they could not keep their horses much longer in the column.

Sam Chichester had been obliged to slacken the pace in front, and the enemy were gaining so fast that the glitter of their arms, could be seen even and the dust-cloud that rose above them.

Suddenly another column of dust was seen, and this appeared to come from the direction of the timber, though south of the route the Black Hillers were taking.

“Men!” muttered Sam Chichester, “there’s no use in our running much farther. If that new cloud of dust is made by Indian’s, all that we can do is to sell our lives as dearly as we can. We will soon know one thing or the other.”

“They’re not on the line we’re taking. They can’t be coming for us,” said Captain Jack, who had ridden to the front. “They’re coming in our flank.”

“And night is coming, too,” growled California Joe. “If we can keep on for two hours more, we’ll have darkness to shield us, for no red will fight in the dark without he attacks, and has camp-fires to light up with.”

“We’ll keep them, on while an animal will move, and when we must, turn and fight for life or vengeance, if we must go under,” said Chichester. “Forward, men forward once more!”

Again Captain Jack took the post of honor, for such indeed was the rear guard in this case. Suddenly, on looking back, he saw that the Indians, instead of gaining, had come to a halt.

“They’ve given it up! they’ve given it up!” he cried, sending a messenger forward to Captain Chichester to slacken the speed of the column.

It was now almost sundown, and the men in the column, choked and thirsty, weary beyond expression, could hardly believe the news was true. They were soon satisfied, though, that it was; but it was not for an hour yet, when twilight was beginning to gather, that they learned the real cause of their present safety.

The Indians would have been upon them before night set in, had they not first discovered the nature of the dust cloud to the south-west, or rather who it was raised by. The field-glass of the Texan, even miles and miles away, had detected the flutter of cavalry guidons amid the dust, and showed that mounted troops were near enough to come to the aid of the Black Hill men before they could be crushed and their scalps taken.

So, much against his will, Persimmon Bill was obliged to slacken his pace, and soon to turn his course, so, as by a night march, to put his warriors beyond the reach of those who might turn on them.

When night fell, Chichester, joined by two companies of cavalry, bound for the Hills, under orders to join forces already on the way by another route, moved slowly to a camping-ground in the timber, for which he had been heading hours back.

The horses of the troops were weak from scant forage, and the commanding officer did not feel it his duty to wear them out chasing Indians, though he held himself ready to protect the mining party as long as they remained with him.

And they were just too willing to go on with such an escort, even with the loss of all the pack animals left on their trail; and had Persimmon Bill only halted, instead of falling back, he would have found that there was no danger of pursuit.

Chichester and Crawford, when they compared notes, and found not a man of their party lost, though half its property was gone, felt satisfied that it was no worse, for at one time it seemed to both that nothing was left to them but to sell their lives as dearly as they could.

In a well-guarded camp all were settled before the moon rose, and never was rest more needed by animals and men.