Chapter 23 - The Yellow Chief by Mayne Reid

The Stampeders Captured.

In starting in chase of the straying cavallada, the Cheyennes did not go on at full speed. The spectacle of over twenty horses saddled and bridled, wandering about without riders on their backs, or the sign of an owner following after them, was one so novel, that, while causing astonishment to the savages, it also aroused their instincts of caution. It looked like what the Indians had first taken it for—a stampede. And still it might be the ruse of an enemy, with the design of drawing them into an ambuscade. Partly for this reason, and partly that the ownerless animals might not be scared into a second stampede, and so become difficult of capture, the Cheyennes rode toward them slowly and deliberately.

As they drew near, however, and still no white men appeared in sight, they quickened their pace, and at length broke into a gallop—charging at full speed upon the sauntering drove. This had become necessary, as the white men’s horses had “smelt Indian,” and with crests erect, and snorting nostrils, showed signs of making off.

For a period of ten minutes there was a confused movement upon the plain—a sort of irregular tournament, in which horses ridden by dusky riders, and others without any, were mingled together and galloping towards every point of the compass; long slender ropes, like snakes, suddenly uncoiled, were seen circling through the air; wild cries were heard, sent forth from a score of savage throats—the clamour increased by the shrill neighing of horses and the shriller hinneying of the mules—while the firm prairie turf echoed the tread of over a hundred hoofs.

And soon this tableau underwent a change. The dark moving mass became scattered over a wider surface, and here and there could be seen, at intervals apart, the oft-described spectacle of a horseman using the lazo: two horses at opposite ends of a long rope stretched taut between them, tails toward each other, one of them standing with feet firmly planted, the lazo fast to a stapled ring in the tree of his saddle; the other prostrate upon the ground, with the rope wound around his neck, no longer struggling to free himself, but convulsively to get breath.

And soon again the tableau became changed. The captured steeds were whipped back upon their feet, and their captors once more got into a clump together, each leading a spare horse, that followed without further resistance.

Some had none, while others, more fortunate or skilful, had succeeded in making a double take during the quick scramble.

After the more serious work of the morning, it was a light and pleasant interlude for the young Cheyennee, and, as they returned toward their camp, they were full of joyous glee.

Still were their thoughts damped with some suspicion of danger. The novelty of such an easy razzia had in it also something of mystery; and as they rode slowly back over the prairie swells, they glanced anxious glances toward the north—the point from which the stampeded horses had come.

But no one was in sight—there was no sign of a human being!

Were the owners of the lost horses asleep? Or had they been struck dead, before the scattering commenced?

The mutual congratulations of the savages on the handsome coup they had made were restrained by the mystery that surrounded it; and, with mingled feelings of gladness and apprehension, they once more approached the spot where, as they supposed, their comrades and captives awaited them.

They went with as much speed as the led horses would allow them. Their chief, cunning as he was courageous, suspected that danger might be nigh. Where there was smoke there should be fire; and thinking of this old adage, he knew that where there were over twenty caparisoned horses there must be at least this number of men not far off—men who could only be enemies. Now that the animals were in his possession, he was sure of their owners being white. The saddles, bridles, and other trappings were such as are never, or only occasionally, used by the red-skinned cavaliers of the prairie. Though now surely afoot, the men to whom the horses belonged would be as sure to follow them; and the Yellow Chief knew that a score of white men armed with their death-dealing rifles would be an overmatch for his band, though these outnumbered them two to one. The captured animals told him something besides: their caparison proved them to belong to trappers; which, in his reckoning, more than doubled their number.

To gather up the spoils taken from the emigrant train, along with the captives, and take speedy departure from the place, was now his design.

He was thinking of the triumph that awaited him on his return to the head town of the great Cheyenne tribe; the welcome he would receive bringing back such a booty—horses, spoils, prisoners, the last to be distributed as slaves—of his increased glory in the nation, his promotion among the leaders, and the hope some day to become head chief of the Cheyennes—all these thoughts passing through his mind made him highly exultant.

And there was the other thought—revenge over his enemies in early life—those by whose tyranny and persecution he had been driven forth to find a home, and along with it honour, among the red men of the wilderness.

His fiendish spirit felt sweet joy, thus revelling in revenge; and as he rode back toward the camp, where he knew his victims awaited him, he might have been heard muttering to himself:

“They shall serve me, as I have served them. And she who is called my sister—she shall be my slave!”