CHAPTER VIII. THE PONY EXPRESS.
They knew that the fight would be short and hot, so with the Pawnee between them they arrived at the entrance. Now the Sioux evidently heard them, and came rushing out, but it was too late! The Pony Express men opened fire, and two of the savages bit the dust. They returned the salute, but with such careless aim that their shots were perfectly harmless; but as the white men fired again, two more of the savages fell, and only two were left. The rider got a shot in the shoulder, but he kept on with his revolver despite his pain, while the boss, who had fired all his shots, was compelled to throw the empty weapon into the persistent savage's face, while Little Cayuse kept peppering the other with small shot from his rifle.
Then the Indian at whom the boss had thrown his revolver came at him with his knife, and was getting the best of it, when Little Cayuse, watching his chance, got up close to the savage who was about to finish his father, and let drive into the brute's side a charge of shot that made a hole as big as a water-bucket, and the red devil fell without knowing what had hit him.
Both of the men were weak from loss of blood, and when they had recovered a little, not far away in the hollow they found the horses the savages had ridden and that of the express rider, all together. About a mile farther down the trail they found the dead body of the rider, shot through the head. His pony still had on the saddle and the mail-pouch, which the Indians had not disturbed. In the morning the men carried the remains of the unfortunate rider to the cabin and buried it near the station, and it may be truthfully said that if it had not been for the plucky little Pawnee, there would have been no mourners at the funeral.
That afternoon the men dug a trench into which they threw the dead Indians to get them out of the way, but while they were employed in the thankless work, Little Cayuse was discovered most unmercifully kicking and clubbing one of the dead warriors; then he took his little rifle and cooking it emptied its contents into the prostrate body.
The boss then took the weapon away from him, but the boy cried out to him, "See! see!"
Looking down closely into the face of the object of the boy's wrath, he discovered by that hideous scar the fiend who had captured Little Cayuse when a mere baby, the scar-faced Sioux from whom Whipsaw had purchased the boy.
The employees of the Pony Express were different in character from the ordinary plainsmen of those days. The latter as a class were usually boisterous, indulged in profanity, and were fond of whiskey. Russell, Majors, Waddell were God-fearing, temperate gentlemen themselves, and tried to engage no man who did not come up to their own standard of morality.
There was one notable exception in the person of Jack Slade, the station-agent at Fort Kearney, who was a desperado in the strictest definition of the term; that is, he was a coward at heart, as all of his class are, and brave only when every advantage was in his favour. The number of men he killed in cold blood would probably aggregate more than a score. One of his most damnable acts was the killing of an old French-Canadian trapper, whose name was Jules Bernard, who lived on a ranch on the eastern border of Colorado. While he lived there he got into a quarrel with Slade, and the latter swore he would kill Jules on sight. Slade waited five years for his opportunity. The story is told by an eye-witness as follows: -
I was thirteen years old when Jules married me and took me to his ranch at Cottonwood Springs. He had three log buildings side by side; one contained our private apartments, one was the store, and the other the kitchen and quarters for the man and his wife who ran the ranch for us.
Slade was a Kentuckian, a very quiet man when sober, but terribly ugly when drinking. He came to our store one day fearfully drunk and swore he would shoot some d - d Frenchman before night, at the same time reaching for his pistol. Jules knew what he meant and sprang for his shot-gun, the only weapon near; before Slade could bring his pistol to bear, Jules levelled his gun and shot him in the stomach, filling it full of fine shot. He fell, and Jules, going to him, said he would take him to Denver and pay all his doctor-bills and other expenses if he would shake hands. Slade agreed to this, and Jules hitched up a team, hauled him clear to Denver, and paid his bills there for four or five months. He came near dying. Jules afterward heard that when Slade got well and left Denver, he had sworn he would shoot him the first time they met; so Jules was always ready for him.
One morning long after this Jules started for his old ranch to get some horses and cattle that had been left there. He had to pass by Slade's place, and knowing that Slade had sworn to kill him, he took along a Frenchman living with us, called Pete Gazzous, and an American named Smith. They rode in a light wagon, and as they were all armed with rifles, pistols, and knives, Jules thought he was well prepared to defend himself.
They watched very close until they got past Slade's ranch, but saw no signs of any one. They stopped at a spring a mile or two beyond to water their horses, and as Jules was stooping down to get a drink, a shot struck him in the leg and broke it just above the knee. He called to Smith to unharness the horses, bring him one, and help him on so that they could get away; but the crowd was so frightened they could not stir, and in a few moments they were surrounded by Slade and his band of twenty-five men.